Repair and Safety Tips for 4-Wheelers and ATVs

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Most horse owners use some type of labor-saving equipment or machinery to make daily farm tasks easier. A lot of horse farms choose to have a 4-wheeler/ATV (all-terrain vehicle). These machines are very versatile and handy on small acreages because you can haul tools and equipment or pull a small trailer/hay cart, manure spreader or harrow, yet they are small and can go over rough terrain (such as crossing the creek or through mud that might mire your truck). You can get many different attachments to use on the farm, including a sprayer that goes on the back to handle weeds and an arena harrow.

Once you have this helpful utility vehicle, the next challenge is keeping it running. They are very study pieces of equipment, but because of the daily wear-and-tear, you should know how to repair simple things.

Nearly every farm or ranch today uses these little vehicles for transport to and from the fields, packing tools and material for fixing fence, hauling salt, moving horses and just general work that you might have done by hand or with a pickup truck in years past. If you use a 4-wheeler/ATV, read the manual to find out how often to change the oil and what regular maintenance the manufacturer recommends. Even if you don't do this yourself, you need to ensure that regular maintenance is noted on your "To Do" list so you don't forget, especially if you aren't the one using it every day.

“Most 4-wheelers have a tool box, and it’s a good idea to have a spare spark plug in there, and a wrench kit,” said Michael Thomas, a rancher near Salmon, Idaho. “Make sure it has a spark plug wrench, pliers and a basic hand wrench set. Most of the 4-wheelers are metric today; make sure you have the wrenches you might need.”

You don’t want to get stranded in the middle of a job, or far from home. Failure to start may be as simple as battery hookups working loose and needing to be tightened, or a bad spark plug. “If the 4-wheeler quits and it turns out to be a spark plug issue, you can pull the old one out and put in a new one pretty easy," noted Thomas. "Most carburetor problems can also be fixed out in the field with the wrenches that come with the machine. If there’s a little water in the fuel and you have the proper screwdriver, you can drain the sediment bowl and let the water out. You might have to do it three or four times to get home.” 

If you are going to have a 4-wheeler to help out around your horse farm, another thing that is handy to keep around is a tire plug kit. "This is also handy for larger equipment if you have a flat tire," said Thomas. "It’s just a little kit with a plug you can put in the tire. These are very effective for tires on 4-wheelers and other farm implements. It’s not uncommon to have a nail or sharp stick go through a tire. Rubber tires are notorious for weather checking/cracks and having straw stubble or sharp sticks or piece of brush work up into the tire. You can put a plug in the tire and it will fix the hole.”

With a few tools you can usually patch a tire or get the 4-wheeler running again to get you by until you get a new tire or can arrange to have a functional problem fixed by a mechanic.

Safety with ATVs and 4-Wheelers

The 4-wheeler or ATV is a great piece of equipment to have around your farm, but as with all machines, you need to understand them enough to be safe, and to keep them running properly. Consider safety training for any employees who are going to use ATVs around your property; your county extension office should be able to give you advice on ATV safety. Make sure just like with any farm machinery that employees use them safely.

Make sure you and your staff aren't being reckless with ATVs (using them for fun/sport instead of work) since they can overturn on rugged terrain and injure or kill the driver. (ATVSafety.gov reported that in 2011 there were 327 deaths on ATVs and 107,500 hospital emergency room visits due to ATV accidents.)