Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

An eye for a second-hand quad bargain

Finding a well-maintained ATV can be a tricky undertaking, so Bruce Lett delved into what to look for when buying from one careful owner

Always wear a helmet; be aware that the majority of ATVs have a solid rear axle - no differential - so they do not handle very well on hard surfaces
Always wear a helmet; be aware that the majority of ATVs have a solid rear axle - no differential - so they do not handle very well on hard surfaces
Always wear a helmet; be aware that the majority of ATVs have a solid rear axle - no differential - so they do not handle very well on hard surfaces

Bruce Lett

One of the most useful modern tools for livestock farmers is the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) -- or quad, as they are sometimes called. These are the modern day, mechanical equivalent of the horse -- only better.

An enormous amount of farming equipment has been built and developed around this versatile little machine, from a basic trailer to a mulching mower. In our recent Ploughing Championships report, we featured all manner of ATV kit, from Premech's new Multi-Purpose-Trailer to Quad-X's prototype trailed hedgecutter and Allingham's Quadcrate and fencing systems.

While they are extremely useful, new ATVs are quite expensive, which often puts off potential users before they even realise their usefulness. The alternative is a second- hand machine, but it can be pretty tricky to establish what is good and what is not so good.

So with a little help from the experts -- in this case Southeast Quads Centre just outside of Clonroche, Co Wexford -- the following guide to buying a second-hand ATV should help weed out the bad machines.

Southeast Quad Centre ( was established about 13 years ago by farmer and contractor John Cullen and his wife, Eileen. It runs alongside their quad adventure facility, Quad Attack, and employs sons Paudie and Johnny, and long-term staff member Derek.

John has used most of the big names in ATV manufacturing at one stage or another in the adventure side of the business, so there's no better man to know his way around the machines.

The first bit of advice John offers is: "Buy a genuine make; an established brand such as Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Polaris, etc. Something that is being advertised with a Honda or Yamaha engine, chances are it is an older engine built under licence usually in China," John said.

"If you are buying a second-hand quad, buy it off someone you can come back to if you have a problem with it. Buy it with a three-month warranty."

Also Read

This at least means that a garage or distributor could be held to task for the warranty.

A good check over is important on a second-hand machine.

"Parts for a quad are as dear as those for a tractor, or dearer. A starter, for example would be around €200, a clutch unit more. You wouldn't be long spending €500 to €600 or more," John warned.

Again, John reiterates that buyers should purchase from a dealer they can return to should a problem arise.


"The majority of quads have both an hour and a mileage clock but there is no guarantee that they were always working on it. Farming quads are rarely looked after as well as they should be. They are going for half an hour each day and are rarely checked for oil or anything else. That half an hour eventually mounts up to quite a while in time," John said.

"There are simple things that anyone can check. Ideally, jack up the front of the quad and check the wheel bearings for play or noise, and the steering for play. This is always a good indicator as to what an ATV has done.

"If the brakes are cable operated, pull them and see if they spring back. Older, worn cables will stick," John added. These would have to be put right and the brakes checked to make sure all is OK.

Several manufacturers argue the benefits of either drum or disc brakes. On brakes, John said: "I would always go for disc brakes because there in no need for adjustment. With drum brakes we found that we had to adjust them nearly on a daily basis on the Quad Attack side of the business."

To get an idea of the state of the engine in a second-hand quad, John recommended: "Dip it for oil. Most quads hold only about 1.75 litres, while bigger ones hold 2.0 litres. If it is low or the condition of the oil is bad, be wary because they hold so little oil. Always wipe the dipstick when you take it out first, and then dip it without screwing it back in to give a true indication of the oil level."

Next John said to start the engine and leave it running. If the engine is good it will tick-over for as long as wanted.

Again, John urged caution if it cuts out or will not tick-over: "If it is liquid cooled, either by oil or coolant, the fan should cut in after a while. If there is no coolant in the system then the fan cannot cut in."

An external or internal leak [head gasket] could prove expensive.


Most quads use timing chains to drive the engine's camshaft and these use a hydraulic tensioner to keep them tight.

"If the chain is worn, it will rattle and need replacing before it slips and does damage to the valves and cylinder head," said John. "On a second-hand quad, it is important to find out if the chain has been changed or not."

Due to the nature of the work they carry out and their working environment, farm quads are nearly all driveshaft machines rather than chain driven.

"This makes it hard to check for any problems because the drive shaft and differential are enclosed," said John.

"You could open the filler nut [on the diff unit] and stick your finger in the oil and check the diff oil for grit or discolouration. If it were a chain-drive machine, you could check the chain and sprocket for wear."

Four-wheel drive quads have a similar setup to 4x4s, with exposed driveshafts and rubber drive boots at the front end. It is easy to see and check the drive boots because, if they are burst, they will make a mess throwing grease out of the split boot.

Shocks -- front and rear -- are similar; if they are leaking you will physically see the leak.


Make sure all gears can be selected -- and are actually there -- whether they are selected manually with a gear stick, a motorbike-type sequential change or electronically.

"Tyres are either good or they're not," John said. "Tyres will average €70-80 a piece so they are dear enough, and if you have to purchase four of them, they will be a big part of the cost of a second-hand quad.

"Lights not working would not be a major cost, usually a bulb or bad earth from the conditions that many ATVs are working in."

The look of the ATV can also be an indicator of how well it has been maintained.

Cosmetically, if the fairing has bits broken out of it or is just broken, then the chances are that it wasn't well minded.

Irish Independent