The Rider’s Guide to ATV Trail Fixes

There’s nothing better than an exciting trail ride. Overcoming obstacles, powering through rough terrain, problem solving your way out of tricky situations — when it’s all going well you wouldn’t trade a day on your ATV for anything. Unfortunately, not every ride is a dream ride, so it pays to prepare for the nightmare scenarios. From needing to fix a tire or axle, getting unstuck from the mud and a number of other problems, we have the information you need to overcome some of the most common issues ATV riders can face on the trail.

Essentials for Every Ride

The most important thing you can do to solve problems while out riding is to have a handful of necessities with you (a luggage rack will help with storage) or at your base of operations for every ride. These can include:

  • First aid kit – Ideal for minor scrapes, bumps, bruises and other injuries, a well-stocked first aid kit is the first item to pack on every trip. 
  • Flat tire repair kit – You may have to head back sooner than you’d like, but at least you’ll be able to ride your way out on your injured tire instead of needing to put on your spare.  
  • Spare tire – Having a spare will bring you extra peace of mind and an option for dealing with a flat. No room for a spare? There’s a rack for that.
  • Replacement belts – Take the time to find a high-quality replacement belt that fits your ATV so if you burn through one, your rig won’t be stranded.
  • Tool kit – Whether you already have a tool kit or want to upgrade to a comprehensive on-the-go solution, keeping tools handy will make any repairs faster and safer to complete. 
  • Winch – A trusty winch—like this 3000lb KFI ATV model—can be key to getting yourself or your buddies out of a tricky situation. You’ll never go wrong packing an extra winch rope either.

Don’t forget to consider the weather and terrain of the ride you’re going on, and pack additional items accordingly. If it’s cold or the temperature might drop if you’re stuck overnight, adding thermal emergency blankets, extra layers and gloves, and your favorite fire starter can be handy additions to your essentials kit.

Kawasaki Brute Force ready for trail riding with a snorkel kit, winch, and upgraded tires.

Commonplace ATV breakdowns

While the list of things that can go wrong on a ride could be endless, preparing for some of the most common problems will help keep you cool, calm and collected if you come up against them. This will not only help minimize the damage to your rig, but also keep you and your riding group from panicking and possibly making the situation worse. 

Flat tires

Whether you missed a leak before the ride started or your tire got punctured by a piece of shrapnel on the trail, flat tires are liable to happen on any ride. The fix is usually simple, as you can patch an ATV tire easily. First, find the puncture and remove any puncturing objects. Then prep the plug and hole before carefully inserting the plug. Let the glue dry thoroughly before reinflating the tire; for easy reinflation, pick up a tire repair kit that includes CO2 compressed air cylinders that can connect directly to the tire valve. 
For those who prefer preventive measures, putting tire sealant into your tires before riding will permanently self-repair leaks in both your treads and sidewalls.

Avoiding flat tires

Some flats can’t be avoided, even if you avoid all the sharp looking obstacles you notice, but checking your tires before you hit the trails is a good way to make sure you aren’t beginning your ride with a deflating tire. After you’ve fixed up your ATV’s flat tire, don’t forget to pick up a quality replacement when you get back home—riding the trails on a plug too long is a gamble worth avoiding.

Broken axles

A broken axle is an immediate buzzkill, but it doesn’t have to mean abandoning your ATV until you can find a way to drag it back to your garage. If the break isn’t on the joint, you can splint the axle with a sturdy wrench, stick or anything else relatively straight and strong enough to do the job. You’ll go through a lot of duct tape, but you should be able to make your way out without too much trouble.

How to not break your axle

We’re riders too, so we aren’t about to tell you to stop riding so hard. The easiest solution is to replace your axle before it breaks. But how do you know if your axle is going bad or on the verge of breaking? Popping noises while turning, unusual vibrations at higher speeds and grease on the boots of any joint are signs your axle may be ready to give up the ghost.

High Lifter DHT-X Axle with packaging.

To avoid most axle problems altogether, upgrade your ATV with stronger, bigger, more durable axles. Lucky for you, High Lifter has a huge selection of axles where you’re sure to find one that can stand up to the way you ride.

Running out of gas

We’ve all been there. You didn’t check the gas gauge or it’s busted and you didn’t know until too late. While there isn’t a way to MacGyver yourself out of an empty tank, the simple solution is to always, always bring an extra fuel container with you on every ride. Checking to make sure it’s full and the gas is still good should be one of the top priorities before hitting the trails.

Staying fueled up on the trails

To avoid having to ride out for fuel on the back of your buddy’s ATV, make sure to keep your fuel gauge in working order and good fuel in your tank. Even with these precautions, sometimes rides take us farther than anticipated, so keeping extra fuel on hand is a necessity. For a space saving option, check out these RotoPax mounts and containers that can be installed on any flat surface. We even have distinctively colored water containers that use these mounts as well!

Getting stuck

Even with your off-road monster of a machine, getting stuck in thick mud or a steep ditch is still a real possibility. If you have a winch, getting unstuck usually isn’t a problem, but how do you get your ATV unstuck and out of trouble without a winch or if yours isn’t working? In every sticky situation, removing excess weight from your rig is a good first step. After that, try some of these methods: 

For ditches/non-mud related problems:

  • Grab a rope and anchor it to a sturdy tree 
  • Loop the other end of the rope through the wheel that is pointed in the direction you want your ATV to move (make sure you don’t loop around any vital or brittle parts)
  • Gently engage the throttle 
  • The goal is to coax the rope around your tire as you gradually get unstuck
Kawasaki Brute Force stuck in a rut on a rock trail.

For getting your ATV unstuck from mud: 

  • The best first bet is add traction beneath your tires – floor mats, sacrificial blankets and jackets and branches are all worth trying 
  • If extra traction isn’t working, dig an incline in the direction of your recovery
  • Give manpower a shot – a bit of pushing can go a long way

Don’t stay stuck for long

Sometimes there’s no avoiding getting stuck, but that’s no reason you need to waste your whole day getting free. Investing in a high-quality winch will give you the perfect tool to haul yourself or your buddies out of trouble.

Stay Prepared and Enjoy Your Rides More

When you’re ready for some of the most common problems that occur on the trails, every ride becomes more relaxed and fun. Even more important, every ride you go on will be safer for you and everyone else on the trails.