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What should you consider before changing the ATV’s chain?

You can change your ATV’s chain yourself, without the help of a professional, by following the steps below. However, be prepared to focus on this task and make sure you have sufficient time to complete it. 

Once you’ve managed to change and tighten the chain correctly, next time will be all about repetition. And there will surely be a next time as changing the chain and adjusting it are some of the most common  ATV maintenance operations. 

These vehicles’ drive chains and rear sprockets are not covered or enclosed. Therefore, they are exposed to all sorts of weather and riding conditions and can wear out. As a result, they have to be inspected regularly and, if necessary, changed. Protecting these parts of the ATV also implies storing it safely under a cover when you are not using it, especially if you leave it outdoors.

You should check the ATV’s chain especially if you haven’t been riding it in a while. This way, you can see if any damages occurred and if it needs to be tightened in order to get the right rear tension and avoid any blockage. Also, if you haven’t used your ATV in a long time, even if the chain doesn’t need to be changed or adjusted, you still might need to lubricate it.

If you don’t do this, the chain might get damaged due to corrosive action and end up damaging other nearby elements such as the rear sprocket or even the transmission or the engine.

Before you proceed, you need to have a set of tools at hand that will help you change and tighten the ATV chain. Some of the tools that are frequently used for these operations include, an ATV stand or a hydraulic ATV lift, a socket set and socket wrench, a sprocket set, C-clamp, T-handle wrenches and open ended wrenches, a torque wrench, degreaser, an Allen key set, master link pliers, snap ring pliers, a sprocket tool, X-ring chain, a threadlocker with medium strength, chain roller, tools for the chain alignment and chain rivet, a chain breaker and a chain slider, chain press tool, and a flathead screwdriver.

Finally, don’t forget to wear gloves as safety equipment for this operation.


How to change and tighten your ATV’s chain

If you have a jack stand or an ATV lift, you first start by lifting the vehicle, ensuring its stability. Then, you proceed by removing the rear wheels. Often, those who go through the effort of changing their ATV’s chain also change the vehicle’s sprocket. If you decide to do this as well, you should start with the rear sprockets. 

To get to them, you will first need to remove the rear tires as the rear sprocket is the first that needs to be replaced. Then, loosen the sprocket nuts, remove the bolts that hold the sprockets, and then remove the rear sprocket, followed by the front sprocket.

While installing the new sprocket, after the nuts and bolts are removed (and you can use the T-handle wrenches and open ended wrenches to do this), you should also take some time to properly clean the hub.

At this stage of the process, use the degreaser. When you are done, you can install the new sprocket and tighten the bolts and nuts back with the medium-strength threadlocker. Make sure you don’t tighten too much though, as this will make your work more difficult the next time you want to change this element.

When you secure the bolts, you should make sure that they are properly tightened and that the same tension has been applied to each. To do this, tighten them one by one using a star-shaped pattern, and afterward test them by hitting them to see if the same amount of tension has been applied.

If the bolts are not tightened equally, while you perform the test, the sprocket will warp or it can even get detached. For more instructions on how to tighten the bolts, you can check your ATV’s technical manual.  

It is also worth mentioning that, for easier sprocket installation, many models are provided with spring clips, a washer, or a security plate. The clips can be easily removed using the master link pliers. In case the new sprocket is not provided with this type of system, you should pay attention when removing the old one, as you will use the same clips, washer or plate your vehicle already has.


The next step of the process is inspecting the ATV’s chain rollers and chain slider. If they have deteriorated, it’s time to replace them together with the old chain. Once you are ready for the chain replacement, attach this new element on the front sprocket. Make sure it is tight and slowly pass it through the chain guide, and then, around the rear sprocket.

Depending on the length of the new chain, you might have to make some changes, so that it can fit perfectly, using the adjusters. You need to compare the old chain with the new one to make sure the size is right.

If the new chain is longer, you should shorten it by cutting the extra part with the chain breaker. If it is shorter, you can use the chain adjuster to fix it by loosening the jam nut and positioning the adjustment bolts so that the axle can slide forward. The marks on the axle blocks can help you adjust the chain properly on each side.

After sliding the axle forward, it is time to install the master link on the new chain. In case the ATV has an O-ring chain, you have to begin by installing the O-ring first, on each pin. Afterward, you can install the master link.

At this stage of the process, you can use the chain press tool to ease your work. You should carefully align the press tool on the chain. Then, start slowly pressing the outer bolts. After that, grab the center bolt and start tightening it. 

This bolt will bring the link pins and the plate together. Make sure you don’t apply too much force when tightening the center bolt, however. If it gets overtightened, it can ruin the O-rings. After you are done, take the master link pliers and get ready to install the link clip. The master link clip should be positioned oppositely in relationship with the rotational direction.

Finally, it is time to adjust the chain’s tightness. As you reach this step, you should be aware of why it is important to tighten the chain. A chain that is too tight or too loose will affect your riding in one way or another.

It can have overall negative consequences on the ATV’s drivability making you feel something is simply not right when you’re riding. Loose or over-tightened chains wear faster than those that have a fit snug, requiring time-consuming repairs.

Moreover, other parts of the ATV such as the sprocket, the drivetrain elements, and even the engine can also get damaged if the chain is not adjusted properly. To avoid these problems, you can measure the chain’s slack using a ruler or tape measure, to see how well it fits.

In your ATV’s manual, you should be able to find indications regarding the proper chain slack. From a technical perspective, you need to use the chain adjusters to carry out this process. The adjusters allow you to provide the necessary distance from the swingarm. Before you complete the operation, make sure you’ve applied the same distance to both sides.  

The last step is to install your ATV’s wheel and tire and to bring it back to the ground. To see if everything fits perfectly, start the engine for a test ride, just make sure you take it slowly at first.

Your ATV might need this sort of maintenance and adjustment works periodically, especially if you ride it often. The good thing is that once you’ve managed to change and tighten the chain successfully for the first time, you’ll know how to proceed the next time.



A passionate admirer of all-leather Harley merchandise, Irina can help readers better understand the world of motorcycles. From the latest fashion trends to trip ideas for your next bike vacay, you will find everything you need to know about your two-wheel passion on this website.

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