Mechanics Make Quad Repair Look Easy… It’s So Not Easy.
I’m Learning Quad Repair from YouTube, Verbal Descriptions, and a Bit of Help
With the purchase of my first quad, I realized that if I’m going to own desert toys, it would a good idea to learn basic quad repair. Hauling my stuff back and forth from Winterhaven to San Diego would be a pain in the butt, especially if more than one quad broke down at a time. Every repair shop charged close to a hundred dollars an hour, and it took a half-hour just to remove the plastic fairings and get at the mechanical parts. It seemed prudent that I learn how to work on my own stuff, at least a little bit. Please keep in mind that I was starting from scratch; it took me years to learn how to properly unload a quad… here’s the super-secret, no-ramp shortcut, and look how nervous I was doing it.
The quads optimally should have had an oil change every weekend of riding; I did about half that, or maybe a quarter of that, or maybe even less. Well, certainly when the oil looked like coffee, it was time for an oil change, and I may as well change the oil filter, clean the air filter, check brake fluid, inspect the brake pads and rotor… and do it on all of the quads. So basically, even though I consistently procrastinated on the work, it felt like I’m always doing bike maintenance. It was less intimidating to work on the quads than it was on a scooter or motorcycle, as if the vehicle broke you’d just stop, not stop-and-crash-over-sideways, so I was more willing to take the risk of trying the work myself.
However, most of my friends were either professional mechanics or were very mechanically inclined. I could see that it caused them real pain to watch me bumble my way through a repair, and it was generally easier for them to just do it for me than to try to explain how to do the work.
Tough titty. I was doing it myself until I absolutely hit a total wall.
After all, quad repair information was readily available on YouTube, online mechanic forums, manufacturer websites… that wasn’t not the same as having years of experience like my friends, of course, but it was a starting place. The worst that could have happen was that I’d have to take my quad to a shop to have professionally repaired, which was no worse a spot than I’d have been in originally. I may as well have tried to stretch and grow, try for the satisfaction of learning something new and maybe save a little money in the process.
My TRX450 was misbehaving, hesitating and acting like it wasn’t getting consistent fuel. Then it started leaking gas. The lines all looked solid, so the trouble must be a seal in the carb, maybe? One professional mechanic friend was walking past my trailer and casually offered that it sounded like a carburetor problem, confirming my somewhat hesitant diagnosis. This meant the problem would have to be solved on another trip to the desert, as I was going to need a few parts.
Normally I ordered maintenance parts through a friend’s shop, but he didn’t have access to everything (and I was a bit uncomfortable running to him for every little thing, too, so I tried to save my orders for single big list). It was always a bit nerve-wracking going to a new parts supplier. Several shops in town had snobby sales staff, and the parts department guys have treated me like there’s no way I’d be working on my own bike. Their affect was that I was just pretending to get parts for myself and then have some man to do the work. It was a deeply offensive attitude and was unfortunately pervasive in the motorcycle world, another barrier to entry for women motorcycle enthusiasts.
This time I was going to try El Cajon Motoworld, where I’d purchased a few pieces of gear on clearance. The staff seemed friendly enough. Let’s see if the parts department would have patience or just fluff me off as A Dumb Girl.
The first person I spoke with was polite, and he had the understandable level of gentle eye-rolling that someone would get with a new customer that’s unskilled in engine repair. Then another employee, Eddie, stepped in, grabbed an exploded-view diagram, explained a few things, circled some stuff, thrust a handful of o-rings in my hand, and sent me on my way. He made the carb rebuild sound straightforward, and I left feeling confident and happy that I had a new resource for parts and questions.
On my next trip to the desert, I dove headfirst into the repair, discovering that a previous mechanic had doubled up the o-rings around the main jet. The two rings had tangled up on each other over time, creating a fuel leak. While I was already into the carb, I cleared some corrosion off the jets, changed out a few more rubber bits, and put the whole thing back together to test my work… and discovered a mistake that required taking everything apart again and doing the work a second time.
My carb rebuild on the TRX450 took me about three hours, well past sunset. A real mechanic could have done it in ten minutes. It didn’t matter; having that quad roar back to life after I’d reassembled it was worth the time and frustration.
If I get really stuck, I have no problem taking the quads in for real repairs at an actual shop. When out for a long trail ride that took us through some rocky washes, I accidentally knocked off the skid plate and took a rock to the brake rotor on the YFZ450. The nick in the rotor caused the whole brake assembly to overheat, and the rotor warped, taking out my brake pads. That repair took two trips to Liberty Motorsports (the closest retailer to my desert hideaway), the advice of several mechanic friends and some actual hands-on help, for which I was very grateful. However, nothing worked.
Finally I had to take the quad in to El Cajon Motoworld for a service call. Apparently, the brake fluid line just needed a really good bleed, as there were some stubborn air bubbles. A vacuum bleeder, a tool I’d never heard of, did the trick. This was a somewhat expensive lesson that left me a bit more knowledgeable about quad repair, and I was looking forward to doing a solid test-ride that weekend.
If the day was really lucky I’ll get to watch another gorgeous sunset, like this one photographed through a buddy’s binoculars.