Why Is My ATV Burning Oil? 

When your ATV burns oil, it means that oil has reached the combustion chamber. This can lead to scary occurrences for you each time you fire up your ATV. What is causing your ATV to do this?

Your ATV is burning oil for the following reasons:

  • Exhaust is dirty
  • Valve stem seals are old
  • The muffler has oil in it
  • You’re using too much oil
  • Or too little oil 
  • Or the incorrect kind
  • Your ATV is new

In today’s guide, we’ll examine why ATVs burn oil per the list above as well as discuss what to do about it. If your ATV has this problem, then this is one article you’re certainly not going to want to miss! 

What Does It Mean for an ATV to Burn Oil?

You can’t diagnose a problem you don’t understand. That goes for anything, including your ATV. 

So what exactly does it mean when an ATV burns oil? After all, your ATV is not a kerosene lamp. 

As we touched on in the intro, burning oil is a phenomenon that happens in vehicles like ATVs that occurs when oil seeps into the wrong parts of the vehicle. Now oil can get into the air/fuel mixture.

When you power on your ATV, the oil in the air/fuel mixture sets alight when the spark plug activates the combustion chamber. 

What results is pretty terrifying. Your ATV’s exhaust system will release blue-colored smoke (usually). 

The performance of your ATV will not be up to par either, which can be worrisome if your ATV is only a couple of years old. 

Here’s Why Your ATV Is Burning Oil

Now that you understand more about what it means when your ATV burns oil, it’s time to diagnose what may be causing the issue. Per the intro, here are seven causes of oil burning in an ATV.

The Exhaust Is Dirty

As we always mention on the blog, sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective. That’s why we thought we would start by talking about a dirty exhaust.

Due to the placement of the exhaust on your ATV, it’s not too difficult for debris such as leaves, clumps of mud, dry dirt, and even small animals or insects to lodge themselves into the exhaust. 

Then, once you hit the open road on your ATV, the exhaust pipe heats up to such a degree that it will burn anything in its presence (which hopefully is not live animals at that point!). 

The odorous aroma that greets your nostrils could very well be burning dirt or leaves.

Thus, it’s worth it to take 10 or 15 minutes and inspect this area. Give the exhaust a thorough cleaning so there’s nothing gunking it up.

Be sure to clean the space between the heat shield and the exhaust too, as this area is commonly missed but can get dirty all the same. 

Then power up your ATV and see if she starts without any kind of oil-burning issues. If so, then you’ve solved the problem very easily and for free! 

The Valve Stem Seals Are Old

While we wish it could always be as easy as that, we recognize that that’s not always the case. 

If your ATV’s exhaust is in tip-top condition or cleaning it didn’t solve the issue, you have a handful of other areas to check.

The next is the valve stems.

The valve stem is on the rim or wheel of your ATV. Its duty is to maintain the tire inflation levels so your tires don’t go flat the moment you hit uneven terrain. The valve stem also permits air deflation or inflation.

As a type of self-contained valve, the valve stem can send gas into the ATV’s chamber, so if it goes screwy, then you’re going to see blue smoke when you turn on the ignition of your ATV. 

While damage to the valve stem itself can cause the above phenomenon, the more likely culprit is the seals that surround the stems.

These seals don’t last forever, just as no part of your ATV does. If you’ve had your ATV for years and you’ve never bothered to check the valve stem seals, do yourself a favor and rectify that now. 

More than likely, you’ll see a series of seals that are worn down and old. 

Fortunately, this fix is easy enough, and it’s typically not too expensive, either. 

The Muffler Has Oil In It

Is your valve stem seal is fine? Then it’s now time to shine the spotlight on your vehicle’s muffler.

The muffler, aka the silencer, is designed to lessen the noise from the internal combustion engine. It’s a handy little component until it begins contributing to your ATV’s problems. 

Here’s what could be happening. The muffler has leftover oil in it. When you turn over your ATV, the exhaust generates enough heat that the oil in the muffler burns.

This causes more oil accumulation, and then more and more each time you use your ATV. 

If an accumulation of burnt oil in the muffler is your problem, then you might notice that your ATV’s exhaust is leaking a dark-colored oil. 

All you have to do to solve this problem is purge the oil accumulation from your muffler. 

Take out the exhaust’s purge valve. Then take a rag and cover the hole in the exhaust. Turn your ATV on and let the engine rev, but don’t drive. Just keep revving the engine for a few minutes.

This should purge any remaining oil in the exhaust so you can ride your ATV without fear. 

You’re Using Too Much Oil

As this next issue is about to exemplify, sometimes your ATV burning oil doesn’t necessarily have overly expensive causes. It could just be that you’re filling the vehicle with too much oil. 

One of the most obvious signs of overfilling your ATV is that oil leaks out of the exhaust. Of course, if you’re not already regularly checking the exhaust, then this is a sign you can clearly miss.

In that case, then you’ll notice something is wrong when the extra oil burns up in the engine and causes an odorous smell as well as lots of smoke.

Now, if this happens once or twice, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about long-term engine consequences. 

That said, if you make overfilling your ATV a regular occurrence, the engine could become damaged with time.

You could have to get your ATV’s engine repaired or even replaced, both of which will be very costly. 

You’re Using Too Little Oil 

The opposite can also contribute to your ATV problems. That is, if you underfill the engine, then it will burn oil as well.

You’ll smell a very strong odor of something burning, and it won’t just be from the exhaust. Rather, the smell will permeate throughout your entire ATV.

The reason you’re smelling such a strong odor is that the ATV lacks oil, so the engine components are experiencing friction. The friction produces heat, and you smell that heat. 

Plus, whatever meager oil is in the engine will burn due to all the extra heat your engine has generated.

Or the Incorrect Kind of Oil

You likely own other vehicles besides an ATV. You might decide to fill your ATV’s tank with oil that’s not formulated for vehicles like it or UTVs. 

In some cases, this will make your ATV burn oil. The reason is that certain kinds of oil heat up so fast that it doesn’t take long for your engine to burn them as you use your ATV.

At the very least, you’ll notice a strange smell.

You should only use oil that’s formulated for ATVs. Even if you’re on a tight budget for maintaining your ATV, the oil is not an area where you want to pinch pennies. Buy high-quality oil and your vehicle will perform a lot better. 

Your ATV Is New 

We started with a rather simple cause for your ATV burning oil, and now we’ll end with one as well.

How old is your ATV? 

If you just drove it off the lot yesterday or the day before, then that could be your problem. 

Most new ATVs are filled with starter oil straight from the factory. The oil is designed to safeguard the ATV parts between their time in storage and shipping. 

As the starter oil burns, you might see smoke and smell a strong burning scent. Although it’s concerning, it’s normal.

Once that starter oil is gone, your problem should be as well. 

How to Prevent an ATV from Burning Oil

Phew! That was quite an ordeal you had with your ATV. Fortunately, it seems like your ATV is no longer burning oil, but you’re of the mindset that you can never be too careful.

We think you’ll like this section of prevention tips for keeping your ATV from burning oil.

Skip the Premium Grade Oil

Although you would think that premium grade oil is the best of the best, we don’t recommend it for ATVs. 

The reason? These oils will burn at a hotter rate compared to regular oil, which can certainly contribute to your ATV issues. 

The only exception is if the manufacturer recommends premium grade oil, but don’t expect that they will. 

Never Let Your ATV Run Out of Oil

If you’ve used your ATV for 100 miles or 10 hours, whichever comes first, then you need to replenish the vehicle with oil. 

This will prevent too little oil from being in the vehicle, which we addressed in the last section as a potential cause of your ATV burning oil.

Here’s something further that should motivate you to keep your ATV’s tank filled. If you don’t, your manufacturer warranty could become null and void. 

You’re supposed to check your ATV’s valves every 100 miles and change the oil. Don’t miss out on long-term protection and possibly free repairs by voiding your warranty! 

Maintain Your Spark Plugs

The spark plugs can hinder how well your ATV handles oil and reduce the performance of the vehicle. 

Thus, once you hit that 100-mile mark, besides filling your ATV with oil, you also want to check the spark plugs and replace any faulty ones.

Final Thoughts  

If your ATV is burning oil, it’s not a bad idea to determine if you’re using the correct type of oil and whether you’ve filled the vehicle with too much or too little oil.

If not those causes, then it could be a problem with the spark plug seals, a dirty muffler, or a gunky exhaust. Don’t forget that if your ATV is brand-new off the lot, the starter oil can affect performance as well! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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