How to Fix ATV Timing Issues: A Step-by-Step Guide


It can be scary when an ATV doesn’t start or begins making weird noises. There are many things that can cause this to happen and ATV timing is often the culprit. Today I will present everything there is to know about ATV timing such as symptoms that show when it’s off and how to fix it.

These are the symptoms that indicate an ATV timing is off:

  • Difficulty starting: When the engine takes longer than usual to start;
  • Poor performance: When the timing is off, the engine doesn’t run well;
  • Backfiring: One of the most common indicators of ATV timing off is backfires;
  • Poor idle: The ATV’s idle timing is unstable with the RPM fluctuating;
  • Slow acceleration: A poorly timed engine will not be able to maintain high RPMs.

If your four-wheeler presents one (or more) of these symptoms, then chances are that the ATV jumped time and needs to be fixed ASAP.

Truth be told, ATV timing off is not a common problem for four-wheelers. This is why most people don’t know how to fix it and end up paying hundreds of dollars for repairs. Luckily, you can fix this problem

infographic listing the reasons why ATV is timing off

How to Tell When Your ATV Timing is Off (Full Symptoms Breakdown)

Kawasaki Brute Force 300

Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of an incorrect ATV timing is a skill that every ATV rider should have. Fortunately, this is not very complicated. You just have to pay attention to the common signs below:

#1 Difficulty Starting the Four-Wheeler

The most common sign of dealing with an ATV that has jumped timed is difficulty starting. If the four-wheeler takes longer than usual to start, this means that you are dealing with a bad ATV timing. This can be quite annoying because it means that you might get left stranded in the middle of the trail because your four-wheeler doesn’t start. You shouldn’t waste anytime if you are starting to notice this symptom and fix the issue ASAP.

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#2 Poor Performance

Does it feel like your ATV has lost some of its power? This is another common sign that the timing of the engine is off. You will experience reduced power, difficulty accelerating, and the inability to reach fast speeds. The quad will feel sluggish and unresponsive because the engine doesn’t have the correct timing that it needs to keep the RPMs high.

#3 Backfiring

If your ATV is making loud popping noises from the exhaust when you start it, then I have some bad news for you. Backfiring is often caused by incorrectly timed engines. While the backfiring might make you sound cool on the trail, you shouldn’t ride with the ATV in this state for long because it can lead to serious engine damage. You should make it a priority to address the ATV timing and get it fixed.

#4 Poor Idle

Another common symptom of bad ATV timing is poor idle. The reason behind this is that the engine can’t keep the RPM stable. The RPM will fluctuate even though you have taken your hand off the gas. This also the reason why ATVs that jumped time can’t keep the same speed for long periods.

Does your engine keep stalling? This might be another type of issue that you need to fix. Check out my how to fix ATV stalling guide to learn more.

#5 Slow Acceleration

Considering that a poorly timed ATV engine will struggle to maintain RPMs, it should come as no surprise that this also leads to slow acceleration. No matter how hard you pull on the gas throttle, the four-wheeler will barely rev. The engine will be limited and this will take out all the enjoyment of your ATV riding experience.

By identifying these symptoms, you will be able to determine instantly if your ATV has jumped time and needs to be fixed.

How to Fix ATV Timing Off – Beginner’s Guide

man riding 2022 Honda FourTrax Rincon through sand

I know that fixing issues such as ATV jumped time might seem complicated if you have no previous mechanical experience. However, I assure you that this can be done from the comfort of your garage if you are willing to get a bit messy. I do need to mention that if you don’t feel comfortable around your quad’s engine, you should consider visiting the local mechanic’s shop. With that said, let’s jump into it:

Required Tools

In order to fix bad ATV timing you will need the following tools: socket set, wrenches, spark plug socket, screwdriver, and a flashlight (you can use your smartphone for this).

#1 Remove the Spark Plug

After identifying the bad ATV timing symptoms and making sure that you have access to the required tools, you need to locate the spark plug and remove it. This can be done using a spark plug socket. You want to remove the spark plug because it makes it easier to turn and crank when checking the timing of the engine.

#2 Remove the Camshaft Cover

Next up, you will need to remove the camshaft cover so that you can see the cam sprocket and timing marks. This is essential because it shows helps you get the perfect timing.

#3 Check the Timing Marks

Now that the camshaft cover is off, you need to check the timing marks and align the “T” mark with the reference point, indicating the TDC (top dead center). In addition, you need to make sure that the cam lobes are facing done and that the cam sprockets align with the reference points. If they do not, then your timing is off.

#4 Adjust the Timing

After identifying that the ATV timing is off and the sprockets don’t align correctly, you need to adjust them. You do this by removing the cam sprocket and adjusting the chain to the right position. The chain needs to be aligned with the timing marks. Once this is done, reattach the sprocket to the cam while ensuring that the cam lobes are facing down and that the timing marks align.

#5 Reassemble and Test

The final step is to reassemble the ATV by installing the camshaft cover and spark plug. Now, you need to start the ATV and see if the performance is on point to determine if the timing issue has been fixed.

I also want to mention that this guide is the same one you should follow in case you want to adjust timing on a Chinese ATV.

Will ATV Start If Timing is Off?

In general, ATVs will not start if the timing is off. Incorrect timing disrupts the proper sequence of events needed for the engine to start. This is why the #1 symptom that shows your four-wheeler jumped time is that it has difficulty starting. When the timing is off, the cam and valvetrain will not be able to sync with the crank and piston, therefore making the four-wheeler non functional.

There is an exception to ATVs that jumped time and can still start. The exception is single-cylinder and single-cam engines. If the timing on these engines is off by 180 degrees, they will still start because the spark is fired twice. However, this doesn’t mean that you should still ride the ATV. The off timing can lead to expensive damages to the engine’s parts.

Final Thoughts

Timing is vital to the performance of your ATV. If you pay attention to the symptoms I shared today, then you will be able to quickly diagnose when your ATV has jumped time and get it fixed. As a final thought, you should always consider consulting the ATV’s service manual for specific instructions when fixing the ATV timing. That’s not all. You can also join our Facebook group of ATV anthusiasts where you can ask questions and get help from me and other people just like you.

Bob Kelly

Hey there, my name is Bob and I've been riding ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs for most of my life. Going on outdoor adventures has always been my passion. I love sharing tips and tricks with beginners who are getting ready to join the world of outdoor enthusiasts. You can reach me at bobtheatvguy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.

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