2005 polaris 4x4 atv how to adjust the shift lever

ATV Won’t Go Into Gear or Shift - the Most Common Causes

Troubleshooting an ATV that won’t go into gear or won’t shift gears can be quite complicated, but not always. Whether you can address the issue on your own depends on the severity of the problem and your mechanical skill level. 

ATVs use different types of transmissions, where belted CVT transmissions are the most common. The possible causes and the steps required to solve the problem depend on the type of transmission your ATV has. 

This post covers some of the most common causes if your ATV doesn’t go into gear. It is meant to guide where to begin your troubleshooting, not as a complete repair guide for all ATV transmissions. 

The service manual for your specific brand and model will provide more detailed troubleshooting procedures for your transmission issues. 

Check out eManual Online to get factory workshop service and repair manuals for your ATV.

Please note that it’s easy to worsen a transmission issue if you don’t know what you are doing.

Some of the repairs require special tools such as a clutch puller or a clutch disassembly tool. If the repair seems intimidating to you or you do not have the right tools, it is recommended that you take the bike to a dealer technician.

Page Contents

Step 1: Does the ATV shift gears normally with the engine off?

We recommend you begin the troubleshooting by testing whether you can shift gears when the engine is not running. This initial test allows you to narrow down the possible culprits of your gear-shifting issue.

If you can shift gears with the engine off, you know that the gear-shifting mechanism and the inside of the gearbox most likely work fine.

Gear shifting problems that are only present when the engine is running are usually clutch- or belt-related (Step 3) or caused by a high idle (Step 2). You may find that the bike wants to creep or move forward when in gear at idle. But even without creep, the problem may be with one of these components.  

If you cannot shift gears with the engine off, we recommend you jump straight down to Step 4.

Step 2: The idle is set too high – causing the clutch to engage

Many ATVs come with an automatic clutch that engages when you apply throttle, and the clutch speeds up. The same principle applies whether you have a wet disc clutch or a dry clutch, as you find on a belted CVT transmission.

If the ATV, for some reason, idles higher than it’s supposed to, it may cause the clutch to engage slightly, putting a small but constant tension to the metal gears inside the gearbox. This pressure on the gears makes the ATV very hard to shift.

Most ATVs should idle around 1100 to 1200 RPM. If your bike’s idle is higher than this, you must address the cause of your high idle.

There will be an adjustment screw to set the idle for carbureted ATVs. Refer to your owner’s manual for the correct setting for your bike. Adjusting the idle on a fuel-injected ATV is usually a job for a mechanic.

Related: How to Idle a Four-Wheeler: Proper ATV Idle Adjustment

Step 3: The CVT is engaging too soon or not disengaging properly

When idling, the primary clutch on a belted CVT transmission is supposed to spin freely without engaging (not pulling on the belt). This relieves the tension on the gearbox and allows you to shift gears.

When you hit the throttle, the primary clutch closes and pulls the belt. The belt makes the secondary (driven) clutch spin, creating tension between the gearbox’s gears. 

This is how a CVT transmission works:

However, when the transmission is not tuned correctly or has a mechanical issue, it may engage and spin the secondary clutch even at idle.

To troubleshoot an issue like this, you need to remove the belt cover to inspect the clutches and see how they behave when the engine runs, both at idle and when revving in neutral.

Please note that the clutches will be spinning at high speeds. Keep your hands and all loose objects away from the clutches to avoid severe injury.

Cause 1: The clutches are dirty

If the primary clutch is packed with dirt, it may bind or not open enough to release the belt. Now is a good time to pull the clutches for proper cleaning and service.

Cause 2: The clutch spring is getting weak

The springs inside a CVT transmission clutch may weaken over time, preventing it from functioning as it should. Clutch springs are replaceable, but you may need special tools to pull and disassemble the clutch.

Cause 3: The clutches are not aligned; a bad or loose engine mount

If the motor mount is bad or has come loose, the primary clutch may be out of alignment. Use a pry bar to see if you can lift the whole engine. You should barely be able to see the engine move, if at all.

Cause 4: The clutches are not aligned; the belt is offset (common issue)

The drive belt should ride in the clutch assembly center, not touching the primary’s two clutch sheaves. If it does rub against one of the sheaves, it will cause unwanted tension on the belt.

The alignment between the two clutches can be adjusted by adding or removing metal shims/spacers between the sheaves, usually on the driven (secondary) clutch.

Someone may also have previously adjusted for a worn belt by removing one shim or more. When installing a new belt, you may need to add those spacers back to prevent binding, leading to gear-shifting issues.

Cause 5: Worn drive belt

If the drive belt is worn too much, it will ride low on the sheaves, causing a slight creep.

Cause 6: Using an aftermarket drive belt

We recommend that you only use OEM belts. There are aftermarket belts available that offer better performance and longevity at a smaller price. But slight variations in production tolerances can cause issues such as the clutch engaging too soon.

Aftermarket belts also use a harder compound to make them last longer, which may wear your clutch sheaves over time.

Cause 7: Shredded drive belt

Remove the belt cover. If the belt is shredded, it may have gotten wrapped around the driven shaft, causing it to bind up.

Cause 8: Worn EBS washers (common issue)

Polaris ATVs with EBS (engine brake system) have components that may wear out in time. Inspect the EBS fiber washers (one on each side of the EBS bushing) on the primary clutch to see if they are worn out. If the washers are worn, the belt may not ride in the grooves as it should and instead ride one of the sheaves.

Cause 9: Bad one-way bearing

Some ATVs with engine brake systems have a primary clutch with a one-way sprag bearing, a so-called one-way clutch. It is supposed to spin freely in one direction and be locked in the other direction.

This bearing may go bad over time, preventing the clutch from turning freely. It may be hard to tell if the bearing is ok; just a slight drag may cause shifting issues.

Step 4: The ATV won’t shift gears even when the engine is turned off

In this case, the problem is likely with the gear-changing mechanism or the transmission’s internals. Begin by troubleshooting the externals as they are the most accessible. 

Cause 1: Gear linkage is worn or out of adjustment

Some ATVs have adjustable gear linkage. If not adjusted correctly, the bike will not shift as it should.

How to inspect and adjust the gear linkage:

  • Make sure the ATV is in neutral (N).
  • Remove the linkage from the shift box.
  • Inspect the bell cranks to make sure they are not stripped or have split.
  • Inspect the ball ends for wear.
  • Replace any damaged components.
  • Set the gear shifter to neutral.
  • Adjust the ball ends until they drop straight onto the shifter.

Cause 2: Manual clutch transmission issues

On ATVs that have manual clutch transmissions, you should make sure that:

  • The handlebar-mounted lever is not damaged.
  • The cable is not broken.
  • The cable does not need adjusting.

Cause 3: Internal gearbox issues

To test your gearbox for internal damage without splitting the case, you can try this method:

  • The engine should be off.
  • Remove the belt cover.
  • Remove the drive belt.
  • Shift the bike into gear.
  • Try manually rotating the primary clutch; the bike should move.
  • You likely have an issue inside the gearbox if the bike does not move.

Cause 4: Wore or bent shift fork

One of the most common issues one could be facing with a gearbox’s internals is having a worn or bent shift fork.

The shift fork is what shifts the gears in place. It can’t push the gears completely in place if it is bent or worn.

Step 5: Wet clutch or hydrostatic transmission issues 

Some ATVs use an oil-sump wet clutch combined with the dry clutches on the CVT belt transmission. You also have some Honda ATVs with hydrostatic transmissions that use oil to drive the ATV forward.

Here are a few things to check out whenever any of these types of ATVs won’t go into or shift gears.

Cause 1: The oil level is low

Ensure the oil level is correct, or the bike may not shift as it should.  

Cause 2: The oil needs replacing

If the oil is old or contaminated, it needs replacing:

  • Drain the old oil into a drain pan.
  • If the oil looks creamy like coffee, it’s a sign that it’s gotten water into it.
  • If the oil is black and smelly, it’s old and long overdue for replacement. 
  • Also, look for debris, such as old seals drained with oil.
  • Add new oil to the correct level. Make sure it is according to spec. 
  • Let the bike run for 10 minutes.
  • Change the oil once more.
  • This final time, also change the oil filter. 

Cause 3: The oil is not moving correctly through the engine

Using an oil pressure gauge, it is possible to measure if the oil moves well through the engine. If the pressure is weak, you may have bad seals and need to open the engine.

Step 6: Honda ES electric shift transmissions: shifter motor issues

ATVs with an electric shifter, like the Honda AS models, use an electric motor to shift through the gears. If the motor does not work, the bike will not shift gears.

The only way to make it shift is by using the emergency shifter (a short-shifting shaft sticking out the left lower side of the engine, use the supplied gear change tool). If the bike shifts when using the emergency shifter, you need to address the shifter motor.

Cause 1: The motor is wet

If the ATV has been submerged, you must ensure all the water is drained from the shifter motor. 

  • Remove the motor and give it a proper cleanse with an electronics cleaner. 
  • Let it dry, and re-grease it with dielectric grease. 
  • Hook up the motor to a 12V battery to test it before reinstalling.
  • Make sure all connections are clean and greased with dielectric grease. 

Cause 2: The motor is burnt out

Remove the motor. If the motor does not turn even when hooking it up directly to a battery, it may be burnt out and need replacing.

Cause 3: The battery is not adequately charged

It is easy to forget that an electric-shift ATV needs electricity to shift. Make sure the battery is properly charged and in good condition.

Related resources:

How to charge an ATV battery

How to troubleshoot an ATV battery that is not charging.

Cause 4: Too heavy or gummed-up grease in the shift motor gears

If you try to shift on an electric shift ATV, you may hear the shift motor moving, but it does not shift completely.

You may find that the problem is worse at colder temperatures. Fixing this issue is relatively easy. All you need to do is replace the old gummed-up grease with all-temperature, white lithium grease.

For the complete procedure, go to Hondaatvforums.net

Cause 5: Bad angle sensor

Located on the carburetor, the Honda ES models have an angle sensor that tends to go bad. After replacing the sensor, make sure it is clocked correctly.

Step 7: The ATV won’t shift into gear or into neutral without rocking it back and forth

When this happens, there is usually no need to worry. In fact, most ATVs are affected by this issue, some more than others.

What happens is that the wheels must be rotated slightly for the gears inside the gearbox to sync (line up).

You may have noticed that this phenomenon worsens when trying to shift in and out of “park” when standing on a hill.

The best way to avoid this is by applying the parking brake before putting the transmission in “park.” This way, the gears won’t bind up, and you can shift in and out of gear effortlessly.

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  • How to change gears on an ATV - ATVARMOR


    • Published bakkie

    02 Dec

    Any wheeled vehicle - from a bicycle to a multi-ton truck - has a transmission in its device: a system that transmits rotation from the engine to the wheels. The operation of the transmission - and therefore the speed of travel - can be controlled by shifting gears.

    Gear shifting is organized differently in each mode of transport. In the article below, we will tell you exactly how to shift gears on ATVs, and what gearboxes are found on such equipment.

    Types of gearboxes for ATVs and a list of gears in them

    Gearboxes for ATVs can be of two types:

    1. Mechanical. Similar to motorcycle gearboxes. They are put mainly on racing models, but in recent years they have also begun to be found on utility ATVs. They have a foot clutch or clutch with a lever on the steering wheel (in most cases it is), and a foot shifter. Manual transmission usually has 4 “forward” gears, neutral and reverse.
    2. CVT. They have high and low (L and H) forward gears, neutral, reverse and parking brake. Some ATVs (the cheapest and least powerful) can have only one forward gear. You don't need to depress the clutch to shift.

    Rare and mostly found in older models, but other variations can be found. For example - "automatic" with the ability to manually shift gears.

    Manual ATVs are a little more difficult to drive (at least at first, until you get used to it), but you can more accurately select the appropriate mode. And vice versa: CVT "boxes" are much easier to operate, they are easy to master for a beginner who gets behind the wheel of an ATV for the first time. But on the other hand, with active driving along a route with variable difficulty, riding a CVT will be a little less convenient.

    For example: you are driving on a flat packed dirt road on H and you see a large stretch of muddy road ahead with deep mud (or a steep hill, or bumps, or stones). You will have to come to a complete stop and shift to L, drive through mud, and when you get back on a dry road, come to a complete stop again and shift back to H. , like motorcycles, and a manual clutch lever on the handlebar on the left.

    The foot lever device can be of two types:

    1. One lever. Gear shifting is carried out with the toe of the foot, pressing the lever from top to bottom (gears from 1 and above) or from bottom to top - from a higher gear to a lower one.
    2. Two levers. Gear shifting is carried out by the heel and toe of the left foot. The rear lever shifts gears up, the front lever shifts down.

    The shift itself is carried out in the same way as on motorcycles:

    1. We start the ATV (always in neutral or park gear).
    2. Fully depress the clutch.
    3. Press the gear lever with your foot, selecting the first gear.
    4. Slightly press down on the gas trigger and at the same time slowly release the clutch lever. When learning on any type of transport with a manual transmission (car, motorcycle, truck), this point is the most difficult, and it can only be gained by practice, catching the balance in working with the clutch and gas. If you have experience driving any vehicle with a manual transmission, you will quickly get used to an ATV with such a gearbox.
    5. Having completely released the clutch, we move only with the help of gas, adding or decreasing it (and, if necessary, braking with a foot or hand brake).
    6. Having gained speed, we squeeze the clutch again, and turn on the next gear with our foot.
    7. Press the gas trigger and slowly release the clutch.
    8. Repeat steps 6-7 for further upshifts.
    9. If the gear needs to be reduced, we act in the same order: we squeeze the clutch, and press the gearshift lever with our foot to reduce the gear.

    When exactly to switch speeds up and down is determined by the tachometer, speed, road complexity, weight of the load taken and the characteristics of the ATV itself (power, weight).

    CVT gear shifting

    CVT gearboxes are much more common on ATVs. The clutch does not need to be depressed in them, and the “mode” of driving forward is selected from two (most often) options: in high (suitable for driving on an easy route) or in low (for difficult sections, steep climbs and towing) gears.

    An important difference from driving in a manual transmission: switching between L and H is carried out only when the ATV is completely stopped, with the brake applied. To select a mode, move the knob to the desired position. Switching between L and H on the go is impossible.

    The rest of the gears - park, neutral and reverse - of course, are also included when the ATV is standing still.

    How to Shift Gears on Your ATV

    Gears are transmission modes that allow you to adapt your ATV to different tasks and road conditions. Shifting increases traction or top speed.

    In this article, we will tell you how to change gears correctly on ATVs with different types of transmission so as not to break anything and confidently overcome any routes.

    How to Shift Gears on an ATV with a CVT

    The CVT is the most popular 4WD utility ATV.

    The variator consists of two pulleys. A belt is stretched between them, which rotates along a larger or smaller radius as the engine speed changes. This ensures a smooth change in gear ratio. In fact, the same thing happens as when moving the gears in a manual transmission.

    The principle of operation of the variator

    The variator is combined with the gearbox. The shift lever can be in five different positions:

    L - downshift;
    H - overdrive;
    N - neutral;
    P - parking lock;
    R - reverse.

    ATV Gear Lever with CVT

    Downshifting allows the ATV to climb steep slopes, off-road or carry loads more easily and without harm to the CVT. In overdrive, the technique can develop maximum speed. It is recommended to use it for driving faster than 10 km/h.

    There is no conventional clutch on an ATV with a CVT. Instead, a centrifugal automatic. Therefore, before each shift, be sure to come to a complete stop, apply the brakes and reduce the engine speed to idle.

    Step-by-step instructions for shifting gears on an ATV with a CVT

    • Make sure the ATV is in P or N gear;
    • depress the brake pedal;
    • start the engine;
    • we turn on the transfer of H or L;
    • release the brake pedal;
    • smoothly press the gas lever to go.

    To stop, just remove your finger from the throttle trigger - the ATV will quickly slow down and stay even in the H or L position until the driver again increases the engine speed.

    For a long stop, it is better to switch to neutral. To prevent the vehicle from rolling away, you can apply a hand brake or a P gear.

    How to shift gears on an ATV with a manual transmission

    Manual transmission is commonly used on small displacement RWD ATVs. Structurally, it is similar to the transmission of a high-speed bicycle, only instead of sprockets there are gears. They are connected in different combinations depending on the selected gear.

    In order not to break anything when changing gears, there is a clutch. This mechanism decouples the transmission from the engine and allows the gears to engage without load. To control the clutch there is a separate lever on the steering wheel.

    On an ATV with a manual transmission, the gears are shifted by a lever located at the left footrest. How exactly depends on the specific model. Popular options:

    • for small-capacity vehicles - R-N-1-2-3-4;
    • for powerful sports equipment - R-1-N-2-3-4-5.

    N is a neutral gear, in which the vehicle will not go anywhere. R is reverse.

    This is what a manual transmission looks like on an ATV0115
    • We make sure that the neutral is on;
    • start the engine;
    • fully depress the clutch;
    • turn on the first speed;
    • smoothly release the clutch and add a little gas;
    • when the quad started moving, fully release the clutch, adjust the speed by pressing the gas;
    • to shift to higher gears, release the gas and fully depress the clutch;
    • before switching down, we reduce the speed in advance.
    Shift levers on an ATV with manual transmission

    How to properly use the clutch

    What is the difficulty. It can be difficult for a beginner to move off. If you release the clutch too quickly or add insufficient rpm, the engine will stall. If you give too much gas and drop the clutch, the vehicle will move with a jerk and may even jump out from under the rider.

    What to do. At first, you can try to start without gas at all - just release the clutch smoothly and slowly. This will help you feel the moment when the ATV is ready to go and you need to increase the engine speed.

    How to shift gears correctly

    What is the difficulty. At first it is not obvious when to switch.

    What to do. You can focus on the sensations. If vibration is felt, the ATV twitches and accelerates sluggishly, you need to switch down, and if the engine “roars”, up. Another option is to look at the speedometer. Each gear has its own optimal speed range. Here are the average values: