The Rancher is one of the most reliable and “user-friendly” four-wheelers on the market. It looks great, performs even better, and has a high resale value. Now, Honda’s ES (electric shift) series is hugely popular, especially in the United States. The company sells almost eight times more ES ATVs than foot-shift models. However, this mechanism isn’t perfect: there is one big issue that many Rancher drivers have to deal with.
I’m talking about the problems with shifting, of course. As always, auto mechanics charge a lot for fixing it, and they don’t always “nail” it. The good news is – there is a working solution, and it won’t cost you a pretty penny. If you’ve got at least some experience with quad vehicles, you’ll be able to get your steel friend back on its feet!
Figuring out the Root of the Issue
So, what’s this problem all about? It’s nothing too complicated, but it does create a lot of hassle and takes some of that off-roading fun away. Here’s how it goes: when you’re shifting the four-wheeler (doesn’t really matter up or down), the shift doesn’t “go through”. You hit that shift button, and the Rancher tries its best to make the shift happen, but it fails. By the way, the shift motor makes a distinctive sound when struggling with shifting gears.
When this happens, a “- – – “ message pops up on the display. Now, if you live in a hot and dry area, you probably won’t be experiencing this issue that much. However, folks in colder areas have to deal with it constantly. Drivers try heating the ATV, swapping the engine, using a different fuel brand, and more. That doesn’t do much good, though, because the root of the problem is the grease in the gearbox.
I’m talking about the factory grease that the engineers at Honda add to the gears. Sometimes, its consistency is a bit too heavy and stiff, which causes the shifting mechanism to malfunction. And, in most cases, once you get rid of that “faulty” grease and replace it with a slightly different product, the Rancher’s shifting mechanism goes back to normal!
Fixing the ES Shifting Problem
Alright, now that we know what’s causing these problems with the ES, let’s see how we can fix it. The first thing to do is to carefully remove the gears and the shift motor from the engine bay. They’re located very close to the motor – in the lower front corner, to be exact. In most ATVs, including Honda’s Rancher, the shift motor (responsible for switching from 2WD to 4WD) is mounted using four bolts.
Go ahead and loosen them all. When you get access to the gears, you’ll see that they’re overwhelmed by tons of that factory grease. Lubrication is always great for mechanisms like these, but, as we just learned, when there’s too much of it, that leads to bad consequences. So, make sure to clean every last drop of that grease. I recommend using a high-grade solvent, like paint thinner or a different solution that’s strong against grease.
A quick note: while you’re busy getting the lube out, try not to touch the gears and, most importantly, not to move them, even slightly. Of course, you can’t leave the gears without lubrication. It needs to be replaced with a similar formula, but one that’s not as stiff and gummy. The experts recommend using white lithium grease. Go with an all-temperature, all-purpose grease that’s resistant to moisture, heat, and rust/corrosion.
A tube of that good stuff is available for 5-10 US dollars. For most situations, 8-12 oz. should be more than enough for an ATV. White lithium grease is available at pretty much any auto parts store/body shop. Or, you can order it online. Don’t rush yourself: apply the formula slowly, and once you’re done, put the shift motor and the gears back where they belong. When tightening the bolts, don’t overdo it!
That is pretty much all there is.
Could it be Something Else?
Is the grease always the cause of the malfunctioning electric shift? Or maybe you could be dealing with a different problem? Well, if the grease swap doesn’t fix it for you, it might be a good idea to check the engine for a spark. It’s not rare for the spark plugs/cables to wear off over time and cause trouble not only with starting the ATV but also with the ES system. The battery should be checked as well.
Since it’s an electric shift, not a mechanical one, without a proper charge from the battery unit, it won’t run smoothly. Turn the headlights on. Are they as bright as they used to be, or maybe the light is slightly dim? If it is, charging the battery should be your #1 priority. In other cases, the shift motor/gears can be causing the issues with the shifts. But, again, with the Rancher ES edition, most likely, you’re dealing with overly stiff and gummy grease.
If you’re the proud owner of the Rancher ATV and are sick and tired of the shifting issues, this guide will help you fix that. And, you won’t need any expensive tools, pro-level skills, knowledge, or lots of time and energy. The only thing that you’ll have to spend money on will be white lithium grease (costs $10, or even less).
All you’ll have to do is follow my guide thoroughly and replace the old grease. I’ve been a fan of Honda’s four-wheelers for a long time and know about this problem very well. So, I’m more than confident you’ll be able to fix the ES issue using this method and make your quad vehicle feel as good as new. Still got some trouble with shifting? Share your experience in the comments!