Even though you may spend a lot of time and attention taking care of your ATV, you may still experience a dead battery from time to time. This happens to the best of us all the time. Usually it is in our car, truck, van or SUV, but just because you do not use your ATV as frequently as your bigger vehicles does not make them exempt from this unfortunate incident. A dead battery happens pretty similarly in and ATV as it does in larger vehicle. An ATV battery will most often die if anything that uses the electrical system is left on while the motor is not running. Personally, I am most guilty of leaving the lights on after I have parked my ATV for the day. Fear not though, even though you may have a dead battery, you aren’t necessarily stuck with it.
Jump starting an ATV is very similar to jump starting a car, only you usually want to jump an ATV battery from another ATV battery. There are, however, some key differences and warnings you definitely want to know that I will address below, as well as an alternative method to jump starting for where you don’t have a source to jump from.
Starting out with the basics will give you a lot of insight into what is happening with your battery. First, a battery powers the electrical system and helps power the motor on your ATV. Batteries, of all kinds, hold charges of positive and negative charges that work together to provide the power. Within the ATV, the battery is and integral part of the engine and without it, your ATV will not start.
Batteries of all kinds basically work the same, but motor vehicle batteries, like ATV batteries, are somewhat different than those used in a flashlight because they dispense power, but also simultaneously being refilled with new power to be used. This is accomplished by the alternator within the engine. When your ATV is turned off, the battery has an amount of usable energy stored within it. The ATV uses this stored energy to start the engine and continue powering it during use. While the engine is going, the alternator is being powered, which is refilling the battery as it empties. It is this process that allows ATV batteries, like those in cars and trucks, to last years rather than days or even weeks.
The mechanics of the battery are pretty simple and in theory the battery should always be able to start your ATV. However. there are several reasons that the battery may not be able to start your ATV that you need to be prepared for. One of the most common is that you have left on your lights or something else that is pulling power from the battery while your ATV is powered off. The lights and other purely electrical features of your ATV still work because the battery has stored energy that the alternator had filled it with during your last ride. There is a risk that whatever electrical source that is pulling for the battery store will pull too much of the stored energy from the battery and it will no longer be able to start the engine effectively. When this occurs you are able to restart the battery with a jump and let the alternator refill the battery with power once again.
Dead Battery or DEAD Battery
It is important to note that it is common for a battery to fail because it has prematurely emptied, but eventually, like everything, a battery will meet the end of its useful life. It is important to note the difference between a non-charged battery and a battery that is fully dead.
The main difference between a battery that just needs a jump and a battery that is fully dead is the battery’s capability to hold power within it. The reason batteries are able to recharge is due to plates that both discharge the power as well as receive the new power within the cells in a battery. As the battery is used, those plates will eventually break down from use, they also develop a discharge which will reside within the battery corroding it faster. Basically, batteries die because nothing lasts forever. Batteries that no longer possess the capability to hold a charge are ones that need to be completely replaced with a new battery. If the battery is still able to hold a charge, but has simply dispensed of all the energy currently stored within it, there is hope that jumping it will solve the problem and you will be back to a fully functioning battery in no time.
There is no easy way with only your eyes to distinguish between a battery that is no longer able to hold a charge and one that is simply DEAD. There are devices that allow you to test the charge of a battery and most mechanic shops have those and will let you use them if you are questioning what to do. Besides testing the battery, the best way to tell if the battery may be past its prime is by how long you have had it. The longer you use a battery, the more wear and tear the plates inside experience, so if it has been a while (think years not months) since you have replaced the battery and you have noticed the battery struggling to turn over, the battery probably needs to be replaced. If it has been replaced in the last year, then it is likely you will be able to recharge it to satisfaction again.
It is important to note that other problems do arise that may seem like a dead battery but are really unrelated. One of these situations is if something is wrong with the alternator and it is no longer functioning correctly to restore a charge to the battery. This may lead you to think that there is something wrong with the battery when the battery is actually fully functional. If the battery is tested and works fine or you have a new battery and the ATV won’t start, your next step is to take it into a mechanic unless you know what you are doing.
Restarting your ATV
Despite whether or not your battery is able to hold a charge or past its prime, it doesn’t make a dead battery on the trail any more fun. If you are out and about and your ATV will not start, there are three methods you can try to get it restarted.
A compression start is where you manipulate your ATV into starting by making it really easy on the engine to turn over. To do this you will need to be able to get your ATV moving at close to 10 MPH. To try a compression start, first turn on the ATV and then put it in first gear. If it is unwilling to be put in first, you may want to up it to second gear. As you begin to push the ATV, you will want to pull in the clutch and get moving. Once you are moving at a good speed, about 10 MPH, try letting out the clutch and adding gas as the engine begins to try and turn over. This will hopefully trick the engine into starting and the battery, as long as it is still viable, will be able to charge while the engine runs.
ATV to ATV Jump Start
Hopefully if your battery dies on an outing, you are with a friend or family member who also has an ATV because jumping an ATV using another ATV is probably the easiest way to get the job done. First, bring the ATV’s close to each other so that jump cables can reach each ATV’s battery. Then, attach the jump cables (typically red and black cables) to the good battery. Follow this process by attaching the other end of the cables to the empty battery. Turn on the first ATV, or the one with the full battery, and let it run for a little while, approximately 3-5 minutes. After that, try and turn on the dead ATV with the cables still connected. Typically, this will do the trick and your ATV will immediately start. You can now disconnect the jumper cables by fully disconnecting the cables from the previously-dead battery and then the full-battery ATV. Make sure to allow it to run for approximately 30 more minutes before turning it off to allow the alternator to fully charge the battery again. You may ride it during this time, or you can simply let it idle.
Car to ATV Jump Start
You may not always have someone with you that has another ATV to jump start your ATV, but hopefully you are able to reach a car or other vehicle. If you just drove for hours to try out a new riding spot and found your battery dead, you can use your car to jump the battery as long as you pay a little extra attention to what you are doing. First, connect the jumper cables to the car battery. Secondly, connect the second set of cables to the ATV. DO NOT TURN YOUR CAR ON. Make sure to leave your car engine and battery off. Car batteries are much more powerful than ATV batteries and putting that much energy into an ATV battery can deeply and permanently damage the battery. Even when the batteries are connected and both devices are turned off, enough energy can be siphoned to the dead battery to restore enough of a charge to help it start. After a little while, again approximately 3-5 minutes, try turning on the ATV. When the engine turns over, you are safe to disconnect the jumper cables, one vehicle at a time, as long as you let the engine run while the alternator refills the battery, again approximately 30 minutes.
If none of these methods work for you, you will want to get the battery tested. If you aren’t in need of a new battery, that is a good indication there is something else going on with your ATV and a trip to the mechanic may be in store.
ATV’s are a lot easier than cars, but they are a tricky and complicated of machinery that needs maintenance and attention, but that doesn’t mean that only professionals can handle every little thing. Understanding the ins and outs of your ATV battery can save you a lot of time, money and frustration as you enjoy riding the trails.