why your atv battery keeps dying on your and how to charge it

Why Your ATV Battery Keeps Dying and How To Charge It

There’s probably nothing more frustrating and annoying to a motocross enthusiast than an ATV that just won’t start because of a dead battery.  I’m hoping that you’re not actually in the middle of a trail, or worse yet the backcountry, and instead you’re experiencing this frustration from your garage.  Even then, it’s still a hair pulling situation and constantly having to charge your battery will soon leave you with no hair left to pull.

So, why does your ATV battery keep dying on you?

To answer this question you’ll need to understand the makings of a battery.  ATVs carry lead acid batteries which are designed and built with two parallel facing plates – one of lead and the other of lead dioxide, both of which are in constant contact with liquid sulfuric acid.   As a battery discharges (gets used) it leaves behind a build up of lead sulfate crystals on the plates and a dilution of the sulfuric acid – a process called sulfation. This is the number 1 reason why batteries die.

The natural form of desulfation is to give the battery a charge (take away the lead sulfate) but the issue worsens as the battery charges slower and slower.  When your ATV is shut off without the battery reaching a full charge then the lead sulfate crystals continue forming to the point where there is no reviving the battery.

You’ll also need to understand one more thing about your battery and that is it is never in a constant state, what I mean by that is it is always either charging or discharging at all times, it is never both, nor is it ever none.  It’s always in one of the two states. In fact, if the battery is not in use then it can be expected to lose at least 1% of its charge per day.

This is why you’ll constantly experience a dead battery because it was never fully charged and the sulfation process and lack of use just completely took over.

ATV batteries are not as robust as your car battery and they are only meant to give short bursts of energy to smaller components such as the headlights or a winch, as an example. As long as your quad stays running, the battery should continue to charge through its charging system (known as a stator) unless there is more power being drawn from the battery than is being replenished.

At this point, I know what you’re probably thinking, there has to be another way than having to jump my battery every time I want to use my ATV.  You’re right, there is. I’ll touch on that further down, but first lets go over a few ways you can charge your ATV battery even if it’s completely dead.  

I’m going to assume that you’ve narrowed the reason your ATV won’t start to a dead battery, needless to say, if it’s not your battery then giving it a boost still won’t help start your ATV.

Different Ways to Charge Your ATV Battery
Use Another ATV Battery

Jump starting your ATV battery with another is just like jump starting your car battery with another.  You’re just making a connection from one battery to another and transferring the energy. As long as you can find another ATV available to draw power from, and you have jumper cables available then this method will work.  

Since having jumper cables isn’t commonly found in your survival kit then i’d recommend storing one in your storage compartment, especially since you’re aware that holding a battery charge has become an issue.

So how do you charge your battery with another ATV battery?

  1. Remove the seat cover to expose the battery
  2. Working with the good battery first, take one end of the jumper cable and connect the red cable to the positive battery terminal and then take the black cable and ground the ATV by connecting it to any part of the metal frame.  This helps redirect any excess electrical charge to the ground instead of creating a surge, short circuit or even a fire.
  3. Move on to the dead battery and do the same.  Place the red cable with the positive battery terminal and the black cable anywhere on the metal frame.
  4. Wait a couple of minutes until the dead battery has had time to build up a charge and then try to start up your quad.
  5. If it starts then you can remove the cables.  Leave both vehicles on for several minutes before turning them off – you’ll want to make sure the batteries have completely recharged.
  6. If the ATV does not start then wait a few more minutes to keep the battery charging longer.  Your ATV should now start.
Try Charging It With A Car Battery

Using a car battery is another method you can use to revive your dead battery, but keep in mind that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE should you ever start your car engine during this process.  Your car battery is much more robust than an ATV battery and is able to hold a larger amount of energy in it.

That being said, a car battery will still do the trick, here’s how:

  1. Using jumper cables, connect the good battery by placing the red with the positive terminal and the black with the negative terminal
  2. Connect the other end of the jumper cable to the dead battery.  The red end goes to the positive terminal and the black end should be grounded to any part of the metal frame.  Again, this will help redirect any excess electrical charge to the ground instead of creating a surge, short circuit or even a fire.
  3. DO NOT turn on the car for any reason while the cables are connected
  4. Your quad’s battery should charge within a minutes time
  5. Try turning on your ATV, if it starts then remove the jumper cables from both ends and let it sit idle for a few more minutes so the battery can build up a charge.
  6. If it does not start right away then let the battery keep charging for a few more minutes until your 4 wheeler does start up.
  7. If after several minutes you are unlucky in charging your battery then you’ll need to look into purchasing a new one.
Use A Self-Standing Battery Charger

External battery chargers can be used for all sorts of battery powered motorsport equipment such as ATVs, motorcycles, boats, and even cars.  Instead of drawing power from a battery that is currently in use, you’ll be using a reserve battery with extra “juice” in it.

To do this, you’ll go about charging your battery the same way you did with the other two options:

  1. First connect the black cable to the positive terminal
  2. The red cable gets connected to the negative terminal next
  3. Select the right setting on your charger so that it delivers a charge at a slow rate.  You don’t want a surge of electricity in a short time span
  4. Check the back of the box or the bottom of the charger to see how long you should let it charge for
  5. Allow the right amount of time for a charge then try to restart your quad.  When it turns on, let it sit idle for several minutes until the battery has completely charged.
How To Keep A Constant Charge On Your Battery

Wouldn’t it be nice if that battery that wasn’t getting any use would still maintain its charge and never die on you?  Wouldn’t it be nice if that same battery had a longer life to it and started up right when you needed it?

It can, and the way to always have it “alive” is by using a battery tender.  A battery tender, is an external battery cell that helps keep a constant charge on a battery that is not in use and prevents it from self discharging.

These devices work through electricity and they replenish the charge on the un-used battery at the same rate the discharge occurs.  The energy is transferred in a “trickle” fashion.

A battery tender does a fantastic job of extending your battery life and making sure that your ATV starts when you need it to.  It’s something that i’d definitely recommend if your battery has died on you before, but if you purchase one, make sure it has a float feature to it so that it automatically shuts off when your battery is fully charged.

How long does it take to charge an ATV battery?

The first step to determining how long it takes to charge your battery is by verifying what the rated capacity is on your particular battery.  This is something you can verify with the manufacturer and should also be clearly marked on the battery label as well.

As an example, an ATV battery could have a rated capacity of 10 amp hours.  Think of the amp hours as the size of the fuel tank to store electrical power, this is much like the size of your car fuel tank.

The battery charger is the equivalent of gasoline filling up your gas tank.  When it comes to the battery charger, if you have a 1.25 amp charger this means it will charge your battery 1.25 amps every hour.

In the example directly above, if your battery has a 10 amp hour rated capacity and you are using a 1.25 amp battery charger then it should take 8 hours to completely charge your battery.

Now, of course these numbers are all based on ideal conditions and in reality most charges don’t output a consistent number.  Instead, the numbers will fluctuate based on circumstances and the actual charge tapers off with time. In reality, you’ll see that it can take up to twice as long depending on the charger.  

This is why a trickle charger comes in handy, if you are storing your ATV for an extended amount of time then it really doesn’t matter how long it will take to charge as long as your battery works when you need it.  A trickle charger will shut off when the battery has reached the maximum charge capacity and then will reactivate as the battery auto discharges.

What are the Different Types of ATV Batteries?

Lead Acid Batteries – this is the conventional style battery and is the most commonly available battery for ATVs.  On lead acid batteries you’ll see that they come equipped with filler caps on the top so that you can refill the plates with bulk acid and distilled water.  

Though this is the most common type of battery, there is a downside to using this battery.  ATVs are meant to be used on rough, unpaved, and unlevel surfaces which means that the liquid is prone to spillage.  This means that the battery is not maintenance free and not keeping the battery in its optimum state means a shortened life span.

Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) – this is the preferred alternative to the standard lead acid battery.  The AGM battery is also called the gel-cell battery or maintenance free battery because there is no danger of spillage.  This battery was first used in the early 80’s for military vehicles because of lighter weight and higher reliability, it also have a very low internal resistance and is able to offer high amounts of current practically on demand.

AGM batteries also have a longer lifespan, they can tolerate a lower temperature threshold and do not self-discharge as quickly as a lead battery would.  

The AGM batteries come with many up-sides but that’s not to say that they are perfect, you should definitely be aware that they are prone to overcharging, which is why buying a battery tender is ideal, they also don’t do as well with higher temperatures (manufacturers suggest that you stop a charge if the core reaches 120 degrees or higher), and they tend to cost significantly more than a lead battery would.

Batteries work off of a simple concept but can be frustrating to maintain.  Keeping them in a healthy state of balance is your best bet in extending its life and ensuring it works when you need it to.

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