How to Fix a Dead ATV Battery

An ATV in a desert field.

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A dead battery is never a good time, especially when you're on an ATV ride, or getting ready to go on a ride. Knowing how to deal with a dead battery can help get you going again, usually fairly quickly.

The procedures for starting an ATV with a dead battery are made on the premise that the charging system on the ATV is 12 volts dc, the same as a car and most motorcycles.

Is the Battery the Problem?

If the quad has been sitting for any length of time, there's a good chance the battery lost power. If you turn the key (or push the button etc) and nothing happens, after you make sure the run switch is turned on (if equipped), you can be fairly certain the battery is dead, especially if it ran fine the last time you used it.

If you can hear the engine turn but it seems very sluggish or slow, or the motor spins for a short while then slows down and stops, it may be the battery. It might be strong enough to turn the motor, but not spin it enough to start it. If you hear a clicking sound and the motor doesn't turn, it's probably the battery or a loose connection between the battery and the starter motor.

If you're sure the battery is the problem, there are 3 ways to fix it:

  • Compression start (push or bump start, manual transmission).
  • Jump start from another quad or motorcycle or car/truck.
  • Battery charger.

Each one has its advantages and specific uses so you should be able to utilize at least one of these methods to get your ATV going with a dead battery.

How to Compression (Bump) Start an ATV

The easiest way to start an ATV with a dead battery is to bump start it. Quads are fairly lightweight and can be pushed by a normal sized adult on flat ground fast enough to start it. If there's a slight (or major) incline, it's even easier.

The idea behind a bump start is to use the tires to turn the engine and make it start. A starter motor (that thing that makes the noise when you push the START button) is just making the engine turn as the spark plug fires to start the engine. This also applies to cars, motorcycles etc. This method requires getting the ATV rolling at about 3 to 5 mph.

Turn on the key and/or run switch and put the quad into 1st or 2nd gear. The first gear requires more torque to turn the motor, so it may be easier to use 2nd if you can't get the quad rolling very fast. Get the ATV rolling as fast as you can, with the clutch all the way in, up to about 10 mph. Then hop on the quad and let out the clutch. You should hear the engine turning and if you give it a little gas, it should fire. When it fires pull in the clutch so you don't get jerked forward or backward if the engine sputters or misses.

It might take a few tries to get it to fire. If you hear (or feel) the tires skidding when you dump the clutch, try going from 1st to 2nd gear, or even 3rd. If they still skid, try to get the ATV to harder ground where the tires will have better grip.

Jump-Starting an ATV with Jumper Cables

You jump-start an ATV just like you jump start a car. Obviously, carrying jumper cables on your quad is probably not happening, so we won't spend much time on this.

If you've got cables and another quad, remove the seats to expose the batteries (if that's where they are kept) and connect the cables to the good quad first, then connect the bad quad. Some people suggest grounding on the frame instead of the battery, (putting the "-" minus cable (black) on a part of the frame), this may help prevent a surge getting into the electrical system and damaging it.

Once both batteries are connected, start the ATV with the good battery and let it idle for a few minutes. Try to start the other quad. If it fires up, disconnect the red cable from the good quad, then the other quad. Disconnect the black cable.

It's a good idea to leave the engine running once you get it started. If the quad is hard to start when it's hot you might kill the battery before it starts again.

Jump Start an ATV Battery from a Car

Jump-starting an ATV from a car is basically the same as jumping it from another ATV, except a car's battery and charging system are much stronger than that of an ATV.

For that reason, do not start the engine on the car when jump-starting an ATV. The battery on the car should have more than enough juice to start the motor on the ATV without the car's engine running.

When you're working with anything that carries electricity it's a good idea to wear rubber sole shoes. And always be careful where you touch by avoiding the positive (red) terminal on the battery.