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Since developing the concept in the late 1800s to their mass production in 1969, ATV batteries have continually progressed from fueling all-terrain cycles to propelling liter-class behemoths and side-by-sides. Various battery types cater to different machine sizes and applications. Given their varying functions, knowing how long they last has now become more crucial.
How long do ATV batteries last? On average, ATV batteries last 2 to 10 years, depending on their type, usage, and maintenance. Other factors include their charging and discharging rate and cycle life.
Your owner’s manual provides guidance on ATV battery care and replacement, including maintenance schedules. But if you find that it lacks information, this guide can serve as a valuable reference. Although today’s article isn’t exhaustive, rest assured that it can assist you in addressing real-life battery-related problems.
How an ATV Battery Works
An ATV battery is a critical component that stores and provides electrical energy to power the machine’s various electrical systems. It operates on a basic electrochemical principle — lead plates inside the battery are submerged in an electrolyte solution.
These plates are typically arranged in cells, with each cell providing a voltage of around 2 volts. When the quad is in use, the battery’s chemical reaction between the electrolytes and the lead plates generates electricity. This energy is then delivered to electrical components, including the starter motor, lights, ignition system, and accessories, to power them and keep the four-wheeler operational.
During startup, the ATV battery signals the starter motor when the ignition is turned on. The significant amount of electrical power drawn from the battery as a result then flows through the electrical system, causing the starter motor to crank the engine and initiate the combustion process.
Once running, the alternator takes over the job of generating electrical power and simultaneously recharges the battery. As if that were not enough, the battery also acts as a stabilizer that helps maintain a consistent voltage supply throughout the quad, ensuring the electrical components function properly.
Different Kinds of ATV Batteries
As we answer the question, “How long do ATV batteries last?” let’s delve into the average lifespan of different battery types (as follows):
Conventional Lead-Acid Batteries (Flooded, 2—5 years)
These are the most common types of ATV batteries. They contain a mixture of water and sulfuric acid (electrolyte) and lead plates. They are known for their affordability but require regular electrolyte checks and occasional refilling with distilled or deionized water.
Maintenance-Free Lead-Acid Batteries (3—8 years)
Thanks to Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) or Gel technologies that immobilize the electrolyte, these batteries are sealed and maintenance-free. Compared to flooded batteries, they are more expensive but provide better vibration resistance, higher cranking power, and longer life.
Dry Cell Batteries (2—5 years)
These batteries are often used in racing ATVs since they’re lightweight and can deliver high bursts of power. They are similar to AGM batteries but are sealed and non-spillable.
Gel Cell Batteries (3—8 years)
These batteries are a subtype of lead-acid batteries and use a thick gel-like electrolyte instead of liquid. Because of their gel technology, they are maintenance-free, have longer lifespans than flooded batteries, and perform well in high-vibration environments.
Absorbent Glass Mat Batteries (3—8 years)
AGM batteries are another type of sealed lead-acid battery but with shorter charging times than conventional flooded types. They use a fiberglass mat separator to hold the electrolyte, making them spill-proof and vibration-resistant. AGM batteries are maintenance-free and widely used in ATVs due to their reliability and durability.
Lithium-Polymer Batteries (2—5 years)
Lithium-polymer (or LiPo) batteries are a subtype of lithium-ion batteries. They are lightweight and provide high energy density but are less common in ATV applications due to their sensitivity to overcharging and over-discharging and the need for specialized chargers like NOCO GENIUS2X4, 4-Bank, 8A (2A/Bank) Smart Car Battery Charger (view on Amazon) and monitoring.
Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries (5—10 years)
LiFePO4 or Lithium ATV batteries are lightweight and offer high energy density. LiFePO4 batteries, in particular, are specifically known for their safety, long cycle life, and consistent voltage output. They are ideal for performance-oriented ATVs like sport quads and liter-class machines.
Deep Cycle Batteries (3—8 years)
Last but not least, we have deep cycle batteries. While not as common in ATVs, these batteries are designed to provide a steady amount of power over an extended period. That said, they are better suited for ATV accessories and winches that require a consistent power supply.
While OEM recommendations are king in choosing an ATV battery, it’s essential to also consider factors such as the ATV’s electrical requirements, intended usage, and your budget. Moreover, take into account the maintenance level you’re comfortable with.
It’s also important to note that the actual lifespan of any of these batteries can vary based on several factors, which we’ll discuss more extensively in the section below.
Factors Affecting Battery Longevity
Several factors can influence an ATV battery’s longevity. Understanding these elements and how they impact battery life can help maximize the lifespan of your trusty power source:
The type of battery you have plays a significant role in its lifespan. For instance, lead-acid batteries (whether conventional or AGM/Gel) typically have a shorter lifespan compared to lithium-ion batteries — especially LiFePO4. Meanwhile, lithium-ion batteries can last longer due to a slew of factors.
LiFePO4 batteries can typically endure thousands of charge-discharge cycles, while other battery types are limited to a few hundred cycles before experiencing noticeable capacity loss.
Depth of Discharge (DOD)
LiFePO4 batteries can handle deeper discharges without significant damage, sulfation, or capacity loss. They can also manage DODs of 80% or more regularly and without dire consequences. Lead-acid batteries (especially traditional flooded ones) are sensitive to deep discharges.
LiFePO4 batteries have a lower self-discharge rate than lead-acid batteries — they lose their charge more slowly when not in use. Conversely, lead-acid batteries self-discharge relatively quickly, requiring more frequent recharging during disuse.
Weight and Size
Reduced weight and size for same-capacity batteries can result in reduced stress on the battery and its components, contributing to longer life.
When comparing LiFePO4 batteries and other formats, the former is more energy-efficient during charge and discharge cycles. They also have a higher charge acceptance rate, which means they can absorb energy more efficiently during charging, reducing energy loss and heat generation compared to other ATV batteries.
An ATV battery’s chemical stability is vital to reducing its propensity for thermal runaway. This statement is true for LiFePO4 batteries. However, it’s the opposite for lead-acid batteries due to overcharging or overheating, disrupting the battery’s chemical balance and affecting its overall lifespan.
High temperatures can accelerate battery degradation, while cold temperatures can reduce battery capacity. However, some formats are less affected by extreme temperatures than others. As a result, they have less performance degradation risks and are able to preserve their lifespans.
Battery and ATV Usage Patterns
This includes the battery’s tolerance for deep discharges and the regularity by which the four-wheeler itself is used. To set an example, lead-acid batteries are not as forgiving in the aspect of DODs and extended periods of inactivity.
Using an appropriate charger and following proper charging practices is crucial to the longevity of your ATV battery. Conversely, overcharging or undercharging is sure to harm it. Utilizing a trickle charger (view on Amazon) or one with a maintainer works wonders for ATV batteries. But make sure to revert to your owner’s manual for compatibility and OEM recommendations.
Vibration and Shock
Given the off-road applications of ATVs, their batteries would naturally be exposed to vibration and shock during use. Inadvertently or otherwise, this can cause physical damage to the battery and its components and effectively reduce longevity.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, most ATVers have been guilty of this at one point in their off-roading journey. We know all too well that using numerous electrical accessories such as lights, winches, or stereos can strain the battery and reduce its life. That said, it’s crucial to properly size your electrical system for the accessories you plan to use on your quad.
Unlike other ATV batteries, LiFePO4 batteries don’t require checking electrolyte levels and adding distilled water. This reduces the risk of accelerated degradation, which is the tendency for lead-acid batteries when their maintenance is neglected. But there’s more to battery maintenance than ensuring that electrolyte levels are up to spec (more on this later).
Signs Your Battery Is Screaming “Help!”
There are a slew of compromised ATV battery indicators that one can encounter as an off-roading enthusiast. Some signify the need for upkeep or a proper full charge, while others may warrant a replacement. Unsurprisingly, most of these telltale signs (as seen below) are similar to weak car battery symptoms:
Reduced Brightness or Weakening Lights
The lights on your ATV may become noticeably dim, as there may not be enough power to keep them bright. This occurrence is arguably the top indicator of a weak or failing battery.
Poor Responsiveness of Accessories
Electrical accessories such as headlights, winches, or radios are often observed to operate slowly or erratically when the battery is compromised.
Activated CEL or Dashboard Battery Warning Light
Modern ATVs often have warning lights on the dashboard that can be set off when there is a battery or charging system issue.
A weak or bad battery can lead to difficulty starting the ATV, as it may not have enough power to turn over the engine.
If the battery is unable to provide a consistent supply of power, it can lead to stalling or sudden shutdowns — especially if the ATV relies on electrical systems to run.
Sluggish Ignition or Cranking Delays
A weak battery may result in slow cranking when you try to start your machine, effectively leading to challenges during ignition.
Loss of Power
The overall performance of an ATV may decline as the battery weakens, resulting in reduced power and acceleration.
Repeated Ticking or Clicking
Hearing a rapid clicking sound when starting an ATV can be a sign of a weak battery, as the starter solenoid may not engage properly due to insufficient power.
Belt Screeching on Startup or While in Motion
A weak battery makes the ATV’s alternator work harder, leading to a squealing noise from the belt, which can also be caused by issues with the pulley, tensioner, or a leak in the system.
Rotten Egg Smell
A common symptom for lead-acid batteries, this sulphuric smell comes from hydrogen sulfide gas and indicates a leaking battery acid.
Inconsistent Battery Charging
An ATV battery that isn’t holding a charge or receiving a proper charge from the charging system can indicate a battery problem.
One of the more obvious indicators in this list is corrosion on the terminals or cables, which can be a sign of battery issues. However, it’s more of a symptom than a direct sign of a bad battery.
It’s worth noting that some of these signs can also be caused by other problems with the electrical system, such as faulty alternators (view on Amazon), voltage regulators, or wiring issues. That said, it would be wise to test not only the battery but also the entire electrical system if you suspect something wrong with your battery and want to pinpoint its problem source accurately.
Why Your ATV Battery Keeps Dying
There are several potential reasons behind this phenomenon, and here are some things to consider:
- Battery age
- Charging system issues
- Extreme temperatures
- Frequent short trips
- Improper storage
- Overuse of accessories
- Parasitic drain
To diagnose the cause of this specific ATV battery issue, I recommended performing a thorough inspection, testing the battery’s voltage and capacity, and checking the machine’s charging system.
How to Maintain an ATV Battery (8 Tips)
Figuring out “How long do ATV batteries last?” entails more than just purchasing a high-quality battery and knowing what affects its longevity. Proper battery maintenance is as equally (if not more) important as these two. I’d like to think that how you take care of that power source holds more weight in keeping it working for as long as possible than any other factor. And with that said, here are some helpful maintenance tips:
1. Store in a Climate-Controlled Environment
Store the ATV in a climate-controlled environment to mitigate the effects of extreme temperatures — this applies to both standard and winter storage. As a rule of thumb, room temperature should be at least 32°F to prevent your battery casing from cracking or its plates from bending. Also, don’t forget to take the battery out of the machine if the intended storage time is more than a month.
2. Make Sure the Battery Is Correctly Installed
Confirm the battery is correctly installed with secure connections and proper cable routing to avoid damage and premature failure. Regularly inspect and clean battery terminals and cable connections to prevent corrosion, which can hinder electrical flow and reduce battery efficiency. While at it, look for swelling or visible signs of damage.
3. Ensure the Battery Is Adequately Ventilated
Ensure the battery has good ventilation, especially when charging, to disperse potentially hazardous gases produced by lead-acid batteries.
4. Check and Maintain Proper Electrolyte Levels
For conventional lead-acid batteries, check and maintain proper electrolyte levels with distilled water as needed to prevent acid stratification and reduced performance. To add, inspect the exhaust tube to ensure there are no kinks or obstructions.
5. Place AGM Batteries on a Low-Amp Charge
Placing AGM batteries on a low-amp charge before use is best for longevity. During riding season, make sure to recharge your ATV battery after every use and never let moisture or any form of debris to accumulate on its terminals.
6. Use a Good Quality Battery Charger
To maintain your ATV battery’s charge, consider using a battery charger that requires minimal supervision and automatically controls the battery charge, turns off when the battery’s fully charged, and turns back on if the charge gets too low.
7. Use a Maintenance Charger During Storage
When storing your ATV for an extended period, disconnect the battery but keep it charged using a maintenance charger to prevent self-discharge and sulfation. You may also opt for a battery tender or maintainer designed for long-term storage.
8. Run Your ATV Battery Every Two Weeks
Another best practice for prolonged storage is running your ATV battery every two weeks for 15—20 minutes just so it’s not in a perennial state of disuse. But then again, this would largely depend on your availability and consistency in checking the battery status.
One of the many questions that frequently come up online is whether or not reviving a dead ATV battery is possible. Fortunately, it is! You simply need a spare good battery and some jumper cables (view on Amazon).
Once you have what you need, perform the jump-start process as you would on a vehicle (but between the good and bad batteries) for approximately half an hour, then go back to the affected battery and try to charge it again. And voila! In most cases, this technique has been proven to save tons of ‘supposedly dead batteries’ from being thrown out and replaced.
In case you’re wondering whether cleaning an ATV battery is the same as cleaning a car battery, check out my post on how to clean car battery terminals for comparison.
Conclusion — How Long Do ATV Batteries Last?
In summary, the lifespan of an ATV battery depends on various factors, including its type, usage, and maintenance. To maximize its longevity, you should choose the right type for your needs, regularly maintain the battery and its connections, and practice proper charging and storage techniques. Doing so ensures that your machine is ready to roar to life while minimizing the need for frequent battery replacements. More importantly, this means sharing more unforgettable adventures with your beloved machine and the ability to conquer the trails at any time.