FIX-IT: How-To maintain your battery

Yes, we all love the miracle of the button and its gift of life. There’s a pure sense of satisfaction that goes down to your core when you fire up your ATV with no more than a slight movement of your thumb. Electric starters are a very good thing. But are batteries a good thing? Most of us don’t trust these sinister black boxes and don’t like our new-found dependence on them.
In our on-going quest to know and love all parts of our ATVs, we set out to learn more about batteries from the sages and gurus of static energy. That led us to the ancient village of Fullerton, high in the Alps of Orange County. There, we met with Russell Johnson of Lynn Vick products, makers of Power Source Products. Russell enlightened us on the yin, the yang, the positive and the negative in the world of ATV batteries.

WHAT NO-MAINTENANCE REALLY MEANS
Most new-age ATV batteries really aren’t that new. They still are lead-acid batteries just like the ones that fired up automobiles early in the last century. Now they’re called “maintenance-free,” which actually means “reduced maintenance.” That’s right, nothing’s free. Instead of having the plates bathed in cells of acid, the modern battery is sealed and the plates are surrounded by AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt), which carries the electrolyte. The biggest advantages are that you don’t have to add fluid and that the battery can be mounted at almost any angle, short of upside-down. They still have to be charged, and they still can be destroyed by neglect.

WHY GOOD BATTERIES GO BAD & HOW TO STOP IT
So you put your ATV away when the first snow came. Some time in February, you noticed that you left the key on. You turn it off and make a mental note to charge it up in May. Bad move. When a battery is dead, its chemical composition is radically changed. That allows deposits to form on the lead plates, which, in turn, interfere with the flow of electrons. Your battery has just become a brick.

It didn’t have to end that way. A fully charged battery has a very long shelf life. Basically, when the positive and negative terminals are fully insulated from one another (when the key is off), there are a whole bunch of atoms with entirely too many electrons bunched up on the negative side. Those extra electrons are going crazy trying to find a home. They want to get to the positive side, and as long as they can’t do it, everything is fine. If all those electrons get what they want, the ions (any atom with an imbalance of electrons and protons) become normally balanced atoms and you have a brick, not a battery. So here’s the key: Don’t let that happen! Charge your battery before it goes into storage. When a battery is fully charged, it lasts a long time.

CAN A DEAD BATTERY LIVE AGAIN?
There are two different types of plates inside each battery cell, usually lead alternating with lead oxide. When a battery is depleted, deposits form that more or less insulate the plates from the surrounding electrolyte. Sometimes a strong, short charge can eliminate those deposits, but more often than not, this will only overheat and damage the battery.
If the battery does not accept a charge, you’re out of luck.

CHARGE IT!
When a 12-volt battery is fully charged, it should read about 12.8 volts. If it reads 12 on the nose, it’s actually low and needs a “top charge.” How fast should you charge it? It should be charged at ten percent of its amp-hour rating. An 11 amp-hour rating means that in the course of an hour, the battery can discharge 11 amps before it’s run down. Then it can safely be charged at 1.1 amps. That’s basically a trickle charge, and it will probably take about eight hours. High-amp automotive quick chargers are generally a bad idea for small batteries because they will generate too much heat. The case can melt, the plates can distort and a long list of bad things can happen.

Even a trickle charge can generate too much heat if left on too long. That’s why a smart charger is such a good idea. It turns itself off when the battery is charged. In fact, a product like Battery Tender can be left on the battery all winter without bad results.

SHELF LIFE
When you buy a battery it can come in several different ways. Yuasa, for example, sells a battery fully sealed or in a combo pack, which means the battery is dry and you add electrolyte yourself and seal the battery after purchase. This starts a chemical reaction, so you should charge the battery immediately. The advantage is that the battery has a very long shelf life and there’s no danger that it has gone bad in the dealer’s inventory.

Power Source sells its batteries fully sealed and charged. As we said, a fully charged battery has a very long shelf life, but it can slowly lose its edge after six months or so. The lesson is that you should have your dealer check the battery with a volt meter before you leave. If it’s 12.8 volts, you’re good to go. If it’s lower, have him charge it before you walk out the door, just to be sure it will take a charge.

O.E. BATTERIES: GOOD STUFF
The battery that was in your ATV when you purchased it was probably of very high quality. Manufacturers know that the machine might sit on the dealer’s showroom for a long time and don’t want a dead battery to spoil the deal. But we have seen a few counterfeit batteries in Chinese ATVs. They might say Yuasa, but they aren’t. A casual inspection shows poor quality.

You should stick to batteries that are made for the powersport industry. These makers know that an ATV has to withstand vibration and be able to generate a lot of power on demand in order to start a motor. There are many differences that you can’t see; things like the purity of the lead, and even the thickness of the plates. Thinner plates have more surface area to react with the electrolyte, but they have to be solidly fixed and durable. The brands that we have had the best luck with are Yuasa, Power Source, Odyssey, STI and Power Sonic.

YOU NEED COLD-CRANKING AMPS
Another reason to stick with a battery recommended for your ATV is the cold-cranking amp rating. Even if a battery is rated at 14-amp-hours, it still might not be able to start your motor. An ATV electric starter requires a lot of power in a hurry, which is much more demanding than, say, the battery for an electric wheelchair, which is required to deliver steady power over a long period. The cold-cranking amp requirement for a large ATV motor might be over 300 amps.

HEAT: FRIEND OR FOE?
Temperature is the wild card for all batteries. They don’t like it hot or cold. At cold temperatures, electrochemical reactions happen slowly, so the battery has less power. When you throw in the fact that your engine is harder to spin when the oil is thick and cold, you have an ATV that might not start. Your battery also charges more slowly when it’s cold. And even though it sounds strange, acid can freeze. High temperatures are physically hard on the battery, and it can lose its charge more quickly. The bottom line: Keep your quad indoors.

BEYOND LEAD-ACID
For now, the lead-acid battery still does the job well. But there’s new technology on the way. A company called E-Batt is currently making dry lithium cells to replace lead-acid batteries in the motocross world. Lithium batteries can be much lighter than traditional units and have the potential to deliver the same amount of power. Cost is an issue for now, but expect that to change soon.

Chances are that your ATV had a decent battery when it came from the dealership. It can last a very long time if you let it. You can get the same Yuasa battery from any MTA dealer.
Chances are that your ATV had a decent battery when it came from the dealership. It can last a very long time if you let it. You can get the same Yuasa battery from any MTA dealer.
One of the best and most widely available replacement batteries is Power Source, distributed by Lynn Vick. They come fully charged and stay that way for a very long time.
One of the best and most widely available replacement batteries is Power Source, distributed by Lynn Vick. They come fully charged and stay that way for a very long time.
STI is a good replacement battery that costs less than the original. It’s available from any dealer that carries MTA products.
STI is a good replacement battery that costs less than the original. It’s available from any dealer that carries MTA products.
Odyssey Batteries are made specifically for ATVs and are designed to withstand the occasional brain lapse that results if a key is left on. For a dealer, go to www.odysseybattery.com or call (660) 429-2165
Odyssey Batteries are made specifically for ATVs and are designed to withstand the occasional brain lapse that results if a key is left on. For a dealer, go to www.odysseybattery.com or call (660) 429-2165
The next generation of batteries might be like the E-Batt, a lightweight lithium battery aimed at the powersports market
The next generation of batteries might be like the E-Batt, a lightweight lithium battery aimed at the powersports market
Yuasa knows how to keep its batteries alive. The Smart Shot won’t damage your battery and is available in several sizes.
Yuasa knows how to keep its batteries alive. The Smart Shot won’t damage your battery and is available in several sizes.
The absolute best way to let your battery live a long, happy life is to have it hooked up to a Battery Tender. This keeps your battery charged up without overheating or otherwise damaging it, and you can get one for under $40. Go to www.batterytender.com or call (386) 736-7900
The absolute best way to let your battery live a long, happy life is to have it hooked up to a Battery Tender. This keeps your battery charged up without overheating or otherwise damaging it, and you can get one for under $40. Go to www.batterytender.com or call (386) 736-7900

 

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