HOW TO: BATTERY MAINTENANCE
STORING & CHARGING YOUR POWER SOURCE
Battery maintenance is one of those things you just can’t hide from, especially if you like to travel in high moisture situations. Check out our How To, and let that battery of yours, live life to its fullest charge.
Nowadays you would be hard pressed to find an ATV without a battery. Electric starters have become the norm and kick-starters will no longer be needed at all. Battery maintenance has become a necessity at least once or twice a year, if not more, so wouldn’t it be nice if you actually knew how to deal with your machines electrical source? We thought the same thing, and just like most of you out there, we at Dirt Wheels have had our share of mishaps when it comes to the power under the seat. Have you ever left the key on overnight? How about blowing a fuse because you didn’t read the directions while wiring a kill switch? I don’t need no stinkin’ directions! Uh huh, sure. Take a look at our simple guide to the proper maintenance of the source behind our ATV riding happiness, a battery.
Before you work on, or purchase, an ATV battery, you should first learn the basics. We are not going to sit you down and spoon feed you a whole lot of information you will soon forget, but briefly explain all there is you need to know to save yourself some risks when dealing with an ATV battery.
There are many terms used when dealing with batteries, such as “Gel Cell” “Sealed,” “Maintenance-free,” and so on, but there are only two types of batteries used on ATVs, and both of them are lead-acid batteries. A lead acid battery is made up of lead plates and oxide with a 35 percent sulfuric acid and 65 percent water solution. This solution is called electrolyte which causes a chemical reaction that produce electrons. These electrons give your machine life.
The first type of lead cell battery is a conventional (also known as flooded). This batteries technology has been around longer than Dirt Wheels Magazine’s Senior Editor has had the nickname “Ketchup,” and if you don’t know, that’s a long time.
These batteries have extra acid above all of the negative and positive plates. Dry plate surfaces become damaged and that is one reason why conventional batteries must be topped off with distilled water as needed.
AGM batteries are a little newer. They were pioneered on Honda powersports vehicles in the early 1980s but have since taken over as the prevailing battery on ATV’s. When you hear people talking of sealed, Gel-Cell or maintenance-free batteries from any manufacturer on a powersports vehicle, they are talking about AGM technology. Absorbed Glass Mat refers to the battery’s design in which all of the electrolyte (acid) is absorbed into fiberglass pads that are pressed between the positive and negative plates. There is no loose acid in a properly activated AGM battery. AGM batteries are not vented to atmosphere so they do not dry out with normal use.
MAINTAINING YOUR ATV’S BATTERY
The average battery life has become shorter as energy requirements have increased. Nowadays Utility ATVs have everything from GPS units to winches and electrical outlets, so battery maintenance is very important. We put together a simple step-by-step guide to what should be done a few times a season, but before you jump into things, here are a few rules to live by when working with batteries.
RULES TO SAFETY
Rule 1. Remove all jewelry to prevent unnecessary sparkage.
Rule 2. A battery puts off a hydrogen gas while it is charging, so we would suggest throwing on a set of safety goggles before hooking it to the charger.
Rule 3. Sulfuric acid eats things up, so wear junk clothes while working on your battery.
Rule 4: When doing electrical work on vehicles it is best to disconnect the ground cable. Keep in mind you are working with corrosive acid, explosive gases and hundreds of amps of electrical current.
STEP 1: Remove the battery from the ATV. The battery should be cleaned using a baking soda and water mix. Use a couple of tablespoons to a pint of water.
STEP 2: A serviceable battery needs to have the fluid level checked. Use only mineral free, or distilled water. A sealed battery needs to be charged at this time. Connect the charger to the battery before plugging in. While it is possible to express charge your battery using a higher amp selection on most chargers, it is best to trickle charge the battery. This is usually selecting the lower amp, usually 2amp and lower, and charging 6 to 10 hours. Then return the battery to your ATV.
STEP 3: Before you reconnect make sure all connections have been cleaned. Tighten the positive cable connection, and then apply a small amount of Vaseline or grease over the top of the connection (This is used to prevent corrosion).
STEP 4: Tighten, and Vaseline the negative post connection. Before tightening the negative post, make sure the positive post is covered to prevent accidental touching of both posts. Repeat these steps every few months to prevent corrosion. Keeping your battery fully charged at all times will enhance the life of your battery.
To clean your battery try mixing baking soda and water, and scrubbing it with a small toothbrush.
CHARGING YOUR ATV’S BATTERY
The majority of all battery failure is related to sulfation buildup. This buildup occurs when the sulfur molecules in the battery acid become so deeply discharged that they begin to coat the battery’s lead plates. Before long the plates become so coated that the battery dies. To prevent this you need to make sure your battery is properly charged at all times, thus preventing sulfation and enhancing the longevity of your battery.
Companies like Battery Tender (www.batterytender.com or (386) 736-7900), Christie’s (www.christiecbs.com or (949) 829-8264), or Tecmate (www.tecmate.com or (905) 337-2095) supply all types of chargers that match every power, current, voltage and style that best meet your needs. Battery Tender battery chargers are equipped with a variety of safety and interconnect options, such as spark free operation, reverse polarity protection, and continuous short circuit protection. They also come with alligator clips, fused ring terminals and a quick disconnect DC output cable harness.
Most new chargers, such as the ones sold by Battery Tender, charge in a certain way. This type of charging is called three-step regulated charging.
The first step is bulk charging where up to 80 percent of the battery energy capacity is replaced by the charger at the maximum voltage and current amp rating of the charger. When the battery voltage reaches 14.4 volts this begins the absorption charge step. This is where the voltage is held at a constant 14.4 volts and the current declines until the battery is 98 percent charged. The next step is a regulated voltage of not more than 13.4 volts and usually less than one amp of current. This will put the battery at 100 percent. Make sure you do not undercharge your battery. This means you cannot hurry up the process of the charge. Only charging a battery to 90 percent of capacity will allow sulfation of the battery.
STORING & REPLACING
When purchasing a new battery we suggest that you get one through a name brand company. While all of the basic technology is the same regardless of manufacturer, there are varying levels of quality from manufacturer to manufacturer. The more familiar names in lead-acid batteries, such as YUASA or Power-Sonic, have been at this for a long time, and quality will never be an issue.
The freshness of a new battery is very important. The longer a battery sits and is not re-charged, the more damaging sulfation buildup there may be on the plates. When you buy a new battery you want it to be trickle charged for at least 8-10 hours at between one and three amps (depending on battery size) on a charger designed specifically for powersports vehicle batteries—not a car battery charger.
It is best to disconnect the battery on an ATV if it is going to be stored or parked for longer than a month. Nearly every ATV has something called quiescent current draw that puts a continual, low-current draw on the electrical system. This draw will kill a battery in just weeks. Make sure you disconnect the negative battery cable so that you cannot short-circuit your wrench to the frame of the ATV.
If the ATV is going to be parked for more than a month, take your fully-charged battery off of the ATV completely and store it in a cool, dark place. A discharged battery can freeze solid in sub zero weather, while hot temperatures increase the chance of discharge as well.