ATV batteries are considered consumables that must be replaced from time to time. The expense of a new battery for your ATV is rarely a welcome one, and like most batteries, they have become even more expensive in later years.
I did a little research on the subject to get a better understanding of what makes up the price components of an ATV battery and which factor drives the price the most.
Material-costs plays a huge part
Materials make up about 60% of the total cost of an ATV battery. And no, it’s not the plastic casing or any of the components that are visible from the outside that drives up the price – it is the precious minerals on the inside.
For lead-acid batteries (including conventional flooded-, AGM- and GEL batteries), lead is the costliest material.
The price of lead was stable around 0.2-0.4 $/lb all of the years through 1989-2005. Then in 2006, the price skyrocketed up to over 1.6$/lb. It eventually stabilized around 1.0$/lb where it remained relatively stable until the present day. You find a historic chart of lead prices here.
For Lithium-Ion batteries they are nickel, cobalt, and aluminum where cobalt is by far the biggest contributor.
The price of cobalt has been hovering relatively stable around 15 $/lb from 2005 to the present day. The only real deviations in price were two large spikes where the price spiked at 52$ (2008) and 42$ (2018). Both of these spikes did affect the price of batteries, and so will similar spikes in the future. You can find a historical chart of cobalt prices here.
The exported recycling of lead batteries
Lead is potentially very harmful and should not be disposed of as ordinary waste. Luckily, lead can be recycled indefinitely. So far so good.
US recyclers have access to some of the world’s most advanced battery recycling technology. But, due to strict US lead-emission regulations, they are prevented from disassembling and smelting lead within the country.
Mexico’s emission regulations, however, are only about 1/10th as stringent as those in the US. This imbalance ensures that most of America’s lead batteries are shipped to Mexico, where lead smelters make them into ingots. The ingots are then shipped to make new batteries, that are finally shipped back to US consumers.
This impressive recycling chain involves a lot of steps, but also a lot of shipping. And as you know, shipping lead is expensive.
Fluctuations in raw-material supply create price spikes
Around 90% of today’s lead output comes from recycled lead batteries. From an environmental perspective, it’s wonderful that we’re getting better at recycling our harmful waste.
But, this also leaves the production of batteries vulnerable to fluctuations in the supply of recycled lead.
Things such as fluctuations in weather patterns can affect how many batteries are being recycled each year.
In cold winters, many batteries will go dead, leading to a surplus of recycled lead. But if we get one or more warm winters where few batteries are being replaced followed by a really cold winter, we may get a shortage in the availability of recycled lead.
It’s all a matter of supply and demand. Prices go up when supply is lower than the demand. A low supply of recycled batteries can be devastating for smelters that still have operating costs that need to be covered.
Shipping, handling and storing cost is high
Batteries are quite expensive to ship.
For one, lead-based batteries are fairly heavy. Not only does it cost more to transport the finished battery, transporting the raw material cost more as well.
Second, you have the safety precautions required due to the dangerous chemicals inside the battery. This means extra steps are necessary to safely transport and store them.
Labor costs are low and the manufacturing is not that complicated
Labour makes up just a minuscule part of the total cost of producing a battery.
The manufacturing process is largely automated which eliminates the need for paid workers. Also, most batteries are produced in low-cost countries where labor is cheap.
There haven’t been any huge leaps forward in battery technology for several decades. The technology is well established and understood. Manufacturers do not need for large research and development departments to successfully produce batteries
The manufacturing process itself is not that complicated. But, due to the use of hazardous materials such as lead and highly acidic dielectric liquid, strict regulations apply.
Extra steps and safety precautions are added to the manufacturing process to keep the environment healthy, which also adds some extra cost to the finished product.
ATV batteries have a relatively small market share
ATV batteries, as well as other small power-sport style batteries, are not as common as car batteries. This contributes to making them a bit more expensive relative to car batteries that sell in huge numbers.
Extra features or warranties
Some batteries are manufactured to provide features such as being able to perform better in cold weather. Such features ads to the total cost.
Then you have batteries that are built to last longer and are sole with extended warranties. Both the more complicated manufacturing process as well as the added risk involved for providing a longer warranty cost money
Some types of batteries cost more
The most common types of batteries used in ATVs are conventional flooded (wet) lead-acid batteries, AGM, GEL, Lithium-Ion or even Lithium-Iron batteries.
In the table below we are comparing the price of three random batteries within each of the most common types of ATV battery. By calculating the price for one Ah of capacity we can get a general idea of the difference in price between the different battery technologies.
|Battery Type||Price||Ah-Rating||Price / Ah|
|Lead-acid||72$||18 Ah||$4.00 /Ah|
|AGM||48$||12 Ah||$4.00 /Ah|
|AGM||130$||18 Ah||$7.22 /Ah|
|AGM||93$||20 Ah||$4.65 /Ah|
|Lithium-ion||150$||20 Ah||$7.50 /Ah|
|Lithium ion||190$||18 Ah||$10.56 /Ah|
|Lithium-ion||800$||100 Ah||$8.00 /Ah|
|Battery Type||Average Price / Ah|
- Conventional lead-acid batteries are cheaper than all other battery chemistries and offer the most power for the money. They are simple to make, and raw materials make up the majority of their production cost.
- AGM is also a lead-acid battery but uses added technology to create a battery that is safer, longer-lasting and has a lower self-discharge. The added tech and materials do add to the overall cost when compared to a conventional wet lead-acid battery. An AGM battery costs about 1.2 times more than a conventional wet lead-acid battery.
- Lithium-Ion batteries use a whole other range of raw materials and manufacturing technology that drives the price even further. Lithium-Ion batteries cost about twice as much pr amp-hour as conventional wet lead-acid batteries, but they also allow for a deeper discharge, providing more usable capacity.
Core charge – a deposit to promote recycling
In many states, you are charged with a mandatory core charge – a deposit that you get back when returning your used battery for recycling.
This charge does add to the price you have to pay for a new battery, but you get the money back as long as you remember to bring it back when it’s worn out and has to be replaced.
Are ATV batteries really that expensive?
The price of ATV batteries has gone up in recent years due to reasons as discussed in this post. But are they actually that expensive? It’s often a matter of perspective.
If you deduct things like core charge, seller margins, transportation cost, the price of a battery is in reality quite reasonable. Keep in mind that you get a unit that lasts for 3-5 years (sometimes even longer) for the price of a few tanks of gas.
In this perspective, the price of a battery may seem a bit more justified and acceptable.