Admittedly, having a battery disconnect switch on your ATV doesn’t necessarily bring bragging rights, but when you learn what it can do, you will probably wish you had one.
This post looks at some of the many benefits of having a battery disconnect switch, how you know if your ATV already has one, and what to look for if you’re planning to retrofit a switch to your ATV.
What Is a Battery Disconnect Switch, and What Does It Do?
A battery disconnect switch provides a quick and easily accessible way of disconnecting the battery and removing all power from the ATV.
When the switch is in the “OFF” position, it physically cuts the connection between the battery power circuit and the ATV primary electrical circuit.
Other commonly used names for the battery disconnect switch include
- Battery isolator
- Battery quick disconnect
- Kill switch
- Main power switch
A battery disconnect switch offers a simple, safe, and convenient way of disconnecting the battery without using tools.
This Is Why You Need a Battery Disconnect Switch
It Helps Prevents Battery Drain Through Storage
Countless ATV owners have gone to get their machines after a few weeks or months of storage only to find that the battery has completely drained.
When an accessory or electrical component doesn’t shut off completely, it can draw a tiny amount of power from the battery, even if there are no evident signs of electricity being used.
The drain may not be big enough to cause an issue in everyday use, but even the smallest drain adds up, and it can leave the battery completely depleted, given enough time.
This phenomenon is known as parasitic battery drain and is relatively common in ATVs due to having small-capacity batteries and regularly spending long periods without being used.
With a battery disconnect switch, you disconnect the entire electrical system, effectively eliminating the problem altogether.
Here is how you troubleshoot and repair parasitic battery drain.
Remember that batteries, even when disconnected, self-discharge at a rate of 1-3%. That is why it is recommended to regularly top off the battery with a maintenance charge when in storage.
The easiest way to approach this is to get a trickle charger with a maintenance mode that can be left connected to the battery throughout storage.
Related: How to Charge a Dead ATV Battery
It Protects the ATV Against Theft
A battery disconnect switch provides a cheap and effective additional layer against ATV theft.
Even if your local criminal manages to hotwire the ignition key, the ATV will go nowhere if the thief doesn’t know about your installed battery disconnect switch.
If you live in a particularly vulnerable area, consider installing a second, more hidden switch to boost protection.
While the thief might expect and look for one kill switch, having two switches is not as common and may end up being what saves the day and your machine.
Here are 13 other effective tips to prevent ATV theft.
It Protects Against Unauthorized Use by Children
An ATV put away for storage acts like a magnet for curious children.
Disconnecting the battery with the flick of a switch immobilizes the entire vehicle and leaves them unable to start it even if they manage to get a hold of the keys.
It Protects the ATV Against Electrical Fires
Mice, rats, and other rodents love to nibble on the wiring harness in an ATV left for storage. If they expose the wiring in an energized wire and it touches the frame, it can cause sparks and potentially a fire.
While this scenario might sound somewhat unlikely, you might be surprised it has been estimated that rodents cause up to 20 percent of undetermined house fires in the US annually.
Safe & Convenient Battery Disconnect for Maintenance
You should disconnect the battery to prevent accidental shorts when performing repairs, troubleshooting, or repairs on the ATVs electrical system.
A short could damage sensitive electrical components such as the ECU, sensors, or instrument panels.
While you could disconnect the negative battery terminal from the battery to achieve the same level of protection, still, with a battery disconnect switch, you don’t have to use tools that add to the convenience.
I’ve noticed that if you have to get a spanner to disconnect the battery, you are more likely to take a shortcut and risk working on the bike while still energized.
It Lowers the Chance of the Battery Malfunction
As if not being able to start the ATV after storage due to a drained battery isn’t bad enough, you might also end up having to replace the battery altogether to bring the ATV back to life.
A battery left sitting in a partial or completely discharged state may become permanently damaged from a process known as sulfation, where crystals build up on the lead plates inside the battery. A heavily sulfated battery cannot be restored and needs to be replaced.
Disconnecting the battery also helps protect it from shorting out when working on the ATVs electrical system.
Related: Is Your ATV Battery Bad? 9 Symptoms to Look For
Emergency Vehicle Shut Down in Racing
Having a readily accessible battery kill switch is mandatory in most racing applications due to safety reasons.
When the rescue workers get to the crash, and the engine is still running, they can turn off the kill switch outside the vehicle to shut the engine.
Additionally, the switch effectively reduces the risk of fires caused by sparks igniting leaking fuel as they work on rescuing the driver from the vehicle.
While racing quads typically use a tether-style kill switch to stop the engine in a crash, having a battery disconnect switch can be helpful to ensure a crashed bike is not shorting out and catching fire.
Where Is the Battery Disconnect Switch Located?
Many modern ATVs already have a built-in battery disconnect switch from the factory.
Most of the time, you’ll find the switch close to the battery. You might need to remove the seat or a plastic cover to access the switch, but you typically don’t need tools to get to it.
If a previous owner installed one, you might need to trace the main wires going to and from the battery to learn whether a switch is hidden somewhere to prevent theft.
Should the Disconnect Switch Be on the Positive or Negative Side of the Battery?
This is a question where you’ll find a lot of conflicting opinions across the internet. I’m no electrical engineer, but I called a friend that is one for guidance.
He explained when it comes to its basic functionality; it really doesn’t matter whether you install the switch on the positive side or the negative side of the battery. The electricity flows from the positive side to the negative, and as long as the switch breaks the flow of electrons, it will do what it is supposed to.
However, a couple of things lean towards installing the switch on the negative side.
For once, depending on what style of switch you get, it may have exposed metal parts that increase the risk of causing shorts when working near the battery.
Some switches are all metal, some have exposed terminals, and some are fully encapsulated.
If you decide to install the switch on the positive side, you definitely need a fully protected switch with no visible metal parts.
Another consideration is how the battery’s positive side typically has less space to find a good spot for the switch. The switch needs to be installed to not interfere with other wires or components.
Ultimately it is up to you to decide. Always read the installation instructions that came with the switch, and don’t perform electrical work on your vehicle if you are not confident in your skills and knowledge.
What to Look For in a Good Battery Disconnect Switch
Battery disconnect switches come in many shapes and sizes, but it does pay off to ensure you get one that s compatible with your ATV needs.
Sufficient Amp Load Rating
All battery disconnect switches should have a maximum amp-load rating, indicating how high of a current the switch is designed to handle without overheating.
As a minimum, the switch amp-load rating should match the amp-load rating of the starting circuit on your ATV. Check the main fuze to see its amp rating.
However, there is no point in getting a switch on the verge of being undersized. You might as well get one that can handle 3-5 times the starting circuit amp draw, as a higher rating doesn’t make it significantly bigger or more expensive.
If installing a switch on the winch circuit, which adds an additional layer of winching safety, please refer to the winch user manual to learn its maximum rated amp draw at full pulling power.
Water and Dustproof
If water or dust enters the switch, it may cause internal corrosion until the switch eventually short circuits or stops working.
It can be tough to find a spot on your ATV that is always dry and clean, so you want to look for a switch that is certified to withstand water splashing and dust exposure at a minimum.
Look for a switch with an IP rating of minimum IP65, indicating that it can withstand low-pressure water jets. Ideally, you would want a switch with an IP67 rating which means the switch can withstand complete immersion at up to 1m depth for up to 30 minutes.
High Operating Temperature Range
ATVs are sometimes exposed to extreme cold or heat; the switch you choose should be designed to operate in the same extreme temperatures.
Look for a switch with a specified operating range of – 40ºC to 70ºC or higher.
Minimal Exposed Metal
Ideally, the style of switch you choose should have no exposed metal parts to eliminate the risk of accidental shorts.
Switches designed for automobiles are typically not ideal in an ATV as they are not as insulated and typically not designed for such rough use.
The Bottom Line
Installing a battery disconnect switch to your ATV offers numerous benefits to safety and convenience.
While they are not the most exciting upgrade, with their affordable price and relatively straightforward installation process, they easily make it to the list of valuable upgrades that can help boost your ATV-owning experience.