You turn the key or push the starter button on your ATV, but nothing happens. The bike is completely dead, with no sign of wanting to start. But do not worry; there is no need to panic just yet. 

When you find your ATV in a “no crank, no click, no light, and no start” situation, there are a few things that could be wrong. This troubleshooting guide will help you identify and fix the most common causes.

What Happens When You Try to Start the ATV?

Most ATV owners will find themselves in a situation where their bikes won’t start at some point or another. However annoying it may be, the problem is more often than not caused by a minor issue that is relatively simple to fix by yourself.

The key to successfully troubleshooting such an issue is to begin by noting how the ATV behaves when you try to start it. Doing so helps you narrow down the possible culprits quite a bit. 

This guide only covers a situation where you turn the key or push the starter button, but the ATV is completely dead:

  • The engine does not crank
  • There are no clicking sounds or other noises
  • None of the lights turn on
  • The instrument panel does not turn on

If that’s the case, continue reading to discover what’s causing it.

However, if your ATV does show signs of life, such as the lights or dash coming on, it makes a clicking sound when you turn the key, or if the engine cranks but doesn’t fire up, the problem is likely something else entirely. If that’s the case, we recommend checking out this troubleshooting guide.

How to Start a Dead ATV: A Step-By-Step Guide

When you first notice that your ATV is dead and does not show any sign of wanting to start, it’s only natural to suspect a dead battery. After all, that is the most common cause when faced with such an issue. 

But, before you check the battery, it’s a good idea to rule out most simple things first. This guide begins with the quick and easy steps before working our way through the more time-consuming issues.

If you’re confident that your battery is dead, you may skip down ahead to the part on how to start an ATV that has a dead battery.  

1. Make sure the kill switch is in the ON or RUN position

While this may sound too obvious, you’d be surprised how common this simple mistake is. The run switch, also known as the kill switch, needs to be on for the ATV to start. 

I’ll be the first to admit having assumed that the kill switch was in “ON” like I usually leave it. Only to later realize, after wasting precious riding time on troubleshooting, that I had switched it off the last time I parked the bike.

Another scenario is if someone else has pushed down the kill switch. If you have children, you know they like playing on parked vehicles by randomly pushing buttons. The shiny red, easily accessible killswitch is a temptation it can be hard for them to resist. So always begin by making sure it is set to “RUN” or “ON.”

Some ATVs use a tether pull-cord style kill switch instead of or in conjunction with a kill switch. Make sure the cap at the end of the cord is connected correctly. 

2. Make Sure the ATV Is in Park and the Parking brake engaged

Many ATVs are designed not to start when in gear as a safety precaution. The gear shifter must be in “Park” or “Neutral,” or the starter will not engage. 

Also, on some models, the parking brake needs to be engaged to turn off the starter interlock.

3. Make Sure the Battery Terminals Are Properly Connected

Now it’s time to inspect the battery and connectors for issues. Remove any panels or covers to access the battery. On modern ATVs, the battery may be hidden underneath the seat or behind removable plastic covers, usually at the front of the vehicle. 

After gaining access to the battery, make sure both the positive and the negative battery terminals have not come loose from the battery terminals. Also, make sure the terminals do not look overly corroded, leading to a bad connection. 

4. Make Sure the Main Power Switch Is Turned On

Some ATVs have a power cutoff switch near the battery that cuts all electricity to the bike. Make sure it is turned “ON.”

polaris main power switch
The main power switch on a Polaris Sportsman XP 1000

You usually won’t use this switch daily, but it’s good practice to turn it off to prevent shorts whenever you’re working on the bike’s electrical system or prevent parasitic battery drain when you leave the bike sitting for extended periods. 

Like the kill switch that you usually don’t use every time you ride, easy to forget to turn the main power switch back on when you’re ready to use the ATV again.

5. Make Sure the Battery Is Charged

You will need a multimeter or a simple voltage tester to check the battery. Some ATVs also have a built-in voltage meter in the instrument panel, making reading the battery’s state of charge a bit easier. 

A fully charged ATV battery should read between 12.6 and 12.8V with the engine off. If the voltage drops below about 11,5V, the battery won’t have enough power to start the bike. If it drops even lower, the lights and possibly the instrument panel won’t turn on. 

To read the voltage using a multimeter, follow these steps:

  • Connect the red lead to the “V” voltage port and the black lead to the COM port on the multimeter.
  • If you have an automatic meter, set the dial to “V.” The meter will automatically choose between AC and DC voltage and choose the proper voltage range.
  • If you have a manual meter, set the dial to 20 VDC.
Multimeter settings for an open circuit voltage reading.
  • Place the black lead probe on the battery negative (-) terminal and the red lead probe on the battery positive (+) terminal.
  • The battery’s current state of charge, measured in voltage, should now show in the multimeter’s display. 

If you read a voltage between 11.5V and 12.4V, you should charge the battery with an external battery charger. This guide will tell you how to charge the battery correctly.

If the voltage reads below 11.5V, the battery is considered dead. A dead battery cannot always be revived, especially if it has bees sitting for more than a few days with a low charge. But if you notice the low state of charge early on and act fast, it may be possible to bring the battery to almost a full working order. This guide shows you how you can charge a dead ATV battery.

If the battery won’t charge or won’t hold a charge, you may need to replace it with a new one. Before you do, it may be worth testing the battery to verify that it is bad before spending money on a new one. This is how you install a new battery.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Your ATV Battery Keeps Draining (Going Dead)

6. Check the Main Fuse

Most, but not all, ATVs have the main fuse. It cuts off power to the ATV’s electrical system when it’s blown. So if the battery checks out fine, you need to make sure that the main fuse hasn’t blown. To locate the fuse, please refer to the user manual. It is usually located close to the battery.

If the fuse is blown, replace it with a new one with the same rating as the old one, assuming no one has previously switched it to an incorrect rating. 

7. Make Sure the Kill Switch Is Working

The kill switch is usually not operated during regular riding but sits fully exposed on the handlebars. Over time, internal corrosion caused by dirt and water may cause malfunction by preventing a proper connection.

In some cases, you can return the switch to working order by soaking it with WD40 while repeatedly operating it. If possible, disassemble the switch to clean its internal metal connectors.

While this may bring the ATV back to life, it should only be a temporary fix. Corrosion issues tend to come back sooner or later when they’ve first appeared. 

Your best bet for a more permanent fix is to replace the switch with a new one and protect it by packing the internals with non-conductive dielectric grease. 

Also, make sure the switch is not full of mud and water, which would cause an internal short. 

8. Make Sure the Solenoid Has Power

The ignition key or starter switch on your ATV is not designed to handle the high current required to power the starter. It would have to be much bulkier with high gauge wiring going to and from the switch. 

That’s where the solenoid comes into play. The solenoid is located between the battery and the starter. It acts like an electrically operated switch that turns on when it gets a smaller electrical signal from pressing the starter button. 

Each time you press the starter button or turn the key, you should hear the solenoid’s audible “clicking” sound. This tells you that the solenoid is getting power from the battery. The problem is likely with the solenoid itself. Solenoids sometimes won’t fully engage due to internal corrosion. In some cases, the problem may be with the actual starter, but this is less common.

When there is no sound, the solenoid may knot be getting power from the battery, or it may not be getting a signal from the starter button/key. Use the multimeter to verify that there is no power at the solenoid positive terminal. 

Look for loose, damaged, or corroded wiring. Another potential culprit is a faulty starter button or ignition switch, often due to internal corrosion.

9. Other Causes of a Dead ATV

We’ve now covered the most common causes to look into when your ATV is dead. However, the list is not complete. 

Other things to look for are blown fuses (lights, instrument panel, or ECU fuses), loose or corroded ground wires, damaged wires shorting out, and a defective rollover shutdown relay.

 All of these topics are covered in our post on reasons why your ATV is not getting power

How to Start an ATV That Has a Dead Battery

Suppose your initial testing came out with the battery completely dead, but you cannot charge or replace it. In that case, the options you are left with are limited.

Jump-Start the ATV

Jump-starting is using a set of jumper cables to connect the battery on another vehicle, such as an ATV or a car, to the battery on your ATV. The healthy battery will provide external starting power to the dead battery. 

Jump-starting is not considered a suitable method to charge your dead ATV battery fully. It’s only meant to stay connected for a few minutes until you succeed in starting the dead ATV.

When using a car as a donor battery, it’s recommended that the car stays off during the whole procedure.

How to jump-start an ATV:

Red leads go on the positive battery terminals, the black leads go on the negative battery terminals or to frame ground on the dead battery vehicle.

You will need a set of jumper cables, preferably with built-in circuit protection.

Caution: Make sure the black and red connectors never touch when connected to a battery. Also, make sure the red lead connectors never touch any exposed metal when connected to the battery. Both of which will cause a direct short. This type of short may not only damage the battery or the electronics in both of the vehicles. It may also cause a potentially fatal accident from the battery exploding. Always wear protective eyewear when working on the battery. 

  1. Turn the ATV ignition off.
  2. Connect one end of the black negative lead to the healthy battery negative (-) battery terminal.
  3. Connect the other end of the black, negative lead to the bad battery negative terminal or frame ground.
  4. Connect the two positive battery terminals using the red lead.
  5. Wait a few minutes before you attempt to start the dead ATV.
  6. As soon as the ATV starts, disconnect the jumper cable leads in this order:
    1. Healthy battery positive terminal
    2. Bad battery positive terminal
    3. Bad battery negative terminal
    4. Healthy charged battery negative terminal

Use the Pull Start (If Available)

Most modern ATVs with larger displacement engines do not come with a pull start. However, if you ride a youth ATV or an older model with a smaller engine, it may have a pull starter for emergencies like this. 

On some models, the pull starter is visible; just look for a pull starter handle on the side of the engine. On other models, you may need to remove a plastic cover to access the pull handle.