So you’ve established that your ATV doesn’t have a spark or only has a weak spark. But now what? 

Troubleshooting an ATV with no spark can be quite challenging and mildly frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s why I’ve made this simple step-by-step guide to help you identify why your bike is acting up.

What causes no-spark or a weak spark on an ATV?

Your bike’s ignition system consists of various components that work together to create a spark. Each component in the system is just as important as the other. They all have to function correctly, or there will be no spark or the spark will become weak.

When your ATV is not getting a spark, the problem is with one or more of these electrical components:

  • The spark plug
  • The spark plug wire
  • The ignition coil
  • The stator
  • The crankshaft positioning sensor
  • The CDI or ECU
  • The battery
  • Wiring and connectors connecting these components
atv ignition system
Basic layout of an ATV ignition system.

How do you diagnose no spark on an ATV?

The easiest way of identifying which of the listed components is failing is through a process of elimination.

With electrical issues, it is always better to check the most straightforward stuff first. If you assume the worst and you begin by removing the stator, you may end up having to reassemble a bunch of components you didn’t have to take apart. 

More often than not, you will find that there is a problem with the spark plug, the kill switch, a wire, or a connector.

By performing various tests, you should be able to pinpoint which component is faulty. Before you’ve established which part is acting up, there is no need to focus on one single component. 

Troubleshooting-guide for an ATV with no spark

1. Confirm that the ATV actually has no spark

You may or may not already have done this step, but you need to verify that the ATV actually has no spark before you continue troubleshooting. 

While you may feel confident that a lack of spark is the issue, keep in mind that other starting issues could be causing similar symptoms. Therefore it’s not enough to assume the spark is not there; you need to test it.

An ATV needs fuel, air, and spark to start and. If you are not sure whether your bike not starting is caused by a lack of spark, or something else, we recommend you read this guide.

How to test an ATV for spark

  1. Disable the fuel system. It’s a good idea to close the fuel tank petcock valve as a safety precaution if your bike has one or to remove the fuel pump fuse before checking the spark.
  2. Remove the ignition coil lead boot from the spark plug. Pull straight outwards from the engine.
  3. Remove the spark plug from the engine. Use a spark plug socket wrench. Spark plugs sockets are either 5/8 inches (16mm) or 13/16 (21mm) inches.
  4. Connect the spark plug with the ignition coil lead. Push the spark plug into the spark plug boot by hand until it is seated.
  5. Place the spark plug on the cylinder head or near an exposed metal part of the frame. The plug’s metal part must touch the metal on the engine or frame for this to work. This will ground the spark plug so that it can create a spark. 
  6. Crank the engine and watch for a spark. You may need a helper to push the starter for you. Make sure to keep your hands at a safe distance from the spark plug. On a healthy spark plug, you should see a bright blue spark that fires continuously. 

Alternatively, you can test the spark plug by using a cheap spark plug tester. Spark plug testers come in various styles, but here are two of the most common.

With the first spark plug tester style, you place the tool’s grooved part over the spark plug wire while the engine is running. The bulb inside the tool will flash to indicate a spark and how powerful and consistent it is.

Pen-style spark plug tester.

The second style of tester connects where the spark plug normally would be. Remove the spark plug boot from the spark plug and connect it to the tool. The tool has an alligator clip that connects to ground, such as the engine or an exposed metal part of the frame.

In-line style spark plug tester.

If there is a spark, it will appear inside the see-through tool casing, jumping between the tho metal leads. If the spark is good, it will have a regular purple-blue color. If the spark is weak, the spark inside the tool will appear with yellow-red and a more inconsistent spark pattern.

Now that you have verified there is no spark; it’s time to begin the actual troubleshooting. 

2. Make sure the kill switch is on

The ATV will not create a spark when the kill switch is off. However silly it may seem, you’d be surprised how often people forget to turn it on before attempting to start their ATV.

ATVs with electrical starter motors won’t even crank the engine if the kill switch is off. So if the engine will crank, you know that the issue is likely not with the kill switch.

Pull start or kick start ATVs, on the other hand, is another story. No matter how much So make sure the switch is turned on before you end up pulling until you’ve wet fouled the spark plug.

3. Make sure the battery is charged and has good ground

While some ATVs will run without a battery, others need a healthy battery to power the ECM (electric control module) and the electric fuel pump. The ECM is a small computer that tells the ignition coil when to create a spark. 

If the battery holds an insufficient charge, the ECM may not power up, and therefore will not tell the ignition coil to create a spark.

Read the battery voltage by setting your multimeter to DC volts, place the red lead to the positive battery terminal and the black lead to the negative terminal. A healthy battery should read 12.45volts or more when fully charged.

If you want to learn how to charge your battery correctly, please head over to this guide

To test battery ground, you should place black lead to the engine block or an exposed metal part of the frame. The red lead goes to the positive battery terminal. If the battery ground connector is good, you should get a reading close to or identical with the one you got when testing directly to the battery.

If you get a reading that indicates bad ground, make sure the main engine ground is properly fastened and has not corroded. You find it by tracing the big black wire coming from the battery.

4. Check the spark plug

Spark plugs are cheap and easy to replace. They are considered consumables that may go bad for no apparent reason.

Be careful not to crank the engine for too long before checking the plug, or youøss risk overheating and possibly damage the starter motor.  

Whether the spark plug gapping is incorrect, the plug has gone bad, or it’s the wrong plug altogether for your engine, it may no longer be able to provide a spark. Note that a spark plug may physically look fine but still have gone bad. 

The easiest way of testing if a bad plug is the issue is by replacing it with a new one and then test for spark as described above. You don’t even have to remove the old plug. Just pull off the bott, insert a new plug, and test for spark.

If your new spark plug isn’t creating a spark either, you know the problem is not with the actual spark plug.

5. Check for loose, damaged, or corroded connectors

A bad electrical connection in a connector may prevent the ignition system from working as it should. Ensure all connectors in the ignition system wiring harness are not damaged from corrosion, are not full of dirt, and are properly connected. 

Check all connectors, especially the ones that connect the kill switch or ignition key.

  • Unplug the connector.
  • Clean the pins with an electric cleaner. 
  • Apply dielectric grease to prevent future corrosion issues. 
  • Plug the connector in and out a couple of times to establish a proper connection.

Now test if this has fixed your no-spark issue.

6. Check for damaged wires in the wiring harness

If a wire gets damaged, exposing the metal leads, you may get a short to ground. Trace all the wires connecting the various components of the ignition system. If you find a damaged wire, repair or replace it.

7. Check the kill switch and other safety switches

If the kill switch internals fails, it may stay off even when in the “on” or “run” position. 

You can test the switch by performing a continuity test using a multimeter, a test light, or a simple continuity tester. 

Insert one probe into each of the two cables going into the switch. There should be no continuity when the switch is off and continuity when it is on. 

Alternatively, you can do this simple test:

  • Put the kill switch in the “on or “run” position.
  • Turn the ignition key one step clockwise to turn on the power. Please do not turn it far enough to activate the starter. If the instrument panel lights up, you know you have power.
  • Then turn off the kill switch. You should now see no light or any other signs of power. You now know that the switch works.

If your ATV has a 5-pin CDI-box, you can use it to identify a safety switch issue. This test only works on 5-pin CDIs, typically found on cheaper Chinese youth ATV models or older ATVs. 

  • Look for a small black box with five wires going to it. 
  • Remove the CDI box from the ATV. You may leave the rubber CDI box suspension connected to the bike’s frame. 
  • Locate the center wire, usually white with a black stripe.
  • Use a tiny screwdriver to release the tap that holds this pin in the connector.
  • Remove the black and white wire from the connector. When removing this wire, you disable all of the many safety switches commonly found on shepherd Chinese youth ATVs. 
  • With the center wire pin removed, reinstall and test if you get a spark by removing the spark plug and look for a blue spark. Do not attempt starting the bike as you will not be able to stop the engine with the white and black center wire removed. 
  • If you get a spark, you know that the issue is with a safety switch.

8. Check the ignition coil

The ignition coil generates the electrical pulses of current sent to the spark plug to create a spark. 

  • On single-cylinder ATVs, the coil is generally cylindrically shaped with two connectors at one end (the primary side) and one single high gauge ignition coil lead going out the other end (secondary side). 
  • On ATVs with more than one cylinder, the ignition coil pack may have a more boxed shape, but it could be cylindrical as well.

How to test the ignition coil using a multimeter

With a multimeter, you can read the ohms resistance of the primary side and the secondary side of the ignition coil. Each of these readings can tell you whether the coil is ok or not. 

  1. Locate the ignition coil. You will find the ignition coil by tracing back the spark plug wire from the spark plug end. 
  2. Disconnect the ignition coil and remove it from the ATV. This makes testing easier and safer.

Test the primary side:

  1. Put the multimeter to its ohms (resistance) setting.
  2. Place the leads on the leads on the primary side terminals of the ignition coil. Place one lead on each terminal; it doesn’t matter which lead goes where.
  3. Read the ohms resistance. A typical ohms resistance reading on an ignition coil’s primary side ranges from 0,2 to 5 ohms. Refer to your ATV service manual for the exact value for your bike. If you get a reading outside this range, the ignition coil is likely bad and needs replacing. 

Test the secondary side:

  1. On dual lead ignition coils, place one lead in each of the spark plug boots. Your typical reading will range from 15k to 25k ohms.
  2. On single lead ignition coils, place one lead in the spark plug boot so that it touches the spark plug connector, and the other lead to one of the connectors of the primary side of the ignition coil. Your typical reading will range from 10k to 15k ohms. Most of the resistance comes from the spark plug boot. That’s why you typically will get a lower reading on single lead ignition coils. 
  3. Any reading outside the typical ranges may indicate a bad ignition coil.

9. Check the CDI or ECU

While modern ATVs nowadays have ECM/ECU, many cheaper Chinese youth ATVs and older ATVs use 5-pin CDI boxes to control the spark. 

There aren’t any good ways of testing these boxes at home. A CDI is relatively cheap, so your best bet is to replace it and try again. 

ECU’s, on the other hand, are more expensive. You’re likely better off testing or replacing both your ignition coil or stator before possibly replacing the ECU at last. 

10. Check the stator

The stator is what creates the electricity on your ATV. It is located behind an engine cover, but luckily you can test it without removing it. 

There are two main ways you can test the stator. A static test, where you test internal resistance when the bike is turned off, and a dynamic test, where you read voltage while the engine is running. 

If the stator fails any of the tests, you may have a defective exciter coil inside the stator, and the stator needs to be replaced.

11. Check the crankshaft position sensor

The crankshaft position sensor (CKP-sensor) registers and tells the engine exactly where the piston is as it moves up and down. This information is necessary for the CDI or ECU to say to the ignition coil when to power the spark plug.

The CKP sensor is either built into the stator assembly or located separately on the engine. 

Look for damaged wires going to the sensor or a cracked or bent sensor bracket if you have a separately located sensor. 

You can test the sensor by using your multimeter to measure its resistance:

  • Remove the sensor connector, or identify which wires are going to your sensor. 
  • Set your multimeter to ohms, put one lead on each sensor connector, or insert the probes to the sensor wires if they don’t have easily accessible connectors.
  • Refer to your service manual to learn what reading you should get on your specific sensor.