What Type of Batteries Do ATVs Use? How to Choose?

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When buying a new battery for your ATV, one of the first choices is what type to get. Not all ATV batteries are the same, and which type you get can significantly impact performance, longevity, fitment, and cost.

Navigating the jungle of battery types and expressions can be daunting, but luckily, it is not as complicated as it might seem.

An ATV uses one out of these four types of batteries:

  • Conventional Flooded Lead-Acid (FLA)
  • Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM)
  • Gel-Cell (GEL)
  • Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion)

In this post, you’ll get an overview of the pros and cons of the different ATV battery types and what factors you need to consider to know which one to choose for your machine. 

The Four Different Types of ATV Batteries

When it comes to ATV batteries, there are essentially four types to choose from.

Conventional Flooded Lead-Acid Batteries (FLA)

A conventional lead-acid battery has battery cells with lead plates and liquid electrolytes (battery acid). Some refer to these as wet-cell batteries. FLA batteries are the oldest type, with a design that dates back more than 150 years. 

FLA batteries are widely used in budget-friendly ATV models where their lower initial cost helps reduce the vehicle cost.

However, FLA batteries’ less sophisticated design gives disadvantages like reduced robustness, shorter life expectancy, more maintenance and care, and limited mounting flexibility. 

Absorbed Glass Mat Batteries (AGM)

AGM batteries were developed to enhance some less desirable properties of conventional FLA batteries. 

The main difference from a conventional battery is how the electrolyte is absorbed in glass mats placed between the lead plates, which prevents the electrolyte from splashing around.

Their benefits include a rugged, spill-proof, and maintenance-free design, long life expectancy with a low discharge rate, and high mounting flexibility because of their position-insensitive design. 

While there aren’t many downsides, it’s worth noting that AGM batteries can be sensitive to permanent damage if overcharged.

For many ATV owners, AGM batteries offer the perfect balance between cost and performance, and that is why their use is so widespread in medium to higher-end ATV models.

Gel-Cel Batteries (GEL)

GEL batteries represent a different approach to improving conventional batteries where a silica-based gel electrolyte replaces the liquid battery acid.

GEL batteries are better than conventional batteries in most aspects but score slightly lower than AGM batteries overall. 

The main reason the use of GEL batteries in ATVs is not as widespread as FLA and AGM batteries are their higher cost, less robust internals, and shorter service life.

Lithium-Ion Batteries (Li-Ion)

Li-Ion batteries employ a fundamentally different approach compared to conventional lead-acid batteries.

A lithium-ion battery offers superior performance over the other battery types, making it the high-end alternative for ATV owners looking to upgrade from their stock battery. 

The main disadvantage of Li-Ion batteries is their high cost and the fact that they require a specific type of battery charger.

Their higher purchase cost is why ATVs typically don’t come with a Li-Ion battery from the dealer but are used by ATV enthusiasts willing to pay for the superior performance and weight savings they offer. 

If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of each battery type, I’ve made a separate post where I examine their specific differences more in-depth.

Understanding SLA and VRLA Batteries

When researching your new ATV battery, you might come across terms like sealed lead acid (SLA) or valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries.

These terms are often used to describe AGM and GEL batteries due to their common design features. Here’s what these terms mean:

Sealed: These batteries have casings that can’t be opened; they lack removable caps.

Lead-Acid: Both GEL and AGM batteries are based on the basic lead-acid design but enhanced to improve battery performance and features.

Valve-Regulated: Unlike conventional lead-acid batteries, which have open vents to release gas during charging, AGM and GEL batteries use a pressure valve. This valve only opens when excessive gas is present and closes once the gas is vented out.

This design difference ensures that AGM and GEL batteries are spill-proof, unlike conventional batteries, which can leak when turned.

Understanding Maintenance-Free Batteries

Some might say that ATVs use maintenance-free batteries, which is not entirely incorrect but a bit imprecise.

AGM, GEL, and Li-Ion batteries are all considered maintenance-free because they have no removable lids to add electrolytes as conventional batteries do.

However, all batteries require other forms of regular maintenance to stay in good condition throughout their service life.

Factors to Consider When Choosing ATV Battery Type

All four battery types described at the beginning of this post could work in almost any ATV as long as they are the correct voltage, have a size that fits, have the appropriate terminal type, and have a high enough capacity.

However, that doesn’t make it indifferent what type you choose. Here are some things to consider to ensure you’ll be happy with your batty purchase. 

Mounting Position and Orientation

AGM and Li-Ion batteries are position insensitive, meaning they work just as fine when mounted in any orientation.

On the other hand, FLA batteries need to be mounted upright to prevent spills that could harm the battery and the ATV.

GEL batteries come somewhere between and can be mounted in any orientation except upside down. 

If your ATV requires a horizontal battery installation like my Polaris Sportsman XP 1000, you should cross conventional flooded lead-acid batteries off your list.

Are You Willing to Do More Maintenance?

A conventional battery requires regular battery level inspection and topping off with fresh battery acid or distilled water to perform as intended and to prevent premature failure. 

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t think about their battery until the ATV is completely dead and won’t start, you should consider opting for one of the maintenance-free alternatives.

What Level of Battery Performance Do You Want?

ATV batteries typically become more energy-dense as their price increases. This means an FLA battery must be significantly larger to pack the same power as a Li-Ion battery.

When selecting a replacement battery, it’s essential to consider two critical ratings: Amp-Hour (Ah) capacity and Cold Cranking Amps (CCA).

Ideally, you should aim for a battery with ratings equal to or better than the stock battery’s specifications.

Related: What Do ATV Battery Numbers Mean?

Another essential performance factor to consider is the charge/discharge acceptance rate. 

FLA batteries typically need to be charged or discharged slowly to prevent damage. AGM and GEL batteries lie somewhere in the middle, whereas Li-Ion batteries can handle a high-speed charge and discharge rate. 

This can be important if you regularly need to charge your battery quickly or run high-power accessories like a large winch that draws a lot of current in a short period. 

Is Weight Savings Important?

FLA, AGM, and GEL batteries are all relatively heavy, while Li-Ion offers a significant weight saving. If cutting weight is your primary goal, you might have to spend the cash and get a Li-Ion battery. 

Purchase Cost and Overall Cost

Is it a priority to save money upfront, or are you willing to invest for long-term benefits, regardless of the initial cost?

FLA batteries are the cheapest alternative, with AGM in second place, GEL third, and Li-Ion the most expensive. 

However, an FLA battery typically doesn’t last as long as AGM and Li-Ion batteries. Over time, the cost difference can even out.

AGM batteries typically offer the best bang for the buck, while Li-Ion batteries cost more than most ATV owners are willing to pay for. Remember that you also have to factor in the cost of a dedicated Li-Ion charger if you don’t already have one. 

The Bottom Line

Choose a conventional FLA battery when you’re short on cash and want a battery with decent performance and durability. Remember to mount the battery in an upright position and to keep up with proper maintenance.

Choose an AGM battery if you want the most performance for your money and don’t want some of the downsides of a conventional battery. 

Choose a GEL battery if you want a battery with a slightly longer cycle life than AGM, or plan on installing the battery in an enclosed location where overheating can be an issue. (l

Choose a Li-Ion battery if you want the best performance, robustness, life expectancy, and lowest weight and are willing to pay the price. If you live somewhere extremely hot or cold, know that Li-Ion batteries offer good extreme weather tolerance but are not as good as AGM and GEL batteries. 

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind BoostATV.com, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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