When buying a new battery for your ATV, one of the first choices is what type of battery 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 for 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 Different Types of ATV Batteries
Depending on how you slice the pie, there are four ATV battery types to choose from. Now, why do I say that?
Some people will tell you an ATV uses maintenance-free batteries. While this statement is not incorrect, it is somewhat 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.
Others use terms like sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries or valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries. These terms refer to the basic design features that both AGM and GEL batteries share.
- Sealed: The battery casing does not have removable caps and is not designed to be opened.
- Lead-acid base design: Both GEL and AGM batteries are based on a basic lead-acid design but are further developed to improve battery performance and features.
- Valve-regulated: Where conventional lead acid has an open vent to let out the gas buildup from the charging process, AGM and GEL batteries use a pressure valve. The valve only opens when excessive gas is present and closes as soon as the gas is vented out of the battery casing. This difference is because a conventional battery is only designed to stand in an upright position and will leak when turned, whereas AGM and GEL batteries offer a spill-proof design.
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 help 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.
There are not many downsides, but AGM batteries can be sensitive to permanent damage from overcharging.
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 is their higher cost, less robust internals, and shorter service life.
Lithium-Ion Batteries (Li-Ion)
Li-Ion batteries use a different approach entirely from batteries based on the conventional lead-acid design.
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 are their high cost and 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 go more in-depth on their specific differences.
Factors to Consider When Choosing ATV Battery Type
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 in 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 type that doesn’t offer your battery a thought before the ATV is completely dead and no longer starts, you might want to choose one of the maintenance-free alternatives.
What Level of Battery Performance do You Want?
ATV batteries typically become more energy dense as the price increases. Important ratings to look for are the Amp-Hour (Ah) capacity and the Cold Cranking Amps (CCA).
You typically want to choose a battery with ratings equal to or better than the stock battery.
ATV batteries typically become more energy dense as they get more expensive. This means that an FLA battery needs to be significantly larger to pack the same power as a Li-Ion battery.
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 more important to save a few dollars now or over a few years? Or perhaps cost is not an issue; you just want what is best, no matter the price?
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.