Click! Click! Click! Don’t let it spoil your day. I’ll bet we can have her up and humming in no time at all.
The most common cause of a repeating click sound when attempting to start an ATV is a flat battery. However, a single click sound suggests a faulty starter solenoid. A complete list of common causes include:
- Loose battery connections
- Dirty battery connections
- Faulty battery
- Bad starter solenoid
- Bad starter
- Bad start button/wiring
In this post, you’ll learn about all the most likely causes of your ATV click sound. You’ll learn how to diagnose it and what you’ll need to do to fix it.
Loose ATV Battery Cables
Loose battery connections cause high resistance, which prevents battery voltage from getting to the starter motor. It also prevents your battery from receiving a proper charge. A common symptom of an ATV battery issue is a repeated clicking sound when you hit the start button.
Loose connections will mimic the sound of a flat battery. You can still start your ATV if your engine is fitted with a pull starter.
It’s a common fault and a really simple fix. A battery is pretty heavy, and if a battery isn’t secured firmly with a bracket, the cables tend to work loose as the battery is moving about.
To check, give the battery cables a little wiggle and see if they’re loose. Tightening will solve the problem, and you’ll need to secure the battery if it’s loose.
Dirty ATV Battery Connections
After checking for loose connections, go ahead and check that they’re clean. Rusty battery wires or white acid corrosion on the battery posts will cause high resistance.
You’ll need to remove them to clean them thoroughly. The acid will burn the skin, so gloves and eye protection is advised.
To easily remove the white crusty corrosion, sprinkle some baking soda on the terminals and add a small amount of water. This will neutralize the acid and remove the corrosion.
Use a wire brush to clean the surface. Now remove the terminals and clean around the poles and the terminals. Apply a coat of petroleum jelly to help protect against corrosion.
This is the most likely cause of the clicking sound as you hit the key. A flat battery is sooo common, especially in ATVs that lay up for a time. Batteries usually give the most trouble in the colder months of the year.
How to check your ATV battery volts
To test a battery we’ll need to run two tests, a volt test and a crank test. We’ll need a DVOM (Digital Volt Ohm Meter). But if you don’t have one, just go ahead and turn the lights on (if fitted) if they’re dim. You can bet you found your problem – a flat battery.
1 Battery volt test
If you have a DVOM, then go ahead and connect it up, set the meter to 20v DC – Red test cable to positive (+) pole of the battery and the black test cable to the negative pole (-) of the battery.
Your ATV is likely has a 12-volt system, even though your battery actually measures 12.65 volts when full. But you can confirm the battery size by checking the label on the battery casing.
Hold the test leads firmly on the battery and record the reading.
A reading below 12.4 volts and your ATV may struggle to crank the engine.
If your battery is low, you can attempt to jump-start from another vehicle or charge your battery with a battery charger, see jump-starting below.
2 Crank test
The second battery test is the crank test, this test loads up the battery and measures battery strength. The reason we run this second test is because the battery may show a full 12.65 volts when tested unloaded, however, it may actually fail when loaded.
The crank test is covered below in “Checking ATV Battery Health” However, to run this test the battery must show at least 12.5 volts, if that’s not the case, see battery charging below.
Charging ATV Battery
All batteries need to be charged and discharged. It’s what keeps them healthy and alive. Batteries hate the cold, and they hate being left to discharge. It’s not uncommon for a battery to prematurely die because it wasn’t used regularly.
If you have a battery charger, they’re easy to attach. Ideally, you’d disconnect the negative terminal, but it won’t hurt if you don’t. Just don’t attempt to start the engine with the charger attached.
Connect the charger Black to the negative battery pole and Red to the positive pole before plugging the charger in. Your battery may take 2-3 hours to charge fully, depending on the amp rating of the charger and how low the battery is.
If you don’t have a battery charger, consider buying a smart charger. It will charge your battery and is designed to be connected to your ATV when not in use.
The smart charger charges your battery only when needed without risk of overcharging, and you’ll avoid that disappointing click click click!
If your battery is totally discharged, your charger may not turn on. This is a safety feature of the battery charger and will need to be overridden. Here’s the hack –
- Disconnect your charger for the moment.
- Connect another good battery using booster cables. Your car, truck, riding mower all run the same 12v system. Connect your boosters cables Red to Red and Black to Black.
- Now reconnect your charger and turn it on
- After about thirty minutes, you can remove the donor battery and booster cables and continue charging your battery.
Your ATV is a 12-volt system, as is your car, truck, and riding mower. All can be safely used to boost start your ATV. You’ll need a good set of jumper cables and obviously a donor vehicle.
Position the vehicle so that the cables reach your ATV’s battery posts comfortably. Connect your jumpers in the following sequence:
- Connect the cables in sequence 1, 2, 3, and finally 4.
- Start your ATV.
- Remove the jumper cables in reverse order 4, 3, 2, and finally 1.
Checking ATV Battery Health
Battery failure is common these days. Batteries seem to only last 3 to 4 years, but when I was a lad…..
Checking the voltage is only part of checking your battery health. Your battery will need to be at least 75% charged for this test. So if it’s soft, you’ll need to charge it.
Cranking Battery Test – It is possible for a faulty battery to show a full 12.65 volts. For this test, we’ll connect a DVOM to the ATV and have a helper crank it over. If the battery voltage on the DVOM reads below 9.6 volts while cranking for 3-4 seconds, you’ll need to make a trip to the auto store.
Use Min/Max DVOM setting to catch the min voltage on crank.
Bad ATV Starter Solenoid
ATV starter solenoids give tons of trouble, and it doesn’t surprise me. The places they bolt these things, honestly, I find it hard to understand. Some of them double as a mud flap.
A common symptom of a faulty starter solenoid is a single click sound when you hit the start button, if this sounds like your problem, then suspect your solenoid is faulty. There are however other faults that produce this same symptom and so we’ll run a couple of tests below to confirm our suspicion.
To locate your starter solenoid, follow the positive wire from the battery, and you’ll eventually reach the starter solenoid.
Corrosion on the connectors is common, as is broken or corroded wiring on older bikes. The wiring might not be noticeably damaged, but internally the copper wiring corrodes. You can try the wiggle test as you hit the start button to see if it makes a difference.
Testing ATV Starter Solenoid
Testing is straightforward. Make sure your bike is in neutral with the brake applied. We’re going to attempt to crank over the engine by hot wiring.
Your engine won’t start unless you want it to. If you do want it to start, turn the ignition switch on, but for this test, you can leave it off. We’ll use two jumper wires with the power jumper wire fused.
- Remove the two light solenoid control wires (not heavy cables)
- Connect fused jumper wire as per the picture
- Connect the ground side and momentarily connect to the solenoid
Two results are likely:
1 The engine cranks over as normal – this suggests high resistance in the control wiring, such as loose, damaged, corroded connectors. Run a volt drop test to isolate the problem.
2 The engine just clicks, same as before – this suggests a faulty solenoid, replacing will most likely fix the problem. However, there are still a couple of other possible causes and to eliminate them follow this quick test.
Caution – If your solenoid is located close to the battery as per the picture below, do not cross the solenoid. Batteries vent combustible vapors and crossing the solenoid causes arcing, which poses a risk.
- Go ahead and remove the rubber shield covering the solenoid battery cable terminals.
- Using a suitable plastic-handled screwdriver cross the solenoid poles
Two results are likely:
1 The engine cranked over without issue – go ahead and replace the solenoid.
2 The engine still won’t crank over – if you are sure that your battery is OK, then see the list of possible causes below.
However, if you are not sure you checked the battery correctly, you can eliminate it as a possible cause by connecting to a known good battery and repeating the test. See jump starting above.
If the engine still doesn’t crank, you may have one of the following problems:
Hydro-locked engine – cylinder full of water or gas, commonly caused by a leaking carburetor needle seal. Remove the spark plug to check and release the fluid.
Jammed starter motor – starter motor caught in the ring gear, remove the starter, test, repair, and refit. See below.
- Excessive valve lash – cylinder compression too high, adjust the valves.
- Jumped timing – engine crank and camshaft timing are critical.
Jumped timing could cause the engine to lock, check the engine turns over, use a wrench or go ahead and check the timing marks. See “How to tell ATV jumped time?”
- Internal engine fault – components such as a dropped valve or loose con-rod may lock the engine or the engine may be seized.
Bad ATV Starter Motor
Starter motors wear out like any motor. They have a pretty tough job. Symptoms vary from intermittent starts to no sound when you hit the button, and starter motors can seize.
Remove the spark plug, and if you have a pull start on your engine, try to turn it over and check the starter again by crossing the solenoid. If it still won’t crank, remove the starter for bench testing.
The starters are easy to remove but be mindful of the O-ring seal when removing. With the starter on the bench, try turning it with your hand. It should be free to turn.
If it’s not, you found your problem, have the starter reconditioned or replace it.
If your starter does turn freely by hand, get a set of jumpers and a battery.
- Hook up your battery and jumpers and place the Red Positive jumper to the power terminal of the starter.
- Now, using the Black Negative jumper cable end, strike the body of the starter motor. A good starter motor will spin freely.
Bad ATV Start Button
This isn’t a hugely common complaint, but I’ve had a few that have tested my patience. The start button is, as you know, right out there when it comes to catching the weather, as are most others don’t get me wet electrical kit.
Moisture and wiring don’t work well together. A loose, corroded, or almost broken wire/terminal or dirty fuse, or bad grounds will all cause high resistance. This means when you load the circuit, it fails.
Troubleshooting these kinds of problems isn’t hugely complex, but it can be tedious as you trace wiring and strip components to check and verify. A DVOM and volt drop testing will locate the issue.
A wiring diagram for your model will make life a lot easier, but it isn’t essential.
Try the wiggle test before investing a lot of time. Often wiggling the wiring loom around the ignition switch, start button, steering loom, solenoid, and relays will reveal the problem.
Are ATV batteries 12 volts? Most ATV batteries are known as 12 volt systems. The battery voltage actually measures 12.65 volts when fully charged. Your ATV can be safely jump-started from a car or truck, as they too run 12 volt systems.
You may find the following posts useful:
Will bike start without a kill switch?
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is a technical writer here at ATVfixed.com. He’s a Red Seal Qualified Service Technician with over twenty-five years experience. He’s worked on all types of mechanical equipment, from cars and trucks to ATVs and Dirt bikes.