As you’ve likely guessed, there are a few areas of an ATV we need to avoid when washing. But don’t worry about it, this is a simple problem to fix and we’ll get it figured out very shortly. I’m a mechanic, I must have washed hundreds of ATVs over the years and I’ll share a few insider hacks I learned along the way.
An ATV that refuses to start after washing likely suffers from a wet ignition system. Drying the coil, plug wire, plug cap, and spark plug will likely solve the problem. WD40 helps repel dampness from ignition system components.
In this post, you’ll learn why your ATV won’t start after washing, how to diagnose it and what you can do to fix it, right now. In addition, you’ll learn a simple trick to prevent this from happening in the future and ATV components to avoid when power washing.
Is Your ATV Cranking Over?
If your ATV cranks over then it’s likely your engine suffers from a wet ignition system and that’s covered below.
What does cranking over mean? Cranking over means the engine turns over when you hit the start button, but the engine fails to actually run.
If your engine isn’t cranking over, meaning, you hit the start button but nothing happens, then you likely have a loose battery terminal, neutral switch wiring, or starter solenoid issue and that’s covered below also. And so, if your engine doesn’t crank, go ahead and jump to no crank after washing.
Why Does a Wet Ignition System Prevent Starting?
Water makes a good path for voltage and so voltage from a wet ignition system will short and ground out on the engine. An ignition system that’s shorting out means that voltage never gets to the spark plug and so never gets the chance to create a spark.
Diagnosing Wet ATV Ignition System
Checking for a damp ignition system is simple. Gain access to the plug wire, you may need to remove a side cover. Then go ahead and remove the plug wire by twisting and pulling, checking both the spark plug and inside the coil wire cap for water, and checking the coil itself.
Drying Out Wet ATV Ignition System
We have a ton of options to dry out an ATV ignition system.
- Compressed air – Compressed air is the best way to dry out a wet ignition system.
- Manual drying – Using kitchen towel to manually dry the plug and around plug hole, inside the coil wire, the coil wire itself and the coil which is usually tucked up out of the way, but depending on how enthusiastic you were washing, it may be wet too.
- Self repair – If you can spare the time, leave your ATV indoors and the ignition system will dry out naturally, but that will depend on how much moisture is in the air.
- WD40 – WD40 repels moisture, pulling the coil cap and rinsing with WD40 will drive the moisture out.
Additional issue associated with a wet ignition system
In addition to a wet ignition system, your ATVs engine likely suffers from flooding also. Not flooding with water, but flooding with gas.
And the reason is obvious once you understand what’s going on. Cranking and cranking an ATV engine that refuses to start causes the cylinder to fill with gas. The soaked cylinder washes the spark plug with gas, fouling it.
And now we have a situation where even if the ignition system was dry, the engine wouldn’t start.
This condition is known as flooding and another term you’ll hear associated with flooding is a fouled spark plug. Flooding doesn’t happen to every engine but if you’ve been cranking hard and using the choke, flooding and plug fouling is very likely.
Clearing a flooded engine
In many cases, a flooded engine will fix itself as the gas inside the cylinder evaporates and the spark plug dries out. Usually, a half-hour does the job. But some engines may need some help.
As an alternative, here’s another easy fix that helps dry out the cylinder.
Crank over the engine with the throttle held wide open. Don’t add any choke.
If that doesn’t help, you’ll need a plug wrench. Unflooding an engine isn’t a difficult job but you will need to gain access to the spark plug. You should note, cranking over the engine with the spark plug removed will cause raw gas to spray from the cylinder, so you’ll need to perform this in a well-ventilated area and wear eye protection.
But there’s an even more serious risk, and that’s fire. The ignition system should be disabled before cranking over the motor. Removing the spark plug and cranking the motor will cause the coil to attempt to ground and that causes a spark. A spark and raw gas is a major risk.
In addition, cranking the motor without disabling the coil risks overloading and damaging the coil. Instead, the coil power supply should be disconnected, this prevents both risks.
The process is as follows:
- Remove plug wire
- Remove plug
- Remove coil power side feed (typically a block connector)
- Place rag over plug hole
- Crank over engine
- Use wire brush to clean spark plug
- Check plug gap
- Refit the spark plug and wire
- Refit coil power feed
ATV Components To Avoid When Washing
Ignition system components don’t like the water you know that. And so it’s best to avoid them altogether. You can still power wash your ATV engine but we’ll need to be mindful of a few components. They are not the only components that need to be avoided. Power washers are powerful especially heavy-duty washers 3000 psi plus, that’s plenty enough pressure to drive water into components like sealed bearings, carburetors, air boxes, and filters.
I don’t like to power wash engines and axles too often, sure we need to remove muck but driving high-pressure water at mechanical components regularly isn’t a great plan.
Use low pressure around the following components:
Avoid these components:
- Spark plug
- CDI unit
- Air box
- Dash clock
- Throttle controls
Pre ATV Power Washing Tips
WD40 – WD40 as you know repels moisture and spraying all electrical components is a great way to prevent dampness. This is a great way to help prevent dampness before a power washing session, but it is also a wise move in preparation for storage or bad weather.
Shield components – Wrapping components in plastic prior to washing works too.
No Cranking After Washing
No cranking, as you know means your engine doesn’t turn over when you hit the start button. And as said at the beginning, that usually means something has come loose accidentally in the pressure washing. That’s not uncommon as pressure washers pack a punch.
I’m not a big fan of washing unless the psi is turned way down. High-pressure washing is OK for stripping decks but not great for ATV bearings, carburetors, and electrical components.
For the following line of diagnosing I’ve assumed your dash lights (ignition lights) come on when you turn the ignition to position two.
If that’s not the case, check the following:
- The battery is connected and terminals tight
- The main fuse is Ok
- The ignition switch wiring is connected
I’ll assume you have power at the ignition, and with that said, there are two likely outcomes when you hit the start button:
1 The bike makes a clicking sound – Repeated clicks suggest your battery is at issue. And assuming your battery was in great shape before the washing, it’s safe to say the fault is most likely a loose battery terminal or main fuse holder issue.
A single-click sound suggests loose starter solenoid wiring. Some bikes place the solenoid under the fender which is in the firing line for water and so solenoid failure is common too.
That said finding your solenoid under the seat doesn’t eliminate it from the list of suspects.
ATV Starter Solenoid Test
Crossing the solenoid is a fast way to test for a failed solenoid. But you’ll need to use caution, this test bypasses all safety lock-out systems, so be smart when using this test – Place the bike in Neutral with the Park brake set to “On”.
- Locate solenoid, often located under the seat or under rear fender
- Place bike in Neutral and brake On
- Use a metal shaft screwdriver with a plastic handle to cross the poles momentarily as per picture
Expect the engine to crank over
One of two results are likely:
- If the engine cranks over without issue, a faulty solenoid is the most likely issue. However, a faulty wiring circuit, such as a disconnected start button wiring is still possible.
- If however, your engine still won’t crank, suspect a bad battery, hydro-locked engine, or mechanical issue.
2 No sound from the engine at all, nothing – No noise at all likely means your start button isn’t grounding the starter solenoid and so power isn’t flowing to the starter solenoid. A wiring issue at the transmission neutral switch is possible (if applicable), or a faulty start button itself. Check for loose wiring.
Other Possible Causes Of No Start ATV
- Water inside the CDI unit /ECU
- Water inside the stator housing
- Pick-up coil wiring loose
- Water in the air filter – Water-soaked air filter will prevent starting
- Displaced wiring – Pressure washing may have disconnected ignition system wiring
- Battery issue – Washing may have disconnected battery wiring
- Water in the carburetor – Water inside the carburetor will cause the engine to stall
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