If your ATV engine is shutting off when you use the winch, it’s most likely the battery causing the problem.
A winch uses a lot of power, and it’s pulling that power from the battery. The stator, the charging system, will replenish the power over time. The battery acts as a well for accessories and the machine’s computer to pull from.
Pull too much power too quickly from the battery, and it can cause the engine to shut off. Also, modern fuel-injected machines can’t run without the battery connected, and if the battery is too weak, it can shut the engine off.
Over time, batteries get old and don’t hold as much as they used to. So you should be replacing your ATV battery every 3 to 5 years. If the battery is old and worn out, using the winch could cause the engine to shut off because there is not enough power to run the engine and the winch simultaneously.
Voltage Vs. Amps
Voltage is not as important as amps when it comes to your ATV battery.
But the voltage can give you a general idea of the health of your battery. Again, though, it should not be the final decision of the battery’s health.
You want the battery to be sitting around 12.4 volts when the ATV is off, any lower, and the battery is too weak. You should be around 14 volts when the engine is on as the stator is running to keep the battery charged and ready for its electrical power needs.
Ideally, you should do a load test on the battery using a load tester like this one here (ad) to see if the battery is good or not.
Voltage can lie, but amps do not.
I can’t tell you how many batteries say they were “charged” from a battery charger, but it was only a surface charge. You need to do a load test on a battery to know if it’s good or bad.
Battery Is Fine
If you find the battery is fine, but the ATV still shuts off when you use the winch, then recheck the battery again.
Don’t listen to the battery chargers, as they can lie. Battery chargers go off voltage when they say the battery is charged, but voltage is not what matters, it’s amps, and the only thing that can measure that is a load tester.
I’ve also seen new batteries give me trouble, and it caused me to chase many ghost problems only to find out it was the new battery that was the problem.
Trust me, recheck the battery.
You can also take the battery to a local auto parts store as they often load test batteries for free.
Top Up Battery
Topping off batteries or any lead-acid batteries is not as common as it used to be.
You can still top off cheap batteries, but many ATVs are going with sealed lead-acid batteries these days. It’s getting harder to find batteries for ATVs that are not sealed, and for good reasons.
ATVs go all over the place in rough conditions, and not having a sealed battery is not worth it.
If you don’t have a sealed battery, I suggest you get one, as they hold up better and don’t need as much maintenance.
How To Maintain Your Battery
Since a lot of your problems with shutting off when using the winch will hinge around your battery, there are a few things you should do to keep your battery at its prime.
The best thing you can do for your battery is keep it on charge when you’re not using it.
Lead-acid batteries die when they’re not used due to sulfating. Using a smart battery charger or even a 5-watt or less solar charger will keep the battery active enough to prevent sulfating.
Charging System Not Working
If you know for sure the battery is good and working correctly, but the ATV still shuts off after using the winch, you could have a charging system problem.
You’ll know it’s the charging system when you have a charged battery and everything works fine until after using the winch several times, and then it shuts off.
If the charging system is not charging the battery, you’ll get a few winch pulls before the battery is depleted.
You’ll also know it’s the charging system when you hook up a voltmeter to the battery with the engine at idle, and it’s not charging around 14 volts. You want the voltage to be 13.8v to 15v, anything out of this scope is bad. The video below will show you how to check the rectifier.
Most often, it’s the voltage rectifier that goes bad when it comes to the charging system and is super easy to replace. A voltage rectifier converts the AC from the stator into DC for the battery to charge. The rectifier is near the battery and starter relay, usually has 3 yellow wires, and is either a black box or metal box with fins for air cooling.
It’s rare for the stator to go out, but it can. The problem is that the stator is often inside the engine and not easy to replace for the average person.
Before replacing the stator, replace the battery, rectifier, and check fuses first.
A Short Somewhere
If the ATV shuts off as soon as you press the winch buttons, no struggle to run, then you may have a short somewhere.
You will need to check the wiring of your winch to make sure nothing is loose or rubbing.
A short somewhere can cause the engine to just shut off as if you flipped the kill switch to off.
I’ve had this happen before on an ATV where the positive cable was rubbing against the frame, and out of nowhere, it shut off. Since the winch will have a direct connection to the battery the same can happen.
Engine On When Using Winch
You should be running your ATV winch with the engine on.
Running your winch too much when the ATV is off will kill the battery, and you won’t have enough power to start the engine.
Running the winch a couple of times with the engine off is not a huge deal unless the battery is already weak, but I would not make a habit of it.
No Power Draw When Not Using It
The winch on your ATV or side by side will not draw any power when it’s not in use.
The winch’s electrical system is super simple; it’s just physical switches and relays. There is no computer involved, so no phantom power is needed.
But when the winch is in use, it does pull a lot of power; it’s a direct connection from the battery on the high amp side. Since there is a lot of power needed it’s best to keep the engine running when using the winch.
You don’t see ATVs with a dedicated battery just for the winch. It’s not needed so long as the ATV engine is on.
Ideally, you should only run the winch for 60 seconds at a time and allow 90 seconds between to let it cool down and charge the battery.
I have seen guys run a deep cycle battery in parallel with a battery switch, the kind you find in boats with dual batteries so that they can run extra accessories. These guys are powering a ton of lights, stereo systems, and a bunch of other stuff. They would also hang out and party with the engine off, so having a deep cycle battery made sense so they would not drain their starter battery.
I prefer to carry a jumper box instead, especially the supercapacitor ones. The Autowit SuperCap 2 Lite 12V Batteryless Jump Starter (ad) will charge off a dead battery and give you enough juice to start your engine. I know it sounds crazy, but it works, and this video shows you how it works.
But if you do a lot of hanging around with the electronics running and with the engine off a deep cycle battery may be needed. The problem is that deep cycle batteries are large and take up too much room for an ATV but you can make it work for a side by side.