It’s not fun when you go out to your ATV, and it won’t start. There can be many reasons why your ATV won’t start, and we’ll cover them all in this post!
What Happens When You Try To Start Your ATV?
We’ve organized the list of ways an ATV won’t start in order that we see most often. Keep scrolling until you find the starting problem you have.
Nothing Comes On When You Turn the Key
If you get on your ATV and turn the key and nothing comes on, then you have a power issue.
Either the battery is dead, not connected, or something is loose.
9 out of 10 times, it’s a dead battery. If it’s been months since you used your ATV, then that is the problem.
You need to keep the battery on a charge if you’re not going to use the ATV for more than a month; otherwise, the battery dies and can’t be recovered.
I would start by getting a newly charged battery and see if that fixes the problem.
If the battery is under a year old, it might be worth it to use an automatic battery charger like this one* to see if it comes back to life and to use it in the future to keep the battery from dying again.
You’ll want to stick to the 1 to 2 amp battery chargers.
Battery Is Fine But Still Nothing Turns On
If the battery is okay, but nothing on the dash comes on, try hitting the start button.
I’ve seen gauges go bad or the neutral lights burn out. Pressing the start button can confirm if it’s a starting issue or some light is burned out.
Also, make sure no wires are loose, especially around the battery and starter relay.
After looking for loose wires, check the fuse box to make sure you don’t have any burnt fuses. You got to be careful as I’ve had fuses that don’t look burnt but turned out to be burnt. The only way to test a fuse is with a multimeter like this one here on Amazon*.
This video does a great job of showing you how to test a fuse.
After you have checked the fuses and wire connections and still have no power, you need to check the relays that are often located in the fuse box or near the battery.
You often have a small black relay that is used to trigger specific components of the ATV to turn on. I’m not talking about the starter relay, which is much bigger than these relays but the smaller ones, as pointed out in the picture below.
These small relays can be tricky to test so it’s just better to buy new ones.
Check The Key
I’ve had a couple of guys who’s ATV will power on but won’t start, and it came down to the wrong key.
There exist some ATVs like Can-Ams that any Can-Am key can go in, but since the key is digital, the ATV won’t start.
So if you ride in a group or have multiple keys make sure you have the right one for that ATV.
I’ve also had a few ATV key post connectors go bad, and seen digital keys go bad too. Make sure the connections to the key harness is tight and not loose. The key itself should fit in nice without much friction. Make sure the key is not dirty and can make a good connection.
Check The Kill Switch
If the gauges turn on but pressing the start button doesn’t do anything, then make sure the kill switch is set to run.
Sometimes it’s the most obvious problem and I can’t tell you how many people starting problems were only the kill switch.
Make sure to flip the kill switch into the run position.
If It’s Fuel Injected Don’t Give It Gas
I had one guy come in saying his ATV was hard to start and often would not start at all. He had power, and the kill switch was set to run, but it would not fire up.
I had him bring it in to see what the problem was and noticed that he was giving it gas when starting.
I told him to avoid touching the throttle on a fuel-injected ATV when you’re starting the engine. This would be fine on a carbureted ATV, but on a fuel-injected one, this puts it in a state that tells the ATV computer to not turn the engine on.
Has Power But It Clicks
I have an entire post on what to do if your ATV is clicking here.
But if you’re getting one single click, that means the starter relay is bad.
If you’re getting multiple clicks at once, then the battery is weak and needs to be charged or replaced.
ATV Has Power But Turns Over Slowly
If your ATV or side by side has power to the dash, but when you hit the start button, it turns over slowly, it can mean two things.
9/10 times when this happens, it’s a super weak or dying battery. The battery is mostly likely sulfated and doesn’t have the power to turn the engine over.
It requires a lot of energy to start an ATV, and if your battery is not up to it, this can make it turn over slowly.
The other way is if the starter itself is dying. A dying starter turns over slowly or sometimes not at all. It can get confusing as a bad starter relay and a bad starter motor often have the same symptom.
A starter motor dying is rare, especially if the ATV is under 10 years old. I would try a new battery and a new starter relay before replacing the starter as they’re far easier and cheaper to do.
This video does a great job how showing if your starter motor is fine.
ATV Turns Over Fine But Won’t Fire Up
If your ATV can turn over fine but won’t fire up, then you don’t have a battery problem; that is for sure. I say this because most of the time, it’s always a battery problem I run into.
The first thing I would check is the obvious things like if you have gas. I’ve had ATV say on the gauge they have gas but come to find out it was broken.
I’ve also had ATVs that have been sitting for a long time, and the gas is bad. If the gas is a few months old, I would drain it and put some fresh gas in.
If you have a metal gas tank you’ll need to clean the gas tank. If you have plastic you should still clean it but you don’t have to worry about rust as much.
Do You Have A Carbuerated Engine?
If the gas is old and it’s a carbureted engine, then it’s safe to assume the carb is clogged and needs to be cleaned. Carbureted engines don’t fair well with old and dirty gas.
If you never cleaned a carb before, I would pay someone to do it for you.
It’s not hard, but it’s easy to screw up the settings the carb needs to be at. I’ve cleaned some carbs and soaked them in the proper solutions many times, and they still had something stuck in them. It can take several cleanings to clean some carbs – just something to keep in mind.
I have an article on a gas treatment that you can add that I’ve had great success with.
Don’t Forget Fuel Lines
Also, with a carburated engine, you should replace all the fuel lines, especially if they’re old. You’ll know you need new fuel lines if the ATV only runs on reserve.
Don’t forget to get a new fuel selector or petcock as it’s also called if you’re doing fuel lines. I’ve seen these go bad and keep an ATV from starting.
Is It A Cheap China ATV?
I know people love these cheap ATVs, but they can be a pain to work on. I’ve got some of these new out of the crate having trouble starting before. And the problems don’t get any better over time.
If you want to troubleshoot a China ATV not starting, then go to this website as they specialize in them.
Don’t forget to change the spark plugs. They’re easy and cheap to do.
Even if you don’t need to change the spark plugs change them anyway.
Check The ATV Air Filter
A dirty air filter can keep an ATV from starting.
I’ve even seen birds and rats nest in the air filter compartment before. For some reason, rats love the taste of plastic, especially electrical wires with plastic around them.
Make sure your air filter is cleaned, and you have nothing blocking the intake. Mud can get trapped in the ATV intake, so if you do a lot of mud riding, make sure nothing is blocking it.
I’ve even seen some guys snorkels they put on their ATV keep it from starting. The plastic gets warped over time, and the intake shrinks until the ATV won’t start or run right.
If All Else Fails
If nothing above works, then recheck the battery.
From my years of experience, it’s almost always a battery issue. 9 out of the 10 ATVs I troubleshoot starting problems for it’s nearly as easy as putting a new battery in it or a new starter relay.
Even if the battery is brand new and you just charged it, I would still recheck it. I’ve had brand new batteries that had the correct voltage but lacked the needed amps to start an ATV.
You can’t check the health of a battery with a multimeter, you need a load tester to do this.
If it’s not the battery, then it’s almost always a carbureted ATV that is having the issues, and the carb needs to be rebuilt.
Tip: Get a Jet Cleaning Set* as it’s the best way to clean out the jets of your carb. It beats using a paper clip or something else that is not as effective.