I think it’s safe to say that at one point or another, we’ve all had problems with an ATV starter. If you haven’t yet, you will. I have had starter issues with just about everything I have owned. You go to start your ATV and all you hear is, "CLICK". No engine crank.So you try it again and "CLICK". Nothing. You know the battery is good, you have the clutch pulled (if it has one), the ATV is in neutral, and the light is on but still… nothing. The first thing you should do in this situation is to check the battery and connections.
RULE OUT ANY ATV BATTERY PROBLEMS
If you haven't read our post on multimeters yet, now's a good time to check it out.
More than likely, you already know that the battery is good, but we’ve all been in a hurry. I've mentioned before that it seems like it can be easy to overlook something small because we’re so used to taking care of it.
Kind of like when you call tech support for a computer issue and the first thing they ask is, “Is it plugged in?” I know I am guilty of doing a quick run through and noticing later on that the battery terminals were loose or that the battery was low. Once you have verified that the battery is NOT your problem, the next thing you should look at is the starter solenoid.
LOCATE THE STARTER SOLENOID
An ATV starter solenoid can normally be found on the frame. It is usually located on the outside of the plastic right next to or under the battery and near the wiring harness.
A starter solenoid is a switch that controls a high amp load with a low amp. Starter solenoids come in all different shapes and sizes, but normally they have a round or square body with two larger and two smaller wires. The larger wires are for the high amp load and the smaller wires are for the low amp switch. If yours only has one smaller wire, the ground is coming from the frame where it is mounted. It may be sitting in a plastic or rubber cover, but it's not uncommon for it to be on the outside.
TEST THE SOLENOID-BATTERY CONNECTION
Of the two larger wires, one of them will be coming from the battery (red) and the other will go to the starter (black). You should be able to get a voltage reading from the red wire coming from the battery. Do this by using the voltage setting on your multimeter, with the red lead on the post and the black lead on a frame ground or negative battery terminal.
If you do not have voltage at the post on the solenoid that connects to the battery, check your connection at the battery and then trace the cable from the battery to the solenoid checking for any breaks or a loose connection.
The other wire should not have a voltage reading.
Of the two smaller wires, one is a negative, or a ground, and the other is positive. I have found that the easiest way for me to test these is to unplug the connector and put both test leads into the ATV wiring harness side connector; the reading here should also be zero.
Now turn the key and get the bike ready to start (do not actually start the bike, just take the usual steps you would before starting; i.e., turn the key, make sure the bike is in neutral, etc.) This step can get kind of tricky if you've only got one set of hands. I definitely recommend using test leads with alligator clips on the ends. You can pick up the clips for around 50 cents a piece and make your own or buy a pre-made set for a couple of bucks.
When you push the start button, you should get a reading of 12V.
This battery in this photo is our test battery, so we expect the voltage to be a little low. We use this guy whenever we've bought a used ATV without a battery or for demonstration purposes. Along with our multimeter, he's made appearances here, here, and here. As long as you have a reading that is close to 12V, we'll move on.
If not, you may want to run this test a few more times to make sure you have done all of the normal stuff you would do when you start your ATV (like making sure it is in neutral, all of your wires are connected, etc). I know it is redundant but you would not believe the amount of times I have been called out to a HMMWV (that would be a Hummer in civilian speak) that would not start, only to find it was left in gear.
If you still are unable to get a voltage reading, more than likely there is an issue with a safety switch or a kill switch. Due to the vast differences between ATV models, you will want to refer to the service manual for your specific model of ATV. If you are stuck on this step, feel free to contact us and I will see what I can dig up for you. If you've gotten a voltage reading close to 12V, you can confirm that thepush button is working and giving the solenoid the signal to close.
TEST THE SOLENOID-STARTER CONNECTION
The last thing to check now is the starter. To test the connection between the solenoid and the starter, plug the connector back into the wiring harness and test for voltage on the starter side (big terminal) while pushing the start button.
If you've gotten a voltage reading close to 12V, you can confirm that the push button is working and giving the solenoid the signal to close. The last thing to check now is the starter. To test the connection between the solenoid and the starter, plug the connector back into the wiring harness and test for voltage on the starter side (big terminal) while pushing the start button.
If you do not have voltage reading, then your solenoid is bad and will need to be replaced. If you do get a voltage reading, trace the large wire from the solenoid to the starter and make sure it has no cuts or breaks and that it is tightly connected to the starter. If there are no issues with the wire or connection, then your issue is with the starter and it will more than likely need to be replaced.
It seems like a lot of steps to get to this point, but if you don’t conduct all of the above tests in the correct order, you could be misdiagnosing the problem. What may appear to be a bad solenoid, may really be something as simple as the kill switch being turned off or the bike being in gear (Don’t ask me how I know. Ok, ask). We'll be back in the next few weeks with some more troubleshooting posts, but in the meantime, let us know what you think.
Have you ever spent a couple of hours troubleshooting your starter only to find that your bike was in gear or the kill switch was off? Tell us about it. We want to hear everything. Good experiences, bad experiences, requests, whatever you've got. Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout on Facebook.