As winter approaches, you may find yourself wondering how lower temperatures will affect your ATV battery. In some places, it can get well below freezing, reaching lows of almost 0° F, which is far below freezing.
Yes, your ATV battery can freeze, and it will affect the overall performance it can deliver in the long run. However, the two main batteries used in ATVs have different freezing temperatures and react in very odd ways of being this cold. Lead-acid batteries may only start freezing at -77° F while lithium batteries can be damaged by certain colds while simply being frozen by others.
Knowing exactly how the batteries will react and what to do with them is important. So let’s examine.
The different types of batteries used in ATVs
There are two types of batteries that you may end up having in your ATV, older models may have lead-acid while newer models will have lithium batteries. Both of these have vastly different ways of operating and ways that they handle cold.
There are a few things you should know about alkaline batteries and how they work, like how they generate power, what kind of solutions they have internally, how to measure when they are broken, why extreme colds break them, and where you can safely use them without a care.
- How it works: lithium batteries produce power by using a reaction between lithium and several other materials. This makes lithium unique in the way that it can be made in several different ways to match the uses it will experience throughout its life.
- Internal Fluids: all lithium batteries have internal gel-like fluids that facilitate the flow of electrolytes; this is how the battery creates power. Rechargeable batteries need this fluid to be charged and to be discharged, which means that the temperature has to be exactly right for the battery to function properly.
- Broken Lithium Batteries: When a lithium battery is nearing the end of its life, it may still deliver the same amount of initial energy when measured, however, it won’t be able to give the same amperage. This means that the battery will have shorter and shorter use times between charges.
- Extreme Colds: Contrary to what most people think, the gel inside of lithium batteries do not work better the more they turn into a solid. The gel needs to be almost a liquid to facilitate proper movement of electrolytes. In extreme colds, this internal gel turns into a solid, and the battery can no longer function properly.
- Using them: Even in cold temperatures, it should be safe to use lithium batteries, with continued use reheating the battery if appropriately insulated. This may help the battery to work a bit longer despite the cold temperatures.
Unlike other batteries that use a gel compound for their flow of electrolytes, lead-acid batteries use clean water. This makes them more susceptible to getting frozen than almost any other battery. However, these old batteries have a few tricks up their sleeves that help them outperform some newer batteries.
- How it works: lead-acid batteries work by creating a reaction between the lead sulfate and the sulfuric acid within the battery. This is how water is created. The acid reacts with the lead sulfate creating water.
- Fluid levels: because lead-acid batteries require pure water to be in them at a certain level, your battery will work perfectly even in temperatures far below freezing, as long as there is enough water in them.
- Manual Heating: While not always recommended, you can add hot water to your lead acid battery to facilitate the initial reaction to take place; this kickstarts everything into working properly. Once the initial heat has been provided, the natural heat produced by the battery will enable it to work correctly if it is used constantly.
- Cold Reactions: despite containing water, if the battery has enough fluids, it will work almost like normal, the outside temperatures need to reach well below freezing for lead-acid batteries to become entirely obsolete. It is because of this property that some vehicles that need to operate in colder temperatures will still use lead-acid batteries.
Keeping the battery warm
Despite all the cold temperatures that are found around the world, you will see some modern cars and ATVs efficiently operating in these temperatures. This is because their entire systems have been made to easily withstand the coldest of temperatures that can be found on earth. Further, some batteries continue to work perfectly, even in the cold vacuum of space.
There are three main ways to keep a battery operational during these cold temperatures, insulation, heating, and proper charging.
When in cold temperatures, you will see many ATVs have what looks like blankets with foil on their batteries. This provides insulation that will protect your battery from reaching the absolute cold and dangerous temperatures that the surrounding air can reach.
This is luckily not the only way of insulating your battery. You can also create a closed space within your engine and the compartment where your battery is stored. This will prevent the coldest of air from reaching your battery and prevent the internal fluids from freezing.
Insulating your battery like this has several advantages, letting you easily recharge it without having to worry about how the coldness is affecting it. However, insulating your battery can be dangerous as well because there is nowhere for hot air to go when the outside temperatures reach a certain level, or your battery starts getting warm; it becomes a fire hazard.
Insulating your battery should only be done when you know what you are doing, and it is really cold enough outside for it.
In arctic conditions, there is only one real way of keeping your battery within operating temperatures. That is by heating it when through a special system, either through charging, electrical means, or sometimes a specialized heating gel.
When taking your ATV into conditions that are this cold, it is highly recommended that you ensure you know how the system will work and that it is safe to be used on your battery. Heating a battery through external means can easily ensure the longevity of your battery, but it can also irreparably damage it if done wrong.
While newer lithium batteries can easily be charged to 90% of their total capacity within an hour, it is not at all something that should be done in cold temperatures. Charging your battery to its full capacity will enable it to always work at its best performance, letting it use all of its power when it needs to do so.
Even older batteries will experience much better performance when they are charged to their full capacity. This means that the battery is ready to be discharged and will be able to deliver power when it needs to do so easily.
Having a battery that is not charged to its full capacity when entering extreme colds can damage it to the point where it will never again be able to deliver its full strength.
Whether you are using your ATV just quickly to go out into a frozen landscape or you’re braving a vast tundra filled with snow and ice, having the proper precautions for your battery will make a huge difference. Getting it right and being prepared is by far the absolute best way to ensure your entire vehicle will always be ready to deliver the best performance imaginable.
Grab your snow boots, some good goggles and hop on your ATV to go have some fun in the snow, knowing your machine will continue to perform without a problem.