Gone are the days of the kickstart as the only option. Just about all powersports vehicles today have a battery and electric starter. While the automotive industry has simplified the process of purchasing batteries, the powersports industry is slowly catching on to factory-activated units that are ready to go as soon as they arrive on your shelf.
Some factory-activated AGM batteries can last up to two years on a dealer’s shelf, but not every dealer wants or needs a battery that will eventually wear down and need to be charged as it sits there waiting to be bought. Dealers can still buy the dry-charged batteries that need to be filled and charged at the dealership or sold with the acid ready to pour into the cells.
Batteries that are pure lead don’t discharge at the same rate as a normal flooded or lead-acid battery would.
“They have a much longer shelf life,” said a leading manufacturer, who recommends looking for ones with ”thin plate construction, which allows you to get more cranking amps.”
The move to AGM in powersports has been ongoing for many applications. The cost is higher than conventional batteries but they are sealed so they don’t leak, and the absorbed glass mat design allows for better vibration resistance, which is a key benefit in powersports. But not all AGMs are the same. There are cheap AGMs flooding the market that will not last as long and don’t have any warranty behind them. Premium battery manufacturers offer a warranty and longer service life (up to 10 years) and shelf life (up to two years).
The overarching trend in the marketplace is that customers want their batteries ready-to-go now. Dealers can benefit from a rise in the do-it-for-me powersports customer by offering this type of battery. AGM batteries are a dominant seller in the market and many brands offer activated batteries as well as the non-factory activated. Manufacturers are racing to add AGM battery sizes to their lineup. Even though AGMs have been around a while, there are additional OE sizes added every year.
Lithium Ion offers a number of advantages such as size and weight for powersports vehicles but they are much more expensive and more sensitive to certain types of charging systems. Some OEMs such as Ducati and KTM have added lithium to certain models in their lineups but they are the exception as most manufacturers are happily offering AGM or flooded batteries. Warranties also vary widely for lithium, so dealers should study the fine print before getting stuck with a brick.
Lithium batteries don’t fall off with continued cranking and load. With a lead-acid battery, as you begin to crank, it delivers the highest cranking amps and then it begins to fall off, whereas the lithium battery will crank at the same capacity all the way across the curve. It’s flat cranking so
it’s always delivering that power across the range.
Another thing to remember with lithium is that they cannot be charged with a normal car charger. Those will kill the battery. Experts say you can use a smaller, lower power charger but it’s best to use a specific lithium charger. Lithium likes to be kept at a higher voltage in the maintenance mode, and it also has a softer recovery. When a battery is below 8 volts, a lithium battery will begin to slow charge rather than accept a bulk charge right away.
There will always be customers who want the latest and greatest, even if they don’t really know all of the downsides or benefits. Be sure to talk to your customers to find out what their specific uses are for their machine. UTVs with added accessories such as a stereo and a winch, plus a lightbar, will need more capacity from the battery and some MX bikes could benefit from the lightweight and high cranking capabilities of a lithium battery. There’s no best choice for all customers and applications. Make sure your salespeople are educated on the various battery types and chemistries so they can sell the right product.