You turn the key, the lights go on, but when you hit the starter – an abrupt clicking sound – silence. Your battery is too weak to power up your motorcycle. You get a five-star motorcycle towing company to deliver your bike home and then you Google how to tell if your dead motorcycle battery is still OK.
Ladies and gents, in this video, I’m gonna show you how to tell if a motorcycle battery needs to be replaced, or if you can just recharge it. Recharging it would save you a few bucks, but you could end up just being stranded again. But replacing it might cost you money you don’t need to spend. So how do you know what to do you?
Battery tester (Method #2, options at $21)
Yuasa battery lookup tool
Why do motorcycle batteries die?
There are lot of reasons why your motorcycle battery could die, such as neglecting it for a few weeks, or simply forgetting in the ignition and leaving the lights on.
Sometimes you might even think that your battery is the problem, but you could have a whole other issue, like a wiring issue or a problem with your charging system. Replacing your battery isn’t going to solve anything, and you might be wasting money and time for nothing.
Look, we all mistakes, but we don’t always have to pay for them. I don’t want you spending your money unless you’re gonna benefit from it, so let’s get into it.
Step by step video
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Method 1: How to test a motorcycle battery with a multi-meter
The first method we’re gonna use to test a motorcycle battery is with a multi-meter. A multi-meter measures voltage, current, and resistance.
You can use a multi-meter to troubleshoot anything from motorcycle wiring issues to home or garage electrical issues. The best thing about it is you can get one delivered to your door for $15.
Using the multi-meter testing approach, you should wait a half hour after running or charging your bike to make sure your battery is a at a normal, stable level.
Now, you’re gonna need access to your battery. Depending on your motorcycle this may mean removing seats and fairings. But, if you have a battery pigtail installed for easy battery charging, you can use your pigtail’s positive and negative terminals, rather than having to take your bike apart.
Next, take your multimeter and set it to 20 Volts DC. Put the red probe on to the positive terminal and the black probe on the negative terminal. You can use the terminals on your battery directly, or on the end of the battery charger pigtail if you have one.
Check the screen and you’ll get a battery reading. The voltage tells you how charged the battery is. What you want, is the number to be over 12.6 Volts, ideally.
Anything over 12.4 volts should be enough to start most motorcycles, but if you’re seeing just over 12 volts, your battery is getting dangerously low. If after charging your battery still isn’t getting back up to 12.6 volts, it’s time to replace it.
While you’re here you should also test your motorcycle’s charging system. If you can, start the bike, when you turn the key, before you hit the starter, the voltage will drop, that’s because the bike is drawing power from the battery for lights, fuel pump, etc.
When you hit the starter the voltage will begin to go back up. When you rev up your bike, it’ll go even higher. That mean your charging system is working.
If your voltage doesn’t go back up, it could be a sign of bigger issues that you should look into before replacing your battery.
Method 2: How to test a motorcycle battery with an automotive battery tester
So that’s one way of testing your battery, but what if you don’t have a multi-meter? Or maybe all of these numbers going up and down just aren’t your thing.
This time we’ll be using an automotive battery tester. This thing only has one purpose in life. You can’t use it to find a short, you can’t use it on home electrical, and it’s a bit more expensive, but it does it’s job well.
You simply take the positive and negative clamps of the tester and attach them to the positive and negative battery terminals. Then, you just a push the button. That button places a load on the battery, and based on how the battery reacts to the load test, the unit will indicate if your battery is still good or not.
My battery failed, now what?
If your battery failed, or came up as very weak, you should replace it as soon as possible. A weak or bad battery could die on you in the middle of your ride, or leave you stranded when you come back to your motorcycle after parking it. Motorcycle towing could cost more than just replacing a battery, depending on how far from home you are, so replacing your battery quickly pays for itself.
Remember that your battery’s initial acid filling and initial charging are two of the most important parts of your new motorcycle battery’s life. You’re going to want to make sure you do that right to get maximum performance and maximum longevity out of your battery. If you’re not sure what to do, don’t worry, here’s how to fill a new motorcycle battery with acid, seal it, and charge it for the first time.
Side note: What about car batteries?
You can test car batteries almost the exact same way. Check out this step by step guide and video on how to test a car battery.
A dead motorcycle battery might still be good with an overnight recharge and that can save you a lot of money. Sometimes though, a battery reaches the end of it’s lifecycle, and not replacing it will only create a ton of headaches for you. To make matters worse, your battery might not be the cause of your motorcycle troubles, it could be a symptom.
Luckily, testing a motorcycle battery is cheap and easy. Whether you’re spending $15 on a multi-meter, or $20 on a battery tester, you should always test your battery at the first sign of motorcycle electrical trouble.
That’s it for this article. Peace out, ride safe!