Do ATVs Have Keys? 


Keyless entry is the hot new trend in automobiles. The convenience and anti-theft properties make this feature a keeper. You’re in the market for a new ATV. As you begin browsing around, you can’t help but wonder if ATVs have keys or utilize keyless entry as well?

ATVs may feature an electronic start but still require a key. Technically, you can turn on an ATV without a key, but it involves disassembling parts of the vehicle and thus isn’t the best idea if your ATV is still covered under warranty.

This guide will talk about the importance of ATV keys and what to do if you lose yours. We have lots of great information to share, so you certainly won’t want to miss it! 

Do ATVs Need Keys?

If you buy a brand-new ATV today, it’s going to come with a key. As we touched on, the vehicle may include an electric start as well, but the key will still be there.

Does an ATV need a key, per se?

Well, yes and no.

When you insert the key into the ignition, it opens a circuit within your ATV. That circuit activates a spark, which then ignites your engine and turns it over. 

Your ATV starts and you’re off riding before you can put two seconds of thought into how it happens. 

We say no, you don’t necessarily need an ATV key for two reasons. 

First, as mentioned, some ATVs feature electric starts. When you press the electric start button on your ATV, that generates an electrical current. 

The current travels to your ATV’s battery, which allows the crankshaft to have enough juice to turn its gears. Then your ATV is revving like a purring cat.

Second, you can technically turn on your ATV without a key or even an electric start, which is something we’ll talk about later.

However, even if your ATV came with an electric start, the key is there as a failsafe. Electric starts can falter, after all. That’s not to say that the process that ignites your ATV with a key can’t fail as well, as it certainly can. 

I Lost My ATV Keys – Now What?

Your ATV has an electric start, and that’s what you used to power on your vehicle, but you also brought your key. 

You had such a fun day racing around at high speeds. When you get back, you reach around in your pockets, but you can’t feel your ATV key.

Uh-oh. You empty your pockets, and sure as day, the key is gone. Now what do you do? 

Here’s what we recommend.

Stay Calm

Losing your ATV key is like losing your automobile key. You worry about how you’re going to start your ATV the next time. 

Worse yet, you stress that if someone else finds and picks up the key, they could possibly make off with your ATV.

The more stressed and freaked out you are, the harder it’s going to be to think clearly. Just take a breath and relax. Even if the original key is gone, you can get an ATV key replacement. 

Trace Your Steps

This can be easier said than done when you’re speeding along at close to 80 miles per hour in your ATV. If it’s possible, you want to go back to where you rode and walk along the path. 

Keep an eye out for your key. If it wasn’t stepped on or run over, then the glinting metal should reveal itself in the sunlight. 

Of course, if daylight is no longer on your side, you’re going to have a much harder time finding the key. We’d recommend using a headlamp or a flashlight. You can also wait until the next day to resume the search.

Contact Your ATV Manufacturer

You spent a good hour or two searching for your ATV key but to no avail. 

For now, you may have to call a tow truck for your ATV unless you can bring it back to your truck or SUV. For a lighter-weight ATV that’s about 220 pounds, maybe pulling it along isn’t such a big deal. 

If your ATV weighs more than 1,000 pounds though, that’s an entirely different story.

Once you’re home, you need to gather some information on your ATV. You’ll need to know the exact model as well as the vehicle identification number or VIN number.

ATV VIN numbers are 17 digits. A VIN is your ATV’s unique ID. You can usually find the code welded or riveted to your ATV frame. 

Then get in touch with your ATV manufacturer or the dealership in which you bought the vehicle from. Explain that you lost your ATV key and you need another one. 

Since you went to the trouble of providing the model and VIN number, it typically won’t be hard for the manufacturer or dealership to cut a new key from scratch. You will have to pay for this service, but it shouldn’t be too pricy.

Can You Start an ATV Without a Key?

Let’s go back to the situation we described in the last section. You’re stranded on your ATV because you have no key. The ATV weighs a lot, and you’d rather not wait for a tow truck driver to find you, as that could take hours. 

Is there any way you can get the ATV running without a key or electric start? As a matter of fact, yes. That said, we must note two things.

First, none of these options are necessarily quick or convenient. Second, if your ATV is still covered under warranty, you might want to think twice about the following methods. You could void your warranty by tinkering with your ATV.

Put a Screwdriver or Scissors in the Ignition

We told you that some of these methods wouldn’t be pretty, and that’s true of this first one.

If you have a screwdriver or a pair of kitchen scissors handy, you can take the tool, put it in the ignition of your ATV, and voila, it should start. 

Is this ill-advised? You betcha. But it’s effective, and that’s what you might want.

Manually Trigger the Ignition

If you’ve never worked with your ATV’s ignition, then you might want to refrain from this next method. We’d also recommend you not try it if your ATV is still covered under its warranty, as we said before.

You have to separate your ATV ignition from the rest of the vehicle. The ignition looks like a dual-pieced cylinder. 

You can disconnect the bottom cylinder by removing the cord. That cord links to the engine of your ATV, so take care not to damage it. 

The other half of the ignition cylinder should have a part that features metal connectors with a piece in the center. Carefully take the piece out and then the metal connectors. 

By moving the metal connectors and starting your ATV, it should work.

Jump the Solenoid Wires

You can also manually jolt the solenoid wires or starter relay of your ATV, but this method is not guaranteed. 

If your ATV doesn’t have an alternate start but an electric start, then you can rely on this method, but not for other ATVs.

You’ll have to access the solenoid, which is also known as the starter relay. If you know where your ATV’s battery is, the solenoid is typically by the wiring harness below the battery. It could be adjacent to the battery as well depending on the ATV model.

The solenoid acts as a switch to determine the amp load of your ATV. Most solenoids are square-shaped, but some can be round and other shapes still. The solenoid will feature four wires in all.

Two of the wires are small and the others are bigger. The small wires control the lower amp switch while the larger wires manage the higher amp load. 

The small wires usually feature a rubber or plastic cover, especially those that are mounted. 

Take the small starter wire near the two larger wires and then jump them. You’ll likely need a wrench for this, but if it works, your ATV should start. 

Should You Hotwire Your ATV? 

There’s yet another method that some ATV owners will rely on to get their vehicle started without a key, and it’s hotwiring. We’re not going to explain how to hotwire your ATV because doing so is inadvisable. 

You could end up damaging the electronics in your ATV, which is not worthwhile if yours is a brand-new vehicle. Plus, the newer the ATV, the harder it is to hotwire them anyway. The ATV will likely come equipped with some form of anti-theft protection. 

Final Thoughts

ATVs include keys even if they use an electric start. The key turns over and ignites the engine so your ATV comes roaring to life. 

If you happen to lose your ATV key, it’s usually not the end of the world. The ATV manufacturer or dealer can cut you a new key, but you’ll need your ATV’s VIN number for that. Good luck! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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