Protect your machine and your power-drawing accessories
For many of us, after we buy that brand new (or at least new to us) Side-by-Side or ATV, we immediately start thinking about accessorizing it. We might pick up some awesome and helpful products, like a strong winch, radio, and huge LED light bar. While shopping for new off-road goodies is exciting, you need to first look at just how much power drain your electrical system handle.
Most off-road vehicles have a small reserve of power when being fully taxed electrically. This is for accessories and you must know what the percentage of available power is in order to prevent electrical problems. The stator is like the alternator on your car and runs off the crankshaft of most ATV/UTV engines.
To help you along your way, we’ve come up with a list of things to really pay attention to when adding electrical accessories to your machine.
Accessory Power Draw
This one detail could mean the difference between a good working machine and new accessory or possibly the destruction of both. Be sure to note just how much power the device you are hooking up is going to pull from your reserve of wattage. Most factory service manuals will give a good idea of just how much output the Stator will make, but if you have and reservations be sure to ask your local dealer.
If you think you will be adding several power-robbing devices, it may be good to install a power block or hub. This usually gives you a place for power wires to be mounted and a good ground cable for the negatives. If you visit the Marine section of your local outdoor store you can find a fused hub that will accomplish several things. The first and most important being the fusable link to protect everything installed. This style hub is not water-tight, but it doesn’t really have to be as long as the terminals are covered.
If you take the time to read installation instructions you should find recommended wire sizes and lengths on most reputable electrical gear. If your product calls for a 14-gauge wire, then stick to that because a smaller wire (like a 16-gauge wire) could prematurely tax the system and fry your electronics. This happens when too much amperage rides the wire and creates heat. It starts melting stuff and things only gets worse from there.
Switches and Relays
Switching a device on means power is running from the power source to the switch and on through the switch to the device if it does not have a relay. The switch needs to be of good quality, just like the wiring, and it needs to be rated for a tad more than the device it is controlling calls for. This buffer keeps things running smooth. Whether you are using a push button or toggle switch or even the latest popular rocker switch, they need to be made for wet conditions. Keep this in mind when shopping. As far as the relay goes, you can control the connection of power to a device by tripping a relay. The main power for the device runs from the power hub to the relay and then to the device. Then a smaller wire is run to the switch to add power to the relay on command. This closes a set of contactors, thus powering the accessory. This is a good way to do things on a Side-by-Side, but can be a little tougher on an ATV.
When you have to terminate or crimp on connectors to your wiring be sure to use quality connection parts. If you do not know how to crimp a wire end on then visit YouTube for a good lesson. Getting a good crimp means the difference between wires breaking loose and shorting out or staying secure. Securing power wires will need close attention and try to get insulated connectors whenever possible.
This is where I see the most mistakes when adding a 12V accessory to a machine. You may never have a problem out of a messy wiring job, but if you are going to add an expensive product like a light bar to your machine, why not take time to route the wires in the best possible way. Buying some wire loom to cover the mass of wires will not only keep the wires together and looking nice, but it prevents chaffing as well. Chaffing is when a wire rubs long enough on an abrasive surface and the insulation is rubbed away. The next thing is electrical shorting and this is bad.
Remember to read the directions for the electrical requirements for the product you are installing. Accessories like your winch require specific placement of the relay and some HID lights will not work without a good supply of power. We have had brand new lights flicker and never work again only to figure out later that the low voltage present burnt out an igniter or other part in the system.
Remember that when using your power drawing products that you will most likely want the machine to be running at least every so often to avoid draining the battery. We’ll go over adding a second or backup battery in the coming weeks.