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Posted on : June 05, 2014
Categories: Everything Else
Battery Basics: A Layman's Guide to Batteries
If you have done any research on how batteries work or what you shouldÂ look for when selecting a battery, you are probably buried in information, some of which is conflicting. At BatteryStuff, we aim to clear that up a bit.You have most likely heard the term K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I am going to attempt to explain how lead acid batteries work and what they need without burying you with a bunch of needless technical data. I have found that battery data will vary somewhat from manufacturer to manufacturer, so I will do my best to boil that data down. This means I may generalize a bit, while staying true to purpose. The commercial use of the lead acid battery is over 100 years old. The same chemical principal that is being used to store energy is basicly the same as our Great Grandparents may have used. If you can grasp the basics you will have fewer battery problems and will gain greater battery performance, reliability, and longevity. I suggest you read the entire tutorial, however I have indexed all the information for a quick read and easy reference. A battery is like a piggy bank. If you keep taking out and putting nothing back you soon will have nothing. Present day chassis battery power requirements are huge. Consider todayâs vehicle and all the electrical devices that must be supplied. All these electronics require a source of reliable power, and poor battery condition can cause expensive electronic component failure. Did you know that the average auto has 11 pounds of wire in the electrical system? Look at RVs and boats with all the electrical gadgets that require power. It was not long ago when trailers or motor homes had only a single 12-volt house battery. Today it is standard to haveÂ two or more house batteriesÂ poweringÂ invertersÂ up to 4000 watts. Average battery life has become shorter as energy requirements have increased. Life span depends on usage; 6 months to 48 months, yet only 30% of all batteries actually reach the 48-month mark. You can extend your battery life by hooking it up to aÂ solar chargerÂ during the off months.
Load testing is yet another way of testing a battery. Load test removes amps from a battery much like starting an engine would. A load tester can be purchased at most auto parts stores. Some battery companies label their battery with the amp load for testing. This number is usually 1/2 of the CCA rating. For instance, a 500CCA battery would load test at 250 amps for 15 seconds. A load test can only be performed if the battery is near or at full charge. The results of your testing should be as follows: Hydrometer readings should not vary more than .05 differences between cells. Digital Voltmeters should read as the voltage is shown in this document. The sealed AGM and Gel-Cell battery voltage (full charged) will be slightly higher in the 12.8 to 12.9 ranges. If you have voltage readings in the 10.5 volts range on a charged battery, that typically indicates a shorted cell. If you have a maintenance free wet cell, the only ways to test are voltmeter and load test. Any of the maintenance free type batteries that have a built in hydrometer(black/green window) will tell you the condition of 1 cell of 6. You may get a good reading from 1 cell but have a problem with other cells in the battery. When in doubt about battery testing, call the battery manufacturer. Many batteries sold today have a toll free number to call for help. 7.Â SelectingÂ a BatteryÂ - When buying a new battery I suggest you purchase a battery with the greatest reserve capacity or amp hour rating possible. Of course the physical size, cable hook up, and terminal type must be a consideration. You may want to consider a Gel Cell or an Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) rather than a Wet Cell if the application is in a harsher environment or the battery is not going to receive regular maintenance and charging. Be sure to purchase the correct type of battery for the job it must do. Remember that engine starting batteries and deep cycle batteries are different.FreshnessÂ of a new battery is very important. The longer a battery sits and is not re-charged the more damaging sulfation build up there may be on the plates. Most batteries have a date of manufacture code on them. The month is indicated by a letter 'A' being January and a number '4' being 2004. C4 would tell us the battery was manufactured in March 2004. Remember the fresher the better. The letter "i" is not used because it can be confused with #1. Battery warrantiesÂ are figured in the favor of battery manufactures. Let's say you buy a 60-month warranty battery and it lives 41 months. The warranty is pro-rated so when taking the months used against the full retail price of the battery you end up paying about the same money as if you purchased the battery at the sale price. This makes the manufacturer happy. What makes me happy is to exceed the warranty. Let me assure you it can be done. 8.Â Battery life and performanceÂ - Average battery life has become shorter as energy requirements have increased. Two phrases I hear most often are"my battery won't take a charge, and my battery won't hold a charge".Â Only 30% of batteries sold today reach the 48-month mark. In fact 80% of all battery failure is related toÂ sulfation build-up. This build up occurs when the sulfur molecules in the electrolyte (battery acid) become so deeply discharged that they begin to coat the battery's lead plates. Before long the plates become so coated that the battery dies. The causes of sulfation are numerous. Let me list some for you.
A Few BasicsThe Lead Acid battery is made up of plates, lead, and lead oxide (various other elements are used to change density, hardness, porosity, etc.) with a 35% sulfuric acid and 65% water solution. This solution is called electrolyte, which causes a chemical reaction that produce electrons. When you test a battery with aÂ hydrometer, you are measuring the amount of sulfuric acid in the electrolyte. If your reading is low, that means the chemistry that makes electrons is lacking. So where did the sulfur go? It is resting on the battery plates and when you recharge the battery, the sulfur returns to the electrolyte.
- Battery types, Deep Cycle and Starting
- Wet Cell, Gel-Cell and Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM)
- CCA, CA, AH and RC; what's that all about?
- Battery Maintenance
- Battery Testing
- Selecting and Buying a New Battery
- Battery Life and Performance
- Battery Charging
- Battery Do's
- Battery Don'ts
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- Batteries sit too long between charges. As little as 24 hours in hot weather and several days in cooler weather.
- Battery is stored without some type of energy input.
- "Deep cycling" an engine starting battery. Remember these batteries can't stand deep discharge.
- Undercharging of a battery to only 90% of capacity will allow sulfation of the battery using the 10% of battery chemistry not reactivated by the incompleted charging cycle.
- Heat of 100 plus F., increases internal discharge. As temperatures increase so does internal discharge. A new fully charged battery left sitting 24 hours a day at 110 degrees F for 30 days would most likely not start an engine.
- Low electrolyte level - battery plates exposed to air will immediately sulfate.
- Incorrect charging levels and settings. Most cheap battery chargers can do more harm than good. See the section on battery charging.
- Cold weather is also hard on the battery. The chemistry does not make the same amount of energy as a warm battery. A deeply discharged battery can freeze solid in sub zero weather.
- Parasitic drain is a load put on a battery with the key off. More info on parasitic drain will follow in this document.
- Think Safety First.
- Do read entire tutorial
- Do regular inspection and maintenance especially in hot weather.
- Do recharge batteries immediately after discharge.
- Do buy the highest RC reserve capacity or AH amp hour battery that will fit your configuration.
- Don't forget safety first.
- Don't add new electrolyte (acid).
- Don't use unregulated high output battery chargers to charge batteries.
- Don't place your equipment and toys into storage without some type of device to keep the battery charged.
- Don't disconnect battery cables while the engine is running (your battery acts as a filter).
- Don't put off recharging batteries.
- Don't add tap water as it may contain minerals that will contaminate the electrolyte.
- Don't discharge a battery any deeper than you possibly have to.
- Don't let a battery get hot to the touch and boil violently when charging.
- Don't mix size and types of batteries.