Battery management and maintenance charging is a common topic on our tech support channels. We get multiple calls, emails and other inquiries per week on this topic. As batteries and battery-powered conveniences multiply in our lives, the issue of battery management becomes more and more important. It is the most common charging related area of inquiry among our customers, so we thought we would revisit it this month.
When it comes to battery management, the first and most important thing to remember is that every lead acid battery type, without exception, benefits from being at a full state of charge as much as possible. A corollary to this is that extended periods in a discharged state are extremely detrimental to lead acid batteries of all types, whether they’re flooded, AGM, Spiral Wound, Gel Cell or even Deep Cycle batteries. Extended periods of deep discharge allow the build up of lead sulfate in the battery, which robs it of its energy storage capacity.
Here is a quote from a noted battery expert in relation to his personal approach to battery management and the successful outcomes he has achieved:
“For the last 15 years or so, I have been periodically ‘topping off’ my OEM batteries and religiously maintaining them. So far, I have yet to replace one of them, with the oldest so far being six years old. I also have had great success in temperatures below 0˚F, quickly starting our engines with a fully charged battery. I keep them [connected] to a smart, temperature-compensated battery charger during freezing weather while parked in our unheated garages.”
By topping off, he means bring the batteries to a full charge using a battery charger.
The above quote illustrates several things about battery management and the potential benefits of a good maintenance program. First, at Clore, we say that battery charging is becoming more of a preventive maintenance event than the reactive event it was 20 years ago. The complexity of today’s vehicle systems often results in adverse consequences for batteries. Periodic at rest charging is very beneficial to batteries of all types. Second, battery maintenance, particularly in periods of extreme weather, provides numerous benefits, including better starting and longer battery life.
So, if we take it as a given that we want to keep the batteries in our life fully charged as much as possible, the next questions are: how and how often?
Let’s start with how often. As in most cases, the answer is it depends on the application. How often is the battery/vehicle being used? If the answer is that it often sits for periods of 7 days or more without use, you should be thinking about how you are going to keep the battery charged during those periods of non-use. That is a rather arbitrary time period, but still a pretty good rule of thumb. After 7 days, even a good battery in a well maintained electrical system will begin to self-discharge. This happening once or twice during course of a year presents no hardship to the battery, but it happening regularly is to be avoided. So, if you have a seasonal use vehicle or other seldom used piece of equipment, we would suggest that it be connected to a battery charger/maintainer when not in active use.
Next question: How? There are no simple answers here but we can split the answer into what we consider to be the essentials of proper battery management as a phase 1 answer and then application-specific factors as a phase 2 answer. This way, we can identify what we consider the fundamental aspects of battery management first, following with some things to think about based on your particular situation.
We would suggest that there are two critical aspects of any effective battery management program or approach. First, whatever solution you adopt should be fully automatic. This means that, once connected to the battery and started, your solution should automatically charge the battery and then keep it maintained until the battery or vehicle is needed for use. If the solution requires any operator intervention at any phase in the process, we would consider that solution suboptimal at best and ineffective at worst.
Second, any solution deployed should be viable for any lead acid battery type. We are in a period of
rapid battery innovation and it is very likely that your various vehicles utilize batteries of differing constructions. Some might utilize flooded lead acid batteries, while others use AGM batteries, while another still might use a spiral wound battery. Even if everything you have today utilizes a flooded battery, it is likely that, in the coming years, you will choose an alternative battery type (such as an AGM) as a replacement battery. Your solution must be versatile enough to handle the variety of batteries you encounter.
Now, on to the application specific variables. The first one here is: how many batteries/vehicles do I need to maintain at one time? Maybe you have a single ATV, jet ski or motorcycle to maintain during the winter. You probably need just a single channel solution, such as our Model No. PL2140, designed to effectively maintain one battery at a time. If you have two motorcycles, two jet skis and a lawn tractor, you probably would do well by considering a multi-channel solution, such as our 4-channel Model No. PL4020, designed to maintain 4 batteries simultaneously. Your specific need may dictate anything from a 1-channel to a 10-channel solution.
Next is the question of how you plan to interface with the batteries in your life. If you are mainly dealing with passenger vehicles, a charger/maintainer with fixed clamp output may work great for you. If you are dealing with a variety of vehicles, such as motorcycles, jet skis and lawn tractors, in addition to passenger vehicles, a solution with multiple output options may make more sense. With hard-to-access battery locations, you can save a great deal of time and hassle by permanently connecting a ring terminal adapter to the battery and simply connecting to it when it is time for charging. Our 4501, PL2140 and PL4020 models all interface with ring terminal kits.
Next is the level of precision you require. As we said earlier, any solution you adopt should be able to be used on all lead acid battery types. But, this really can be done two ways. First, some charger/maintainers that can charge all lead acid batteries deploy a single, safe charging curve that will prevent overcharging of any one of those battery types. Other battery charger/maintainers have specific settings for the different battery types to dial in a precise charge routine based on the type chosen. We would suggest the second option is better, but it is usually more expensive. So, the right answer for you may depend on your battery investment. If you have numerous batteries to maintain or your batteries are heavy in AGMs and Spiral Wounds, investing in a precision tool, like our PRO-LOGIX product line, probably makes sense.
Additionally, you should consider whether it is worthwhile to invest in a solution that features temperature compensation. If you live in an area where temperatures range from 50-80˚F, this may not be a major factor. But, if you live in an area where temperatures vary more widely and your charging/maintaining takes place in a non-temperature controlled environment, temperature compensation is worth considering. Charge acceptance goes up as a battery’s temperature rises and down as a battery’s temperature decreases. Temperature compensation allows the charger to adjust to the battery’s charge acceptance and dial in the right amount of voltage based on the temperature. All PRO-LOGIX portable chargers and maintainers feature temperature compensation.
Finally, there is a question of proximity. Will your battery management take place where you have access to it if something unusual happens, such as a power outage? We encounter this often in our tech support, where a customer lives in one state, but spends a large amount of time away from home, perhaps in Florida for the winter. They want to keep their batteries maintained while they are gone, but are concerned about snow storms impacting their maintenance efforts. While this doesn’t apply to everyone, it is a big issue for some. Our PL2140 features a special Recovery Mode setting that can be turned on, such that after a power outage, the maintainer will resume charging under the previous settings, regardless of the amount of time power was out. Our PL4020 has this feature built into each of its four channels automatically.
Battery maintenance and management is a very hot topic. With battery-powered conveniences and vehicles becoming an increasingly important aspect of our lives, having a plan to manage those batteries increases your effectiveness (is what I need ready to serve me?) and also helps you control your cost. Someone with a cabin, farm or lake house could save hundreds of dollars every 2-3 years by extending the life cycle of their batteries, depending on the number of batteries needing maintenance. That spells serious return of your charging dollar and makes the effort very worthwhile. Having a plan and considering your specific needs before adopting a solution will ensure you get the greatest benefit from your investment.