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Battery maintenance is a common topic here at Clore Automotive. We receive numerous calls and emails every month centered on this single subject. Questions range from What do I need? to How should I configure my specific set-up? to How often do I need to maintenance charge my equipment? Each specific instance has its own wrinkles based on the equipment to be serviced and the setting in which the charging is performed, but there are a number of commonalities that we see among the many inquiries we receive. The goal of this article is to address the common issues faced in battery maintenance applications.

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Not Just for Extreme Weather Situations

The first thing we need to establish is the fact that maintenance charging, using a smart battery charger, is beneficial all year round, not just during periods of extreme weather or during extended storage situations. Today’s vehicle batteries, particularly advanced batteries such as AGM, Spiral Wound and Gel Cell types, are much more sophisticated than the batteries of even 15 years ago. They require specific charging routines for optimal health and longevity and often are not getting exactly what they need from vehicle charging systems. This is particularly true in the case of a replacement battery of a different construction than the original OEM battery.

One industry expert we regularly work with often references the fact that, in his experience, many OEM systems short charge batteries, which, combined with short trip driving patterns, can lead to sulfate build-up on battery plates, robbing the battery of its health and power. Consistent maintenance charging can prevent sulfate build-up and reverse moderate sulfation, as well as ensure the battery receives a full charge. The benefits of regular maintenance charging include increased battery life, easier engine starting and elimination of freezing.

Cold Weather Maintenance Charging

During periods of extremely cold weather is when most vehicle owners think about battery charging. That’s good, since it is during such periods that giving your battery a maintenance charge provides the greatest benefit. There are a few things to remember when charging in these situations.

First, make sure that the battery charger you are using can properly charge your specific battery. If your vehicle is less than five years old and your charger is more than five years old, there’s a good chance that they are not compatible. That’s because many late model vehicles utilize battery types (usually an AGM construction) other than the traditional flooded acid type, yet most older charger models will not deliver a charge in the manner these batteries need. So, be sure your charger is compatible with your battery.

Next, we suggest that you ensure you are providing enough time for the charger to do its task properly and completely. Overnight is a great option if your vehicle is parked indoors. The reason we suggest giving the charger ample time is that the last stages of the charging routine are critical to maintenance charging success. In these stages (when using SOLAR and CHARGE IT! battery chargers, at least), the battery is brought to a complete charge while the power in the cells is equalized for better performance and longer life (again to prevent or reverse sulfate build-up).

Finally, never try to charge or jump start a frozen battery. This is very dangerous and can result in injury or damage to property. Except in the most extreme situations, being susceptible to freezing is a sure sign of a compromised battery. Batteries aren’t cheap, we know, but if your battery becomes frozen, it is time for a new one.

Seasonal/Extended Storage Charging

One of the most common reasons to perform maintenance charging is in the case of a vehicle that will be stored for a period of time, preventing it from being recharged by the vehicle as it would if it were in use. Battery maintainers have come a long way in the last dozen or so years. The battery changes referenced above have required that all chargers, even 0.5-4 amp battery maintainers, deliver a more controlled, precise charging routine.

As mentioned previously, batteries are changing rapidly, particularly in vehicles where seasonal storage is common. In these applications, advanced battery types like AGM constructions are quickly taking over the market. The key to finding the right battery maintainer is first to ensure that any maintainer you purchase can properly charge the batteries you need to service. Some newer automatic battery maintainers take the approach of utilizing a “safe” charging sequence that is compatible with (read: does harm) all lead acid battery types. This approach is much better than old school “dumb” chargers and maintainers, but can under charge some battery types, such as flooded acid batteries.

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True “smart” battery maintainers take the extra step of having specific settings for each battery construction, ensuring a complete charge for each different type of lead acid battery. This is particularly important in extended storage charging. The short charging which could result from using a one-curve-fits-all charger (see above paragraph) over a period of months can result in sulfation build-up at the exact same time you are charging your battery to prevent sulfation and ensure battery health. Such a result would be a waste of your time, effort and money. Using a true “smart” battery maintainer, such as our model PL2140, will ensure your specific battery gets the charge it needs.

The next item of consideration in extended charging applications is how the products you are considering will react to or manage a power outage. Most extended charging applications happen in winter, when severe storms can result in interruption of AC power. Regardless of which model you chose to purchase, you should be aware of what happens to the charging cycle when power is interrupted. In the case of our new PL2140, the operator has control over how the maintainer will handle such situations. It allows the operator to engage a special “Recovery Mode” that allows the charger to automatically resume charging under the previous settings after a resumption of AC power availability (assuming the maintainer has not been disconnected from the battery).

Finally, for extended storage charging, you should consider battery stress. This topic moves the discussion into a very specific area related to extended storage charging, but if you have much experience performing this application, it is an issue you have probably encountered at least once. What we have found over our last 15 years researching battery charging and maintenance, is that simple float charging can have a detrimental effect on battery health and performance. In some extended charging situations, uninterrupted float charging over weeks and months can result in drying out the battery being maintained, where there is a severe loss of electrolyte within the battery itself. With our PRO-LOGIX line of portable battery chargers and maintainers (Models PL2140, PL2310, PL2320, PL2520 and PL2520), we have incorporated a resting phase within the charging process, designed to specifically combat this phenomena. We believe this drastically reduces the likelihood of drying out a battery during an extended charging application.

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No Simple Task – But One That Pays Great Benefits

As you have probably gathered from this article, a lot goes into maintenance charging and extended storage charging. But, the most important thing to know is that it works and it can help you get longer service life from your batteries. For you boaters and powersports enthusiasts out there, you know the value of getting an extra season or two from your batteries. Doing so can pay for a quality smart charger many times over. The same is true for passenger vehicle batteries. So, there is great return on your effort in this area.

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