As we looked at the weather channel today, the headline read “Weekend Snowmaker,” and showed an expected storm about 800 miles wide. Like it or not, it appears fall is coming to an end. That means lower temps, snow and rough weather for batteries and the vehicles that depend on them. Whether you are running a mechanical service shop, operating a collision repair center or managing your family’s fleet, now is the time to act to be ready for whatever comes your way and make the most of the many opportunities that the cold weather creates.
Jump Starters – The First Line of Defense
If you are running a shop, you likely have a collection of jump starters of various sizes and capacities. Now is a great time to give them a once over to make sure they are still ready to serve you. What is their state of charge and overall battery health? Regardless of their age, they can always use a charge. You will be using your jump starters more in the coming weeks and it’s best to be ready. And, if you have a non-performing unit, it would be good to get a jump on its repair sooner rather than later. Our repair department gets swamped for about 20 days in mid-December, so why not beat the crowd?
But, there’s more to a jump starter than the battery, even if it is the most important component. It is a good practice to perform a visual inspection of the output cables and clamps to ensure they are intact, undamaged and safe to use. Signs that the clamps may be damaged include, but are not limited to the following: burn marks on the jaws, damaged clamp handles, damaged clamp springs or damaged cables where copper wiring may be exposed (insulation jacket deteriorated, cut or missing). If any of these signs are present, we recommend replacing the clamps. (Suggestion: Load test the battery prior to ordering replacement parts to ensure it is still providing sufficient power to make the repair worthwhile).
Battery Chargers – Becoming a Proactive Maintenance Tool
First, if your charger is more than a few years old, it likely doesn’t adjust its charge for AGM, Spiral Wound and Gel Cell batteries. This is a problem. Using an old school charger (with a manual, volts-go-up-amps-go-down charging process) on these newer battery types will overcharge them, degrade them and shorten their service life. AGM batteries are taking over in terms of OEM battery installation and are the battery of choice in vehicles equipped with Start-Stop systems. It is important to have charging equipment that can properly service these batteries.
Second, if you have new chargers in your shop and are properly prepared to handle whatever might come installed in a customer’s vehicle, do you have enough chargers? This is a two-fold question. The first part is simply a function of quantity – on the days when chargers are needed, really needed, they are often needed in bunches. So, do you have what it takes to manage the wave of need on a Monday morning after an excessively cold weekend? It doesn’t cost much to make sure the answer is yes. The second part is related to the fact that chargers are being used differently now than in the past. Because so many vehicle systems are either completely electronic or electronically controlled, more and more repairs require steady battery/system voltage to be maintained during the repair. This is turning the battery charging function into a hood-up event – hood goes up and charger gets connected. But, just like the need for newer chargers to properly charge all battery types, chargers used as a power supply, even for on-vehicle repairs, need to provide clean, ripple-free DC power to the battery. Here’s an article written by guest contributor Albin Moore that addressed this issue. We believe this new usage pattern results in the need to have a charger in every bay. Many users have found the PL2320 a perfect charger for this scenario.
If you do have a sufficient quantity of up-to-date smart chargers, give them a once over to ensure they are all in proper working condition prior to hitting your busy season. We’d suggest running an overnight charge with each and performing a visual inspection of the output cables and clamps, just like what was suggested for the jump starters above.
Battery Testers – Your Diagnosis Assistant
Like chargers above, it is important that you have the right equipment to meet the needs of your shop. Do you prefer carbon pile / fixed load testing or are you more inclined toward electronic testing? Either way, make sure your equipment is in proper working condition and all output leads and clamps are in good condition and support safe usage. Also, make sure your equipment has the capacity to handle the range of batteries and systems you are likely to see. For instance, if you encounter a high number of vehicles with Group 31 batteries installed but your tester has a testing capacity to only 800 CCA, you should invest in a tester with a wider operating range.
Also, if you are using electronic testers, make sure they are properly calibrated for all of the battery types you are likely to encounter. This should include Flooded, AGM, Gel Cell, Spiral Wound and new Start-Stop batteries. Our 2nd generation BA327 model now includes Start-Stop AGM and Start-Stop Enhanced Flooded battery testing capability. As these batteries (and Start-Stop systems in general) grow in popularity, it will be increasingly important for you to be able to properly diagnose them.
Like battery chargers, testers tend to be needed in bunches. Our research shows that 80% of tester use is in the first 2 hours of operation each day. This tends to be overwhelming at times and often justifies an investment in additional equipment. In many operations, a mixture of a lower number of premium, with-printer models combined with a larger quantity of more basic units is called for. 60+% of all tests performed result in a properly operating battery and system, in which case there is no need for service documentation. So, pairing 4-6 less feature-laden testers, like our BA9, with 1-2 BA327s often makes good business and operational sense, thanks to the improved throughput such a service configuration allows.
Winter service spells opportunity. It provides many chances to discuss vehicle concerns related to the electrical system with customers, results in many inoperable vehicles and drives collision repair car counts upward. Be sure your equipment is ready to help you make the most of the opportunities that the cold weather brings.