Trickle Chargers are Obsolete. Get a modern battery tender.

I just had an irate customer in the store, complaining that “this battery” caused him a $280 plumbing bill.  He had it in on a trickle charger for the winter.  They smelled what smelled like sewer gas, so they called a plumber.  They traced the smell to the garden tractor battery sitting on the shelf.

This garden tractor battery was cooked by an obsolete trickle charger.  Buy a modern battery tender like the one in the photo the right.

This garden tractor battery was cooked by an obsolete trickle charger. Buy a modern battery tender like the one in the photo the right.

Here is what I found when I inspected the battery.  Its voltage is 14.6 volts, ~2 volts above what any respectable lead acid should be.  It’s weight was 14% low.  And it smells like a battery that has been venting – it’s an acrid odor.  Diagnosis:  The battery has been extremely over-charged and gassed out of the battery much of the electrolyte.  i.e. He cooked it.  Or from our perspective, battery abuse!

However, he was quite distraught over the plumber’s bill.  Even though it was beyond our 6 month warranty, I replaced it.  He thought he was tending that battery with that “trickle charger”.  Without making him commit, I explained how he had cooked the battery and that if I gave him one, he needed to come back and buy a modern battery tender off us.  Let this be learning moment for us all:  Computers are getting into all products for a reason.  They make them better!  They make the modern battery chargers and battery tender much safer.

A trickle charger is just that. It provides a small amount of current, whether the battery needs it or not.  If someone misjudges what a “trickle” is, as in this case, they can overcharge the battery and cause much of the electrolyte to vent.

As in most other things in our lives, modern battery tenders have computers in them.  They know more about what batteries need moment to moment than most of us do.  At the simplest level they charge the battery if it needs it and stops if it doesn’t.  As the battery voltage gets to full charge (12.7 v), a modern smart charger or battery tender backs off on current to true trickle charge.  Then the smart charger stops charging when the battery is fully charged.

Next question:  What is battery venting? Is that scary?  Most modern lead acid vehicle starting batteries are sealed and maintenance free.  However, if the battery is over-charged, the chemical reactions have to go somewhere.  Sealed batteries have vents that can burp out the hydrogen.  Quality batteries, such as lead acid batteries from East Penn Manufacturing that Battery Giant sells, has a flame arrestor in the vent path as well.  In the old days a spark might ignite venting hydrogen, follow the hydrogen into the battery, and make it explode in someone’s face.  That doesn’t happen anymore, because of the venting system and flame arrestor.  Still, if you are charging a battery, do it in a well ventilated area.   Do venting used to be scary.  Now batteries just quietly burp without you knowing it.


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Jim Logan
Battery Giant of Pittsburgh
10 St. Francis Way, Suite 9
Cranberry Township, PA 16066

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