If you have done any research on how batteries work or what you should 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 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 basically 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 today's 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 have two or more house batteries powering inverters 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 a solar charger during the off months.
A Few Basics
The 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 a 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.
1. We must think safety when we are working around and with batteries. Remove all jewelry. After all you don't want to melt your watchband while you are wearing the watch. The hydrogen gas that batteries make when charging is very explosive. We have seen several instances of batteries blowing up and drenching everything in sulfuric acid. That is no fun, and would have been a good time to use those safety goggles that are hanging on the wall. Heck, just break out your disco outfit. Polyester is not affected by Sulfuric Acid, but anything with cotton will be eaten up. If you do not feel the need to make a fashion statement just wear junk clothes, after all Polyester is still out of style. When doing electrical work on vehicles it is best to disconnect the ground cable. Just remember you are messing with corrosive acid, explosive gases and 100's amps of electrical current.
2. Basically there are two types of lead acid batteries (along with 3 sub categories); The two main types are Starting (cranking), and Deep Cycle (marine/golf cart). The starting battery (SLI starting lights ignition) is designed to deliver quick bursts of energy (such as starting engines) and therefore has a greater plate count. The plates are thinner and have somewhat different material composition. The deep cycle battery has less instant energy, but greater long-term energy delivery. Deep cycle batteries have thicker plates and can survive a number of discharge cycles. Starting batteries should not be used for deep cycle applications because the thinner plates are more prone to warping and pitting when discharged. The so-called Dual Purpose Battery is a compromise between the two types of batteries, though it is better to be more specific if possible.
3. Wet Cell (flooded), Gel Cell, and Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) are various versions of the lead acid battery. The Wet cell comes in two styles; Serviceable and Maintenance free. Both are filled with electrolyte and are basically the same. I prefer one that I can add water to and check the specific gravity of the electrolyte with a hydrometer. The Gel Cell and the AGM batteries are specialty batteries that typically cost twice as much as a premium wet cell. However they store very well and do not tend to sulfate or degrade as easily as wet cell. There is little chance of a hydrogen gas explosion or corrosion when using these batteries; these are the safest lead acid batteries you can use. Gel Cell and some AGM batteries may require a special charging rate If you want the best,most versatile type, consideration should be given to the AGM battery for applications such as Marine, RV, Solar, Audio, Power Sports and Stand-By Power just to name a few. If you don't use or operate your equipment daily, AGM batteries will hold their charge better that other types. If you must depend on top-notch battery performance, spend the extra money. Gel Cell batteries still are being sold but AGM batteries are replacing them in most applications. There is a some common confusion regarding AGM batteries because different manufactures call them by different names; some of the more common names are "sealed regulated valve", "dry cell", "non spillable", and "Valve Regulated Lead Acid" batteries. In most cases AGM batteries will give greater life span and greater cycle life than a wet cell battery.
SPECIAL NOTE about Gel Batteries: It is very common for individuals to use the term GEL CELL when referring to sealed, maintenance free batteries, much like one would use Kleenex when referring to facial tissue or "Xerox machine" when referring to a copy machine. Be very careful when specifying a gel cell battery charger , many times we are told by customer they are requiring a charger for a Gel Cell battery and in fact the battery is not a Gel Cell.
AGM: The Absorbed Glass Matt construction allows the electrolyte to be suspended in close proximity with the plates active material. In theory, this enhances both the discharge and recharge efficiency. Common manufacturer applications include high performance engine starting, power sports, deep cycle, solar and storage battery. The larger AGM batteries we sell are typically good deep cycle batteries and they deliver their best life performance if recharged before allowed to drop below the 50% discharge rate. The Scorpion motorcycle batteries we carry are a nice upgrade from your stock flooded battery, and the Odyssey branded batteries are fantastic for holding their static charge over long periods of non use. When Deep Cycle AGM batteries are discharged to a rate of no less than 60% the cycle life will be 300 plus cycles.
GEL: The Gel Cell is similar to the AGM style because the electrolyte is suspended, but different because technically the AGM battery is still considered to be a wet cell. The electrolyte in a Gel Cell has a silica additive that causes it to set up or stiffen. The recharge voltage on this type of cell is lower than the other styles of lead acid battery. This is probably the most sensitive cell in terms of adverse reactions to over-voltage charging. Gel Batteries are best used in VERY DEEP cycle application and may last a bit longer in hot weather applications. If the incorrect battery charger is used on a Gel Cell battery poor performance and premature failure is certain.
4. CCA, CA, AH and RC. What are these all about? These are the standards that most battery companies use to rate the output and capacity of a battery.
Cold cranking amps (CCA) is a measurement of the number of amps a battery can deliver at 0 ° F for 30 seconds and not drop below 7.2 volts. So a high CCA battery rating is especially important in starting battery applications, and in cold measurement is not particularly important in Deep cycle batteries, though it is the most commonly 'known' battery measurement.
CA is cranking amps measured at 32 degrees F. This rating is also called marine cranking amps (MCA). Hot cranking amps (HCA) is seldom used any longer but is measured at 80 ° F.
Reserve Capacity (RC) is a very important rating. This is the number of minutes a fully charged battery at 80 ° F will discharge 25 amps until the battery drops below 10.5 volts.
An amp hour (AH) is a rating usually found on deep cycle batteries. The standard rating is an Amp rating taken for 20 Hours. What this means, say for a 100 AH rated battery is this: Draw from the battery for 20 hours and it will provide a total of 100 amp-hours. That translates to about 5 amps an hour. 5 x 20 = 100. However, it's very important to know that the total time of discharge and load applied is not a linear relationship. As your load increases, your realized capacity decreases. This means if you discharged that same 100 AH battery by a 100 amp load, it will not give you one hour of runtime. On the contrary, the perceived capacity of the battery will be that of 64 Amp Hours.
5. Battery Maintenance is an important issue. The battery should be cleaned using a baking soda and water solution; a couple of table spoons to a pint of water. Cable connections need to be cleaned and tightened as battery problems are often caused by dirty and loose connections. A serviceable battery needs to have the fluid level checked. Use only mineral free water, Distilled is best as all impurities have been removed, and there is nothing left that could contaminate your cells. Don't overfill battery cells especially in warmer weather because the natural fluid expansion in hot weather can push excess electrolytes from the battery. To prevent corrosion of cables on top post batteries use a small bead of silicone sealer at the base of the post and place a felt battery washer over it. Coat the washer with high temperature grease or petroleum jelly (Vaseline), then place cable on the post and tighten. Coat the exposed cable end with the grease. Most folks don't know that just the gases from the battery condensing on metal parts cause most corrosion.
Battery Testing can be done in more than one way. The most accurate method is measurement of specific gravity and battery voltage. To measure specific gravity buy a temperature compensating hydrometer, to measure voltage use a digital D.C. Voltmeter A quality load tester may be a good purchase if you need to test sealed batteries.
For any of these methods, you must first fully charge the battery and then remove the surface charge. If the battery has been sitting at least several hours (I prefer at least 12 hours) you may begin testing. To remove surface charge the battery must be discharged for several minutes. Using a headlight (high beam) will do the trick. After turning off the light you are ready to test the battery.