Motor vehicles are equipped with rechargeable batteries. These are usually lead acid type batteries and require regular charging and maintenance. There are various grades and sizes of battery to suit a variety of applications. This style of battery requires storage in a charged state and if left for long periods of time in a discharged state, they will sulphate up and become unserviceable. The charging system of the vehicle ensures that the battery remains fully charged, and if a vehicle is not being used regularly, it pays to start it up weekly and run it for a few minutes to maintain its state of charge, and therefore reduce the chance of the battery failing prematurely.
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Where a battery is needed in an application where it has numerous or lengthy current draw cycles with limited charging opportunities, such as auxiliary battery in campervans, or for use in small electric powered vehicles, a deep cycle battery is recommended. These will not give as high current draw as a normal style battery but will handle the multiple discharge/charge cycles encountered in these applications. As each new model car is released, we find more & more accessories and features incorporated, and most of these are controlled by their own computer system. Very often these systems will set off warning lights, go into limited functions, or even shut down completely if the computer receives a low voltage signal. Hence newer cars tend to have larger capacity batteries than their predecessors. In recent years, many cars have “idle stop systems”, that switch the engine off after a period of time, when the car is idling with the brakes applied, such as at traffic lights. The car then restarts automatically as soon as the brake pedal is released. This in turns save on fuel usage. These vehicles require batteries that store even more power to support this constant stop start driving.
Because of the fact that these batteries contain acid, they produce hydrogen whilst charging and if this production exceeds the ability for the vents to release it (due to overcharging or blocked vents) the battery may explode in extreme cases. This will cause acid to spray over its surrounds and will damage surrounding body work and other components. Care must also be taken when connecting the battery to the vehicle or jumper leads to the battery as connecting the wrong way may cause significant damage to the vehicle or battery. As the battery condition deteriorates, you may notice that the vehicles can to turn over slower or be sluggish to start. Another sign that may indicate limited life is a constant build up of corrosion particularly around the battery terminals, as the acid boils off with higher than usual temperatures. You may also see a bulging of the battery casing as this happens. If you do notice any of these symptoms, it would pay to get the battery comprehensively tested to see if a replacement is required. Often a battery will fail suddenly without any sign of actual power loss.
Lately a popular alternative to the standard flat plate lead acid battery is the Optima battery, which although still a lead acid construction, has spiral wound plates encased in a cylindrical sealed cell. This allows for a greater capacity within a smaller size. The design of the plates also sees a far greater ability to withstand vibrations which are experienced in all cars. You, therefore get a more powerful & longer lasting battery that will take up less space. Another advantage of these batteries is that they can also be mounted on their sides, as the sealed cells prevent acid spills.
Another recent development in car batteries is the use of Lithium-ion Polymer batteries. These have been used for several years in hobby & model applications. The benefits of Li-Po batteries is that they are extremely light yet provide high output. Early attempts in automotive applications prove to be very hazardous, as the high charging rates from the alternator produced extreme heat within the battery & it was not uncommon for these batteries to explode & cause fires. Another failing was that if they were ever fully drained, it was usually impossible to recuperate them. This meant that simply leaving your lights on for a relatively short period would destroy the battery. Li-Po batteries cannot be connected to another battery to jump start the car, as the sudden surge from another power source will severely overheat them.
If you do need to jump start a vehicle with a Li-Po battery, you need to disconnect the battery, hook the jumper leads to the battery cables, start the car and while it is running, disconnect the jumper and reconnect the battery. Then drive the car for a while to recharge the battery. However a lot of research & development has meant that they have become a safe & lightweight alternative to lead acid batteries. The latest versions now have battery monitoring systems that protect them from dropping below the critical 8 volts or charging at over 15 volts. At this point Li-Po batteries are generally more expensive than the lead acid equivalent, and because they are so much smaller, they will also require modification to the mounting system in most cars. For these reasons, the most common use for them is in race & competition vehicles, but as the development continues, I can see them becoming the norm in vehicles as they come off the production line, in the relatively near future.
At the time we service vehicles, Viva Auto Repairs carry out a comprehensive test of the battery & charging system of your car and will advise you of any requirements in the foreseeable future. We also sell the full range of quality AC Delco Lead Acid batteries as well as Lithiumax Lithium-Polymer batteries that come in a range of sizes to suit cars, motorbikes & watercraft. We also have access to be able to purchase the correct Optima battery to suit your application. We can also source & fit dual battery systems to suit most 4WD vehicles. Contact us today if you need your car battery replaced