The battery is the heart of your vehicle. A car is not much better than a rock with a door and windows if the battery is dead.
It's important to maintain the health of your battery, especially if you've purchased an expensive Optima or lightweight racing battery.
The number one important thing you can do to keep your battery healthy is... Don't kill it.
Letting a battery drain below its minimum power level permanently damages a battery. Even if you put the most expensive, bestest battery charger in the world on a over depleted battery, it will never regain 100% of it's original capacity.
The first step to keeping a battery healthy is to keep it fully charged. Many cars are equipped with voltage meters on the dash or in the driver information display.
If one isn't built into your car, most radar detectors can display vehicle voltage on their idle screen. Normal operating voltage should be between 13.5 and 14.8 volts (unless you have one of todays smart variable alternators like GM cars and trucks, they will run down the highway at lower output based on demand to maximize mpg and ramp up when needed).
If you see the voltage drop below 12 volts while the vehicle is running, you may have too many electrical devices turned on, or your alternator could be failing.
When the engine is not running, voltage should be over 10.8 volts. If the voltage drops below this level, it's not likely there will be enough juice left to start the car. If a battery drops below 6 volts, it's capacity will be reduced. Let it go below 3 volts and it might not take a charge anymore.
Once you've noticed a low voltage situation, you have two options. The easiest is to start the vehicle and let the alternator recharge the battery. This is assuming there's enough power left to do so.
Even if you get the car started, the alternator might not make enough power at idle to charge the battery. The car will need at least 30 minutes of cruising around to charge the battery. Option two is to use a battery charger.
- Not all battery chargers are created equal. The biggest difference between chargers is their rated output, in amps. The more amps a charger is listed at, the faster it will charge a battery.
Battery Maintenance | Chargers in the 1-5 amp range are considered trickle charges. These are meant to be put on a battery while it is being stored to maintain the battery at 100% charge so it's always ready for use.
These chargers will charge most car batteries overnight. If you frequently use vehicle accessories with the engine off, you may want to consider a charger with a higher capacity.
This will allow you to use the battery, and then quickly recharge it for use again. Instead of overnight, the battery will charge in an hour or two.
If you have an Optima brand or other AGM style battery, you should consider a specialty charger. Absorbed Glass Matt batteries use a different technology than standard lead acid batteries.
- Charging voltages with Performance batteries are a bit higher and thus require a specialty charger. These chargers will go as high as 16 volts when charging.
These high voltages would literally boil the acid out of a standard battery. Optima sells their own 4 and 12 amp chargers designed specifically for their red, yellow, and blue top models.
Even if your charging system is working properly in your car, the advanced features of these specialty chargers can add life and capacity to your standard battery.
- Most advanced chargers have different user selectable settings for different types of batteries. They also have special programming that can pulse bursts of energy into the battery.
These features break up deposits that naturally form on the internals of the battery as they work. By keeping the surfaces on the internals of the battery clean, there is more area for chemical reactions to occur and battery performance improves.
Hooking up your battery to an advanced charger once a month overnight for a maintenance cycle can add years to the life of the battery.