THE BOTTOM LINE:
Driving habits could significantly contribute to battery undercharging and a shorter service life due to a gradual build up of sulfation. Vehicle's OEM charging system could exacerbate the challenge of round trips under five miles--especially during bad weather, with large aftermarket electrical add ons, or inactivity during hot weather.
The six major keys to longer battery service life are:
SOME QUICK TIPS:
1.1. Always wear safety glasses (or glasses) to save your eyesight when working with a lead-acid battery in case of an explosion.
1.2. For a starting battery, at the first signs of slow starting, dim headlights at low RPM, ammeter indicating discharge at higher RPM, or if the battery seems to be losing performance, fully recharge the battery, remove the surface charge, and load test it and the charging system. Some auto parts or battery stores will test your battery, charging system or starter for free. Unhealthy batteries can cause stress or premature failures of charging systems or starters and vice versa. (Please see Section 4.)
1.3. Perform regular preventive maintenance on car and deep cycle batteries, especially during hot weather and before cold weather. Keep the battery fully charged; top clean; cable mating surfaces, terminal posts, clamps and lugs free from corrosion/oxidation; and routinely check cable connects and alternator belt tightness. Keep non-sealed wet batteries (with filler caps) filled to the proper level with distilled water, but do not overfill or use tap water. The plates must be covered at all times to prevent internal battery explosions or sulfation. (Please see Section 3.)
1.4. In hot climates try and keep batteries as cool as possible. For under the hood, use a non-sealed wet starting battery (with filler caps so you replace lost water) or a sealed AGM VRLA starting battery. (Please see Section 7.)
1.5. For batteries not used frequently, people kill more of them with bad charging practices than die of old age. To prevent permanent sulfation and especially in hot or freezing weather, try to keep the battery fully charged. (Please see Section 9. for more information on charging and chargers.)
1.6. When buying a replacement starting battery, buy the heaviest and freshest battery compatible with the vehicle's charging system, with the largest Reserve Capacity (RC) and longest free replacement warranty that will physically fit in your vehicle, and sized with the Cold Cranking Amp (CCA) performance for the coldest climate the engine is started in. Normally replacing the OEM battery with the same type and size is the best choice. For deep cycle batteries, buy the freshest and heaviest battery with thickest plates and Amp Hour (AH) capacity that best suits the application, matches the charger, and has the lowest total cost of ownership. (Please see Section 7.)
1.7. Avoid a deep discharge (below 20% State-of-Charge or 12.0 VDC) of the battery because this could prematurely kill it, due to cell reversal. After deep discharges or jump-starts, fully recharge a starting battery with an external charger, remove the surface charge, and load test the battery and charging system for latent damage. (Please see Section 4.)
1.8. Temperature and temperature compensation matter! Heat kills batteries due to accelerating plate grid corrosion and cold reduces their available performance (CCA) and capacity (RC or AH) slowing down the electro chemical reaction.
1.9. For longer battery life, do not add battery acid (except to replace electrolyte spills) or additives, keep your battery fully charged and securely fastened, use thicker plates, and if recommended by the battery manufacturer, equalize it. Lowering the average Depth-of-Discharge (DoD) percentage and periodically fully recharging, especially if you make trips less than 10 miles or not use your vehicle at least once per week, will significantly increase the service life of any lead-acid battery. (Please see Section 11. for more information on increasing battery service life.)
1.10. For starting and motive deep cycle batteries, match the charging system (or charger's settings) to the battery type, recharge at 77° F (25° C) unless temperature compensated, and insure that the charging system produces enough power to keep the battery fully charged based of your electrical use and driving habits. Use battery charger (or charger settings) sized not to exceed 25% of the total Amp Hour battery capacity and set to the battery manufacturer's recommended temperature compensated charging voltages with good ventilation, especially when recharging wet non-sealed batteries (with filler caps). A better approach is to slowly recharge your starting and deep cycle batteries over a minimum of eight hours.
1.11. For negative grounded systems, always jump start 12-volt batteries POSITIVE (+) terminal to POSITIVE (+) terminal and NEGATIVE (-) terminal to the frame or engine block away from the battery or or use AGM battery to greatly reduce the risk of a battery explosion. Do NOT jump start or recharge a frozen battery. Thaw it out first. (Please see Section 6. for more information on jump starting.)
1.12. For deep cycle batteries, avoid deep discharges (more than 80% Depth-of-Discharge or less than 12.0 VDC). Deep discharges greater than 80% will prematurely kill them. Using an adjustable low voltage disconnect will increase the batteries' service life and help protect the batteries and valuable electronic and electrical appliances. (Please see Section 11.)
1.13. Remove the surface charge before testing. For non-sealed wet batteries (with filler caps), use a hydrometer to check Specific Gravity (SG) in each cell because it is more accurate than a DC voltmeter to determine the State-of-Charge (SoC). For sealed batteries, use a accurate (.5% or better) digital DC voltmeter to measure the Open Circuit Voltage (OCV) to determine the SoC. (Please see Section 4. for more information on testing batteries.)
1.14. If the temperature is below freezing, keep the battery fully charged, use full synthetic engine oil, a engine block heater, battery warmer, continuous charging with a temperature compensated "smart" charger, take the battery indoors, or a combination of the above. (Please see the CCA vs. Temperature Diagram in Section 7.2) Alternatively use two batteries in parallel for more CCA performance. Batteries that have less than a 40% State-of-Charge will freeze at 0 degrees F (-17.8 degrees C) and fully discharged batteries will freeze at approximately 20 degrees F (-6.7 degrees C).
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