Do you know the main reason lead-acid batteries break down and lose capacity? Battery sulfation. It’s the cause of these issues 80% of the time. But with the right tools for battery maintenance and a little investment of time, you’ll bring your batteries back to life and keep them functioning reliably. Learn everything you need to know about battery maintenance.
Starter batteries, semi-traction batteries, traction batteries and even stationary batteries all need maintenance to perform to their full potential. Regularly perform the three essential maintenance tasks we outline here to optimise the performance and reliability of your lead-acid batteries.
Add distilled water to the lead-acid battery
The fluid in your lead-acid battery is called electrolyte. It’s actually a mixture of sulphuric acid and water. When your battery charges, the electrolyte heats up and some of the water evaporates. During a process called electrolysis, the water breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen gases that dissipate. The result? The electrolyte level in the battery lowers over time.
If the electrolyte level is too low, the plates in the battery cells are exposed and will suffer damage. In addition, the sulphuric acid will be more concentrated. This means you need to replace the electrolyte. This is how you do it.
1. Check the battery water level with a level indicator
How do you know when to add water to your battery? It’s one of the most common questions we are asked. You could constantly check your battery, or every battery in every machine in your fleet, but this is horribly time consuming and there are easier approaches. Indicators are specifically designed to check the battery water level for you. They notify you whenever your battery needs to be topped up.
There are different systems available. One of these is the Smartblinky. You mount it behind the battery plug. Does it have a green light? Your electrolyte level is fine. When the light turns red, you know it’s time to add water to the battery cells.
Do you add water to your battery before or after charging? Always make sure the electrolyte covers the battery plates before you charge. If the plates are covered, charge the battery and then top up as necessary. This is because the electrolyte will expand during charging and is more likely to overflow if you’ve already topped it up before charging.
2. Make sure you always have distilled water nearby
Never fill a battery with normal water. It will damage your battery. You need to use distilled water. It’s also known as deionised water and demineralised water. Basically, it’s water that has been filtered to remove metals and minerals that may interfere with the processes in your battery.
Buy distilled water from a hardware store or automotive parts specialist. It’s also easy to make yourself. You need simple tap water and a demineralisation device like the Hydropure. The simplest of these devices are filled with a type of resin. You let the tap water flow in, the resin filters the metals and minerals out of the water and you’re left with the deionised, demineralised, distilled water that’s suitable for use with your battery.
3. Install an automatic battery water filler system
How much distilled water do you add to your battery? That’s another question we are often asked. The answer varies from one battery to the next. This is one reason why we recommend using a battery water filler system.
A battery water filler system uses filler caps with floats that are connected to each other via water hoses. They keep your battery from over-filling. And they save you time. All you do is run distilled water into the hose. The filling system does the rest.
Lead-acid battery equalisation
The second task in battery maintenance is charging. It’s very important that you charge your battery cells evenly.
The more you use your battery, the more the capacity of different cells may fluctuate. One cell might be fully charged while another is only half-charged. If this happens, your battery will not charge fully.
Our advice is to use an equalising battery charger to perform an equalisation charge. Battery equalisation is a simple process that prevents this. Your battery charger delivers a lower current over a longer period of time. While a typical charging cycle lasts around eight hours, equalisation takes about eleven hours. As it also demands longer cooling times than a regular charging cycle, it’s best to perform your equalisation charge over the weekend to leave you with enough time to charge and cool your battery before you put it back into use.
What if your battery is already suffering from sulfation? Fortunately, it’s possible to control and even reduce sulfation. Just send large currents of short duration through the battery. This process is called battery reconditioning.
Keep your battery clean
Last but not least, it is vitally important to keep your battery clean.
Battery acid, dirt and dust have all been known to cause leakage currents that make a battery discharge itself and become unbalanced. A clean battery is essential. The best way to do this? Use a battery steam cleaner like the AQ steam or AQ steam pro.
Do you have questions about any of these battery maintenance tasks? Would you like to know which products are the best for maintaining your lead-acid batteries? You’ll find the answers—and everything else you need to know—in our professional battery maintenance guide. Click on the button to take a look at it online.