Battery Basics

10 Things You should Know

Published in the July 2018 Issue July 2018 Feature Steve Janes

            For most of us, all we really want to know is when we turn a key the engine starts. That’s it. Nothing else is necessary.

            However, we’ve all had that moment when the key was turned and the starter gave off a low, slow grumbling noise that translates into “not today.” Usually when this happens, you are in a situation where you really don’t have time to figure out why your vehicle isn’t in the mood to start. You have places to go, things to do and people to meet.

            The only way to avoid this situation is to have a basic understanding of the workings of your vehicle, particularly the starting process, and try to be proactive rather than reactive to telltale signs of trouble.

            First thing to know is that your diesel pickup has two batteries that are parallel connected. This means that the positive posts are connected together and the negative posts are connected together to double up on the ampage, not voltage. (Series connected batteries are when you connect several batteries together, linking positive to negative to increase the voltage while leaving the ampage the same.)

            With the parallel connected batteries, both batteries will drain power when being used by an external source—such as stereo systems, trailer lights, etc. As long as your vehicle is running, both batteries are in a constant state of charge. However, when you turn off your vehicle, the batteries are the sole source power.

            If your battery drain is sufficient, whether it be by the amount of power draw or the extent of the power, you may not have sufficient amps required to turn over a diesel engine.

            Here are 10 things you need to know.

1)                  Since diesel trucks require two batteries, the battery issue in a diesel is twice as important as it is in a regular truck. The diesel demands on the battery are far greater than the demands from a gas vehicle.

2)                  In the battery world, warranty is king. The price doesn’t matter if the warranty is better. Do the math. It’s better to spend $100 for a five-year warranty that $200 for a seven-year warranty.

3)                  When you jump a diesel truck, it’s best to connect your cables to the battery on the passenger side since that would be the side closest to the starter. First connect the positives, then the negatives, then start the jumping vehicle and let it run for a few seconds before starting the dead vehicle. Once it’s started, disconnect the negatives, then the positives.

4)                  Dirty batteries can cause you to lose voltage (it can leak out through the case since the dirt creates conductivity and connects the terminals. Corrosion can eat away at the power wire and terminal. It’s important to keep your connections free from corrosion. To clean, remove the wires by loosening the bolts.  (Don’t used forced air to remove corrosion … the airborne particles can damage the eyes.) You may even want to remove the battery so you can have better access to all the cleaning process. Sprinkle baking soda on the corroded area and then rinse away with water.  Wipe away the mess. Also, pour baking soda on connections and rinse with water. Use a brush to scruff up connections and terminal posts. Apply Battery Terminal Connector (spray or jell) to connections and post. Re-attach connections to post and tighten. No baking soda? Try Coca-Cola. Soak the connections In Coke for about five minutes after cleaning the initial corrosion from the connections. Also pour Coke on the battery, let soak for a few seconds and then wash off with water.

5)                  Many of the brand name batteries on the market come out of the same manufacturing facilities. (East Penn Mfg. is one of the better ones and it is located in Michigan.) Although quality may vary a little, the more important thing is how the brand stands behind its product (warranty).

6)                  Batteries are not the only reason for starting failures. Make sure your cables and connections are not corroded nor have high resistance. This will directly impact your starting performance.

7)                  The lead-acid battery most common in the automotive industry was invented in 1859 by the French physicist Gaston Planté. The two main types of lead-acid batteries are starting and deep cycle. Starting batteries are designed to deliver quick bursts of energy (cranking power) but require constantly recharging. Deep Cycle batteries are designed for a more constant, lower drain of power over an extended period of time. Deep Cycle batteries will store better and longer.

8)                  A well-known battery rating is Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) … which is basically a measurement of the number of amps a battery can deliver at 0 degrees F, for 30 seconds, while not dropping below 7.2 volts. This is important if you live in a colder region. This shouldn’t be confused with Cranking Amps (CA) which is based on the same principal but at 32 degrees F.

9)                  Although we refer to it as a “dead” battery, the reality is that it has likely only dropped below the typical 10.5-volt threshold required to start the vehicle. It is very likely that by getting a jump-start, the alternator will be able to re-charge the battery above this threshold.

10)              Charging wet or gel-cell batteries is as simple as plugging them into a standard 12-volt automotive battery charger. AGM batteries, however, may require a special charger if their voltage drops below 10.5 volts. Low amperage and longer charge times are better for batteries. Don’t rely on your vehicle’s alternator to rejuvenate a battery that has completely lost its charge.



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