A Key Component of Effective Fleet Maintenance Programs

Battery and electrical system maintenance to avoid vehicle downtime.

Batteries wear out, just like any other replacement part. But because weak batteries aren’t as noticeable as balding tires or squeaky brakes, they are usually replaced only after they fail, notes Vicki A. Hunckler, marketing communications manager for Midtronics (www.midtronics.com/transportation), a worldwide leader and provider of vehicle battery testing and management products and services. This creates inconvenience and possibly dangerous situations on the road for drivers, not to mention negatively impacting fleet operations by sidelining vehicles and delaying shipments/operations.

With proper care and maintenance, an initial investment in deep-cycle flooded, AGM (Absorption Glass Mat) or gel battery technology can be extended, keeping the total cost of ownership to a minimum, points out Brad Bisaillon, director of strategic accounts for North America and Europe for Trojan Battery Company (www.trojanbattery.com), the world’s leading manufacturer of deep-cycle batteries. Following seven simple steps will ensure that these batteries will enable optimum equipment operation levels day in and day out.

1. Safety

  • Always wear protective clothing, safety glasses and gloves.
  • Never add acid to a battery.
  • Keep batteries clean and dry.
  • Keep sparks, flames and cigarettes away from batteries.
  • Charge batteries only in well-ventilated areas.
  • Avoid skin contact with electrolyte.
  • Always use insulated tools.

2. Watering (flooded batteries only)

  • Add water only after fully charging the battery (unless the plates are exposed).
  • Check with the manufacturer regarding proper electrolyte fill levels.
  • Never allow the electrolyte level to fall below the plates.
  • Use distilled water.

3. Charging

  • Charge batteries after each use and follow the manufacturer’s charging instructions.
  • Add water to flooded batteries after they are charged, not before.
  • Do not interrupt a charge cycle, unless opportunity charging (battery charging when the opportunity presents itself rather than waiting until the battery reaches a specific discharge level).
  • Never charge a frozen battery.
  • Avoid charging at temperatures above 120 degrees F (49 degrees C).

4. Cleaning

  • Clean the battery terminals and cable lugs regularly with a solution of one cup of baking soda and one gallon water using a wire brush. Rinse with water and dry.

“It is imperative to properly maintain the entire connection in a flooded battery because corrosion at either end of the connection can cause high resistance and potential battery failure, Bisaillon emphasizes.

  • Thinly coat all connections with anti-corrosion spray or silicone gel to resist corrosion.

5. Torque

  • Tighten all wiring connections per the battery manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Be careful not to over-tighten. This can result in post breakage.
  • Avoid under-tightening which can result in post meltdown.
  • Make sure there is good contact with the terminals.

6. Equalizing (flooded batteries only)

  • Connect the battery to the charger, set to equalize mode and start the charge cycle.
  • Take voltage readings every hour.
  • Equalization is complete when the voltage no longer rises.
  • If the charger does not have an equalization setting, call the battery manufacturer’s technical support staff to determine setting.

7. Storing

These important steps should be followed when storing batteries for an extended period of time, recommends Bisaillon.

  • Completely charge batteries before storing and monitor every six weeks while in storage.
  • Batteries gradually self-discharge during storage. AGM batteries self-discharge at a much slower rate than flooded batteries. Be sure to monitor voltage every four to six weeks.
  • Stored batteries should be given a boost charge when they are at 70 percent state of charge or less.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry location, avoiding areas where freezing temperatures are expected.
  • Keep batteries fully charged to prevent freezing.
  • When batteries are taken out of storage, recharge them before use.
  • Avoid direct exposure to heat sources, such as radiators or heaters.
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