How long has it been since you last inspected your heavy-duty truck battery? Why? Because if you give your batteries diligent care, they will take care of you. Battery maintenance should be about more than just occasionally checking connectors for tightness and casually looking for outward signs of corrosion. While this should be part of a normal battery maintenance routine, it should not be all that you do.
Fleets can be lulled into a sense of battery complacency because many new batteries come with fancy marketing terms like “maintenance-free.” Don’t be fooled into thinking this means you never have to worry about your battery. Even premium batteries cannot survive without occasional battery maintenance. But should you even buy a premium battery?
Even low-maintenance batteries need care. While they may not require the same monthly electrolyte level checks other batteries need, they still must be properly installed, cleaned, and charged to ensure reliable service and long battery life. Premium batteries are worth it only if you take proper care of them. If not, then it is better to throw away $150 on a battery instead of $500. If taken care of well, a premium battery will last the full trade-cycle of a commercial truck.
Some technicians prefer to view premium batteries from the perspective of failure mitigation. Some consultants advise fleets to replace all three or four batteries at about the 24-month period during regularly scheduled maintenance. This works well for fleets who want to reduce their no-start scenarios. Motor carriers can use removed batteries that still test well and put them into current trucks.
Getting the Most Out of Your Truck Batteries
Battery failures most often result from external factors, whether in or out of the control of the truck driver. In some cases, battery failures may have more to do with the fact that they do not recharge completely after a deep discharge. They could also suffer from a weak alternator or bad cables or connections. More often than not it isn’t the battery itself that’s the problem.
Incomplete recharging is a huge issue, just ask any shop technician. Batteries that suffer consistent incomplete charges will not last their allotted lifetime. To get the most out of a heavy-duty battery, you really want to use it until it is depleted and then give it a full charge. If the truck is sitting for more than a couple weeks, you want to make sure you disconnect the battery and connect it to a trickle charger.
Trickle chargers help keep sitting batteries ready for use at a moment’s notice. This way, any onboard accessories don’t drain the battery. Keep in mind that you can’t use just any trickle charger with just any battery. Trickle chargers must be suited to the particular battery chemistry of the battery you intend them to charge. Batteries that you frequently cycle and recharge will last a lot longer and not be adversely impacted by cold weather.
Top Tips to an Effective Battery Recharging Program
Far too many fleet technicians believe a battery is junk once it has been fully discharged. But we know that’s not true. Flooded-cell batteries can be recharged and tested. And if they pass those tests, you can reuse them in your commercial motor vehicles. Using a tried-and-true procedure, you simply pull the batteries, refurbish them, test them, then return them to service. In cases where they need to be scrapped, you may be able to make a warranty return
First, designate an area of your shop you call the “battery room.” Limit access to that room and ensure only technicians on shift can go into the room and handle the equipment or batteries. The last thing you want is a technician pulling a battery from the wrong pile. Next thing you know, it fails a few days later while the driver is out on the road. You don’t want that. Ensure the sorting is done properly so that you are not throwing away perfectly good batteries and putting bad batteries on trucks.
When you do set out to complete a battery recharge, start by placing all the removed batteries on a pallet and sort them by physical condition, age, and OEM. After you complete your inspection, clean all the terminals with a clean battery brush and then prepare yourself to install the required lead adapters. In the end, if a battery passes inspection, it is eligible for recharge. If it is damaged, it needs to be removed from circulation and set up for the scrap heap or a warranty replacement.
Charge, Test, Sort, and Match
Once you have completed your initial inspection and decide which batteries are worthy of recharging, charge them up! All the batteries you load test should be assigned to their own unique pallet. This way you can better keep track of them. Sort your batteries in this fashion:
- If a battery passes a load test, place it on a pallet and test it again in 24 hours.
- Batteries that fail a load test but are under warranty get their own pallet.
- When a battery fails and is not under warranty, set it on yet a third pallet.
You may be asking, “What’s the 24-hour hold for?” Remember, at least 10% of your batteries will have an internal problem, whether it a low-grade short that causes a loss of charge or something else. It is a high enough percentage that you want to test twice. If you load test it, let the power sit in it for 24 hours, then load test it again, you will likely come out with 10% to 15% that fail on the second load test. That battery would have ended up stranding one of your truck drivers on the side of the road had you not caught it in time. Once you have tested a battery twice and it passes, you can consider this as a good battery candidate and ready to be placed on a vehicle for use.
Going through a thorough testing process also allows you to remove any other unworthy batteries, such as those that are installed during a road service. They may test well, but they also don’t have a warranty you can count on. You certainly wouldn’t want to unintentionally reinstall it on another vehicle. If you were to do so, however, consider using those batteries on your yard trucks.
How to Keep Your Battery Thawed During Winter
Have you heard? Punxsutawney Phil said we would have six more weeks of winter and it sure looks like he wasn’t lying. With February storms still hammering the East Coast, truckers must contend with frozen, stormy and snowy weather. The question for truckers is, now that you have gotten that nice new premium battery for your big rig, how do you ensure it stays in good condition and starts your vehicle when the temperature precipitously drops.
One method truckers use in snowy climates is a battery blanket. Battery blankets can be used for the battery and block heaters used for the engine block. You may also want to check your electrical system and recharge your battery to remix its fluid properly. Also considering parking inside wherever possible to help prevent corrosion. Battery terminals contain iron or aluminum material. Once they rust, you will have a problem starting your rig on cold days.
Corrosion occurs when electrolytes come to the surface of your battery terminal. And it occurs in a chain reaction in chilly weather. Once corrosion sets in, it accumulates faster on iron surfaces during wintry weather. The resistance that occurs because of rust on the terminal can cause issues with idling.
With winter here, we know cold weather and problematic batteries are things you simply have to deal with as a truck driver. We hope our primer on how to get the most out of your batteries has put you in position to ensure your battery policy is air-tight. Keep these tips in mind and you won’t be unnecessarily replacing batteries.