Anyone responsible for the maintenance of commercial work trucks, a government fleet or other heavy-duty trucks, knows how critically important it is to perform routine scheduled maintenance to avoid costly repair and downtime. In many parts of the country, winter brings its own set of challenges —foremost being the frigid temperatures — that take a toll on vehicles.
Many improvements have taken place in lead acid battery technology since its invention more than 160 years ago. One example is the introduction of Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) technology in the 1970s. This advancement in particular provided advantages that are critically important for today’s power-hungry vehicles with high work demands, such as work trucks, government fleet vehicles and heavy-duty trucking applications. Benefits typically include more starts per battery, faster recharging, lighter weight, safer handling and gas release valves that protect battery lifespan. Yet even with all of these advancements, lead acid battery performance is still dramatically affected by cold weather.
While AGM batteries are more durable and much more reliable in cold weather, ANY battery can be impacted by freezing temperatures. With colder weather approaching, there are some practical measures you can take to avoid unnecessary downtime brought on by battery issues, and to help keep your vehicles starting strong all winter long.
Here are 5 tips to keep the winter cold from putting the freeze on productivity:
- Check battery condition
Routine battery inspection is always important. It is especially advisable prior to the winter season. Following all safety rules and wearing the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – such as safety glasses or face shield, rubber gloves and protective clothing – your technician should perform a full inspection of the batteries in your vehicle fleet. Check for any cracks, broken pieces, leaks or other damage to the case. Check battery hold/tie-downs.
- Perform battery connection maintenance
Inspect cables and connections to be sure they are tight and clean. Examine the terminals or posts to be sure they are not stripped or scuffed. Connections should be cleaned to remove any dirt and corrosion. Coat unsealed connections with dielectric grease.
- Perform a load test
A load test is essential to determine the condition of the battery. In essence, it mimics the strain placed on the battery by the starter and other auxiliary items. An electronic tester simplifies the procedure. Begin with a fully-charged battery. For AGM batteries, an Open Circuit Voltage (OCV) of at least 12.6 is required. Then disconnect the negative ground cable. With the tester, you will need to enter the exact information to get an accurate reading: the Cold Cranking Amps (CCA), battery type (AGM versus Flooded) and battery temperature. The tester will then load test the battery and provide the test results.
- Keep batteries fully charged
Any reprieve from outdoor cold can help your battery, thereby becoming less impacted by cold temperatures. Parking in a garage or other enclosure when possible is best. Battery warmers are also helpful. For vehicles in the shop, using a charger/maintainer while the vehicle is being serviced will help recharge the battery, keep it from discharging to freezing levels and offset loads during the repair or Preventive Maintenance (PM) service.
Chemical reactions within the battery are slowed down by the cold, so recharging takes longer. During cold weather, make sure that scheduled trips provide an adequate opportunity for a vehicle’s alternator to fully recharge the battery. Starting a vehicle reduces the battery’s State of Charge (SOC). A vehicle that is constantly used for short trips may be more likely to have a discharged battery. This could result in shorter battery life if not fully charged daily, or worse a stranded vehicle.
- Disconnect cables for long-term storage
To sustain the charge in spare batteries held in storage or in vehicles not in operation, simply remove the cables to prevent any parasitic drain from discharging the battery. A small maintenance charger is a good option.
There are also a few other considerations that will assist battery performance in winter and are sometimes overlooked.
Encourage operators to shut off auxiliary loads before parking their vehicles. This could include sound systems, device chargers or a GPS navigation device connected to the electrical system through a 12V auxiliary power outlet. If left on unnecessary discharging can occur, lowering the SOC and increasing the risk of no-starts or freeze ups and generating unnecessary strain on the battery.
It’s never ill-advised to replace an aging battery – one that’s more than four years old – especially if you sense a decline in performance.
One more very important note. Even if you have been diligent about winter battery maintenance, should you ever suspect that a battery has frozen, NEVER attempt to jump-start the vehicle. It could cause significant battery damage. It is always best to replace the battery.
The AGM batteries in your vehicles provide some solid benefits over flooded batteries. Practicing these basic winter maintenance procedures will help ensure that your vehicles continue to start strong and their batteries outlast winter for years to come. Always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for battery care and handling, and direct any questions to your battery professional.
Learn more about how ODYSSEY® batteries deliver greater reliability and value:
Technicians may refer to the ODYSSEY® Battery Technical Manual as a good source of information about how ODYSSEY® batteries work. A copy may be downloaded here: http://odysseybattery.com/documents/US-ODY-TM.pdf
EnerSys, the global leader in stored energy solutions for industrial applications, manufactures and distributes energy systems solutions and motive power batteries, specialty batteries, battery chargers, power equipment, battery accessories and outdoor equipment enclosure solutions to customers worldwide. Energy Systems, which combine enclosures, power conversion, power distribution and energy storage, are used in the telecommunication, broadband and utility industries, uninterruptible power supplies and numerous applications. Motive power batteries and chargers are utilized in electric forklift trucks and other industrial electric powered vehicles requiring stored energy solutions. Specialty batteries are used in aerospace and defense applications, large over-the-road trucks, premium automotive, medical and security systems applications. EnerSys also provides aftermarket and customer support services to its customers in over 100 countries through its sales and manufacturing locations around the world. With the recent NorthStar acquisition, EnerSys has solidified its position as the market leader for premium Thin Plate Pure Lead batteries, which are sold across all three lines of business. More information regarding EnerSys can be found at www.enersys.com.