Ask Maggy

Batteries, boosters, chargers and torches – must-have accessories to keep you driving  

Maggy Lombard is the Service Manager at Probe Corporation and has been working in the Battery sector for over a decade.  Maggy’s combination of practical know-how and theoretical knowledge about all things car-related makes her the perfect ‘torque guru’ to help us understand what drives us!

What do I need to know about my car’s battery? 

You should know what the correct size battery is for your car and ensure that you keep to that.  Sometimes batteries can be an unwelcome expense, but don’t be tempted to fit a smaller-sized battery, such as a 618 battery instead of the larger 628 battery.  Believe me, people do this all the time and it never has a happy ending!  While it may save some money upfront, the problem is that the alternator (which charges the battery) will not be able to charge the battery properly because the battery size is incorrect.  What this means in the long run is that your battery is not going to last as long as it should.

If your car has a stop-start system, you should be using what is known as an Absorbent Glass Matt (AGM) or Enhanced Flooded Battery (EFB) rather than the standard lead acid battery.  Both the AGM and EFB are high performance batteries that can meet the power demands of stop-start systems.  For drivers of cars with stop-start systems, and especially second-users of cars with these systems, it can be tempting to opt for a regular flooded battery (lead-acid battery) because the AGM and EFB are more costly. But using a standard battery instead of an EFB or AGM can cause battery failure within a very short period after installation.

 Must I do anything to my battery once it is installed, such as checking water levels from time to time?

The best type of battery to use in your car is a maintenance-free battery.  At Probe we call this the true ‘fit and forget’ battery because it is completely sealed and cannot be accessed or opened up in any way.   This is by far the best option compared to an MF access type battery, which you can open up in order to top up the battery water level.   The problem with MF access type of battery is that topping up the water can interfere with the “specific gravity” (SG) levels of battery acid in the battery.  There should be an exact ratio of water to sulphuric acid in the battery electrolyte and ‘topping up’ the battery’s water can inadvertently interfere with the correct SG level.

As women with busy lives, I think none of us want the added hassle of having to worry about the correct ratios of water and battery acid in our batteries.  My advice would be to always check - and request -that your auto-mechanic fits a sealed, maintenance free ‘fit and forget’ battery.

Why won’t my car start on a cold winter’s morning?

If you have a dead battery on a winter’s morning, be prepared to jump start your car! 

Keep in mind that in the cold weather, water freezes and expands.  In very cold weather this can happen on the inside of your battery.  Ideally, you should try to keep your battery protected if your car is parked under a carport or out in the open overnight.  You could buy a cover to place over your entire car. Additionally, each time you take your car for a service, ask your mechanic to test your battery.  

Help, I don’t know how to jump start my car!

 Jump starting enables the flow of electricity from a functioning battery (generally of another car) into the ‘dead’ battery through jump start cables.  Jump starting usually requires two cars that are parked hood to hood, with the cables correctly attached.  The red clips should always be clamped onto the positive (plus sign) terminal on both batteries, and the black clips to the negative (minus sign) terminals on both batteries.  Your car should be in neutral and switched off. The other car should be switched on to allow the power to flow through from its battery to your battery.

Jump starting is quite a schlep, especially if you don’t have any jumper cables, or a friend or partner with a car to help out.  I would suggest for the ladies out there that they equip themselves with a very handy device called a battery less Schumacher SL 65 booster.  The booster enables you to jump start your car without requiring another battery (and car!) as a power source.

The Schumacher booster is a small, portable microprocessor-controlled device about the size and shape of a smart phone, just a little thicker.   It comes with two small clamps, like the large clamps you find on jumper cables, which you clamp onto your car’s battery as you would with the large jumper cables.   The booster can be charged with a normal 220 Volt plug in your house, or the standard 12 Volts in your car’s cigarette lighter.  You can even use it to charge your cell phone.  A normal passenger vehicle can be jump-started as many as 20 times with the booster.  It really is a no-fuss way for us ladies to jump start our cars!

Just how long can I expect my car battery last?

Bear in mind that your car battery is not like those special wine glasses or dinner plates that you might only use on special occasions so as to prolong their lifespan.  Your car battery must be used all the time to keep it fully charged and optimally performing.  That is why you’ll find that if a car stands for long periods of time, the battery will run down.  If we’re travelling only short distances, a good idea is to take your battery out on the road (inside your car, of course!) every week or so, and drive for about an hour to help prolong the battery life.

To get a bit technical, this is how the battery works:   Batteries operate in cycles, with one cycle consisting of a discharge and a charge.  Think of how many times during the day you drive:  you to go to work, you may pop out for lunch, you may go to the gym or shops after work.  Each time you switch on and off your car (in other words, discharging and then charging the battery) that is a cycle.  You may end up doing about 5 cycles or more in a day.

If you have a sealed, maintenance free ‘fit and forget’ battery, and you practice good battery health, your battery could last up to 6 or 8 years.  Generally a car battery warranty will endure for 24-months, or 730 cycles, depending on which comes first. Good battery health includes being aware of all the technical gadgets we use in our cars and unplug these when necessary.  Phones, tablets, navigation devices and others all draw power from the car battery when plugged in.  Habits like leaving your cell phone charging in your car when its switched off,  will drain the battery, as will using your car’s sound system and pumping up the volume when its parked and switched off. 

Can my maintenance free battery also go flat from limited use?

Whether you have a ‘fit and forget’ maintenance free battery or not, the same chemistry is happening inside the battery.  Lead sulphate starts forming inside the battery which is broken down with regular battery use.  Without regular use, the sulphate begins to build-up and a white crystal layer develops inside the battery, settling around the battery’s active material and blocking the pores of the separators. This restricts the flow of electrons, and in the worst case scenario, can cut the circuit off completely as the current cannot flow.  As more and more reaction surface becomes sulphated, there is increased resistance in the battery.

Sulphation is most common in lead acid batteries but the good news is that it is a problem which can be easily identified, because it shows as a whiteness in the “magic eye” of the battery.   For a healthy battery fitted with a magic eye, this should be green.  A black eye indicates less than 65% charged but don’t panic, because this isn’t an indication of sulphation.  You need to look for the whiteness around the eye, regardless of colour; that is the sulphation and a clue to knowing that the battery may be going flat.

So I get that my battery shouldn’t be inactive, but I’m going on holiday and won’t be using my car.  What should I do?

There are a couple of things to think about here.  Firstly, your car battery really shouldn’t go flat from a couple of weeks of inactivity if the car has been driven regularly as per usual before the time, so don’t worry too much on that count.

But there is an another issue to consider.  Most of us have tracking devices in our cars.  If you’re going on holiday for 2 or 3 weeks and locking up your car and leaving it to stand, your tracking device will still be operational and it will draw power from the battery (given that the battery is its power source).  You don’t want to switch off your tracking device because it’s there for security, so an idea is to use a battery charger.  Probe distributes Schumacher’s ‘smart battery charger’ which can be plugged into your car and left plugged in for the duration of your holiday.  The smart charger will keep your battery fully charged, but thanks to its ‘smart’ technology, it will automatically shut off the charge once your battery is fully charged.  This means that there is no danger of over-charging the battery.  If the battery’s charge begins to drop the smart charger will switch back on and top up the battery.

What is your must-have driving accessory?

It is my handy Schumacher LED torch.  The torch has a magnet inside it which enables you to stick it where you may need it; for example, onto the inside of your car hood if you have to jump start your car.  The torch can be swivelled either 180 or 360 degrees which is a great feature.

You can charge the torch with your car lighter or inside the house with the standard 220 Volts.  I have had one of these torches now for almost two years and I’ve only charged it about 4 times over that period.

Products mentioned:

Probe Fit and Forget batteries (comprehensive range)
Schumacher batteryless booster (suggested models INC100, DSR5221 12V Premium Booster, and DSR5222– 12/24V Premium Booster)
SL 65 Schumacher battery charger (Standard models SPI1and SPI2.  Lithium ion premium models SPI3, SPI6, SPI10 or SPI15)
Schumacher Torch (SL137RU & SL162BU)

Solutions for the fleet owner from Schumacher

Jumpstart your battery with a Schumacher battery booster

Choose and use Schumacher battery testers

Choose and use Schumacher battery chargers

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