If you are a car or motorcycle owner, the performance of your vehicle's battery will, at some point, need some attention. Consequently, you are likely to come across the terms "battery charger" and "battery conditioner". Understandably, you might wrongly assume that they refer to the same thing. However, there is a significant difference between the two. While battery charging simply replenishes the energy within a battery, a car battery conditioner goes a step further by restoring the battery's capacity and addressing some common vehicle battery issues.
In this post, we will explore the concept of battery conditioning and shed light on why it is crucial to perform it periodically to extend the life of your vehicle's battery. In particular, we delve into the reasons behind using a battery conditioner and explain how it can effectively restore the performance of lead-acid batteries. Finally, we will look at some commonly-available battery conditioners that are available on the market today.
So Why Use an Automotive Battery Conditioner?
Lead-acid batteries can lose their capacity for holding charge over time due to a process known as sulphation (sulfation in the US). This is where lead-sulfate deposits accumulate on the battery's electrodes or plates. Vehicles subjected to short trips or extended periods of inactivity are particularly susceptible to the formation of these deposits.
These lead sulfur deposits cause increased electrical resistance on the battery plates, preventing the battery from reaching its full charge. As a result, the battery appears to run down quicker, giving you the impression that it is dying.
Importantly, if you use a digital multimeter to assess a vehicle battery's health, it is not always obvious that these deposits are forming. That's because the deposits also cause the battery's open circuit voltage to rise artificially. Therefore, this creates the illusion of a battery that looks fully charged while only providing limited capacity.
One of the things a car battery conditioner does is to help dissolve these problematic sulphur deposits. Thereby reducing electrical resistance and rejuvenating a battery's performance by restoring its ability to hold a full charge.
Battery Acid Stratification
Another problem lead-acid batteries can suffer from is battery acid stratification. This refers to the distinct layers of acid and water that can form within the battery's electrolyte solution. This phenomenon is caused by uneven charging and discharging patterns, as well as prolonged periods of inactivity, which allows the electrolyte to settle out into layers.
The stratification of battery acid can have detrimental effects on the battery's performance and longevity. Firstly, the less concentrated layer at the top of the electrolyte solution can result in less effective electrolysis hindering the battery's ability to deliver an electrical charge. In addition, the concentrated acid at the bottom of the battery can lead to corrosion of the lead electrodes, reducing their capacity and overall efficiency.
How Does a Battery Conditioner Work?
Battery conditioning begins with the sending of high-frequency voltage pulses through the battery. These pulses help break down the lead-sulfate deposits on the battery's electrodes. All reputable battery conditioners will be able to desulphate batteries.
To deal with the acid stratification, a battery conditioner can also induce controlled gassing or bubbling on the electrodes by applying a higher than normal voltage to the battery. This bubbling action has the effect of mixing the electrolyte solution and thereby getting rid of any layers that may have formed. Importantly, different battery conditioner brands name this destratification process in different ways. In the case of the two most popular battery conditioning brands, NOCO battery conditioners refer to this feature as 'Repair' mode, while CTEK battery conditioners call it 'Recond' mode.
What to Look for in a Battery Conditioner: Choosing the Right One
When searching for a battery conditioner, it is crucial to understand the key factors that differentiate it from a standard battery charger. While not all car battery chargers have the ability to condition the battery, any devices referred to as a battery conditioner usually act as battery charger as well. Let's explore the essential features to consider when selecting a battery conditioner.
Battery Conditioner Function
First and foremost, as mentioned above, not all battery chargers are battery conditioners. Therefore, if you are buying a device that is referred to as a battery charger, and you also want to condition the battery, you should make sure that the device explicitly offers conditioning features. Ideally, this should include both the high frequency voltage pulses that help remove the lead sulfate crystals that have formed on the electrodes, as well as the destratification process to properly mix the electrolyte. Not all battery charger-conditioners offer both of these features, so it is important to check this before purchasing.
Battery Type Compatibility
Different vehicle battery types require specific conditioning and charging needs. Firstly, ensure that the battery conditioner/charger you select is compatible with the voltage of your battery. For example, is your battery a 6V motorcycle battery, a 12V car battery, or a 24V battery for a larger vehicle? Additionally, verify that the battery-conditioning device is suitable for the specific battery chemistry that you intend to condition and charge. Today vehicle batteries come in a range of different types including wet cell, AGM, lithium, calcium, SLI, EFB, Maintenance-Free, and Gel types.
The capacity of your battery is measured in amp-hours (Ah). Although this rating is not directly relevant to battery conditioning, battery conditioners typically charge the battery after the high-frequency pulse part of the process. Therefore, when selecting a battery conditioner, it is important to select a battery conditioner-charger that matches or exceeds a battery's amp-hour rating to ensure complete and efficient battery charging.
Maximum Charging Current
Similar to battery capacity, the maximum current a battery conditioner-charger can output is more relevant to the charging part of the battery conditioning process. This current rating determines how quickly a battery conditioner-charger can charge your battery, with higher amperage allowing for faster charging times.
In addition, some battery conditioners are also designed to service multiple batteries simultaneously. In this case, knowing the maximum charging current coming from each electrical output of the battery conditioner-charger should be assessed for compatibility with your particular vehicle batteries.
Optional Additional Functions
Finally, some battery conditioners may offer other functions on top of their primary battery conditioning and charging roles. One such feature is a 12V supply function, where the battery conditioner can act as a power supply of 12V DC. This can be useful in certain situations, such as when powering other devices or when needing to retain a vehicle's memory when changing out the battery.
Popular Car Battery Conditioners
** : NOCO 'Repair' mode; CTEK 'Recond' mode
M-F : Maintenance-Free
-- : Information not currently available
By adding a battery conditioning device to your vehicle maintenance toolbox, you can significantly enhance the performance and lifespan of the lead-acid batteries that start up your vehicles. Through its ability to target lead sulphur deposits and restore a battery's ability to hold a full charge, a battery conditioner is an essential piece of kit for any owner of a car or other battery-powered vehicle.
When selecting a battery conditioner, make sure that it truly is a conditioner-charger as opposed to just being a charger. It is also crucial to ensure that the device is compatible with the voltage and type of vehicle batteries you own. In addition, you should also take into account the maximum battery capacity it can handle, the maximum charging current, and the usefulness of any other auxiliary function that it might have. By carefully evaluating these factors, you should be able to choose the right battery conditioner to effectively restore and maintain the performance of your vehicle batteries.