I bought a maintenance free battery but how can a maintenance free battery get dry?
“I don’t trust these battery sales companies. I bought a maintenance free battery only find that it is dry after some time. They pull wool over our eyes and don’t sell what they advertise!” Does this sound like you? This is often the sentiment of dissatisfied customers.
The perception that most people have is that when they purchase a maintenance free battery, the electrolyte will remain the same and nothing will change given that no additional water is required to keep the correct electrolyte strength. The truth of the matter is that a maintenance free battery will perform and maintain its electrolyte strength and level ceteris paribus (all normal operational conditions being the same as prescribed by manufacturer). But there are certain conditions that must be upheld by the customer in order to ensure that this is the case.
There are a couple of reasons why any battery - whether maintenance free or normal automotive battery - would see a drop in level of electrolyte or lose the electrolyte completely and these can be universally applied.
Safe handling and regular inspection
The first reason anchors on the fact that it is the responsibility of the customer to ensure the battery is handled in the best possible way to avoid damage of the battery casing. Examples of poor handling would include dropping a battery, storing the battery below suspended heavy objects which could fall and hit it, or any impact that potentially has the ability to crack the battery casing. All these mishaps have the potential ability to cause electrolyte leakage.
If the battery casings has a small crack just enough to enable the electrolyte to seep through when the battery is in operation, loss of electrolyte will occur whether the battery is a maintenance free battery or not.
Unfortunately for most batteries that may be stored in hidden places, should the crack occur at the bottom, one may only realise the problem after the electrolyte is complete depleted. Regular inspections are required for any battery installation to ensure leakages are identified on time. Should a battery have been dropped, and the reinstalled into the vehicle, this damage will not be honoured by battery suppliers as a warranty claim.
The second reason for loss of electrolyte is due to overcharging, which can also affect any battery, including maintenance free batteries.
Each battery has an electrolyte which is provided at the correctly determined strength for the battery performance. However, the battery must maintain a state of equilibrium regarding the strength of electrolyte. In technical terms, the hydrogen gas evolution in the battery is regulated specifically so that it can recombine again into the electrolyte to ensure that the chemistry remains balanced. The vents on the battery casings enable only excessive pressure in the battery to give off the hydrogen gas. In the maintenance free battery, the vents are designed to encourage the hydrogen to ‘get back’ into the electrolyte to promote any reversible reaction.
However, a situation where the vehicle, generator or manual charger pumps more current into the battery than is prescribed, either due to faulty alternator systems or ignorance of the charging specifications in the case of manual charging, this will result in overcharging.
Simply put, if overcharging continues and more gas is released, the electrolyte becomes more concentrated as it loses water and the electrolyte level drops. The consequence is a ‘dry’ battery that will heat up over an extended period of time. Eventually the battery will die after the electrolyte is depleted or when the electrolyte levels cannot sustain the battery performance.
Overcharging damages the battery plates and most of them become soft and shed the paste which is the active material that enables the chemistry of the battery to be optimized. No one can tell when overcharging will occur for a connected battery, but regular checks of charging systems and ensuring compliance to charging specifications goes miles in mitigating this problem will help a great deal.
We’re here to help
Probe’s branches can assist with free testing of vehicle charging systems and sales representatives can also visit the customer sites to assist in training with charging as well. Overcharging is unfortunately not an honoured warranty claim as it has nothing to do with a factory fault on the battery.
Fit and forget is truly a promise but you need to do your part too!
Some would say, “Well I thought maintenance free means connect and forget!” Make no mistake, this is a true and tested promise, but even maintenance free batteries require the customer to take good care of the batteries. You too have a responsibility to check compliance of your appliances charging systems as well as meeting required charging specifications where charging is required.
In normal circumstances rest assured that you’ll be headache-fee, thanks to your care that will ensure your maintenance free battery works for you.