Battery Maintenance

If there’s one question I get asked more than any other when it comes to electric golf car maintenance, it’s how to charge and maintain batteries. From some of the phone calls and e-mails I receive, there appears to be common, often asked questions among fleet owners, private owners and even some dealers.

There are certainly inconsistencies in some of the charging and maintenance practices and procedures I hear about, and some can lead to the early demise of perfectly healthy batteries. As a dealer, you owe it to your customers to provide them with the best in service and factual answers to their questions about their cars. They are looking to you as the expert and the advice you provide must not only be consistent, but accurate as well. I’ve listed below, a few of the actual questions and comments I’ve hard from customers over the years about the care and feeding of golf car batteries. I’m sure you’ll recognize several of them.  Hopefully, my answers will dispel some of the myths and untruths about battery maintenance.

I’m told that I should run my car until the batteries are completely dead before I recharge it.”

That’s not correct. Golf car batteries should never be completely discharged prior to charging. This dramatically reduces their service life and will lead to early failure. Most cars will easily go two rounds of golf without “deep cycling” their batteries. At the end of the day, even if you’ve only played 9 holes, always plug in your charger and let it run until it shuts itself off. Always start each day out with freshly charged batteries.

I fill my batteries up with water each time before I charge them because my neighbor told he his dealer said to. Is this right?

Certainly not. You only need to add water to your batteries’ cells when the electrolyte level gets low. Also, never fill up the cells then place the car on charge. The water will expand during charging, come out of the cells and onto the floor. If you have a low cell or cells, add just enough water to cover the tops of the plates, then charge the car. After the charger has shut off, and the batteries are cool, add water to each low cell to the appropriate level, about 1/2 inch above the plates. Just maintain this level and remember to never fill battery cells to the top.

“My dealer tells me I should periodically wash the tops of the batteries in my fleet cars with water. Isn’t getting everything wet under the seat bad for the batteries and electrical parts?”

Not at all. Keeping the tops of your batteries free from dirt, grass clippings and acid residue from charging is one of the most important basic preventative maintenance chores you can perform. Damage from corrosion brought about by the lack of maintenance accounts for the majority of battery/battery terminal failures and vehicle downtime. Don’t’ deliberately force water into electrical components, be sure all battery caps are tight, and there’ll be no problems.

I was told it was ok to leave my battery charger plugged into my golf car after it finishes charging. If that’s true, can I leave it connected in my garage while I’m away for several moths so the batteries will stay charged?

I get asked this one a lot. There are certain model golf cars that have battery chargers that are engineered so they can be left connected to the car to provide off-season or winter storage maintenance battery charging. This feature is primarily for fleet operators to keep the batteries in their cars from sulfating or freezing while sitting idle. This works extremely well, but the operator has to realize that to make this work effectively, he or she must check at least monthly for things like tripped circuit breakers, blown fuses, water level, lightning damage, etc. Any of those conditions can cause ruined batteries. As for private owners, I always recommend that they disconnect the DC power cord after the car’s fully charged and the charger has shut itself off. Never leave a car unattended with the charger still plugged in, especially for an extended period of time.

“My batteries are just about dead, so I’m going to put new acid in the cells to increase the performance of my cars and save the cost of installing new batteries.”

Sorry, but this just won’t work. When a battery reaches the end of its life, that’s it. There is nothing you can add to revive it, and you never add acid to a cell. Trying to add acid to a battery with watery in the cells is also dangerous. Pouring sulfuric acid in to a wet cell can cause the water to react and blow the mixture out and on to you. The only solution to this problem is to replace the batteries.

“I’ve got more cars than I really need during our slow season, so I’m going to use only half the fleet and let the rest sit in the back of the barn to save on wear and tear.”

If you do this, you’ll pay a steep price for “saving” half that fleet. You should always rotate play among every car in your storage facility. Don’t let one group of cars sit idle while the remainder of the fleet does the work. If you don’t rotate all the cars, the batteries in the ones not used will sulfate, fail prematurely and require replacement. That’s a hefty price to pay for saving on wear and tear.

“You don’t have to charge batteries as often during the summer because there is no danger of them freezing like in cold weather.”

This one kills a lot of batteries every year. Hot summer weather actually causes golf car batteries to self-discharge at a much higher rate than in cold weather. For example, a healthy, fully charged set of batteries will go from 100% capacity to 50% capacity in just 9 weeks if left sitting idle at a temperature of 86°F. Image what happens at 95 or 100 degrees. Batteries are most vulnerable to sulfation when they are sitting idle and partially discharged.

“I have 36-volt golf cars at my club that are needing new batteries. I can buy the 6-volt batteries I need at a local auto parts store much cheaper than I can from my dealer, I think he’s trying to rip me off!”

He’s not ripping you off, he’s trying to sell you the deep cycle golf car batteries specified for your cars. Automotive batteries are made differently and will not perform the same as those specifically designed for golf cars and other electric vehicles. Don’t  buy the auto parts store brand or you’ll be quickly disappointed.

/md