Using a Battery Maintainer or Trickle Charger

Updated on December 1, 2019
Dan Ferrell profile image

Dan Ferrell writes about do-it-yourself car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in automation and control technology.

Trickle charger and jump starter.
Trickle charger and jump starter. | Source

There are at least three types of devices that charge batteries: the ordinary fast battery charger, the battery maintainer and the battery trickle charger. Each type has its own particular use:

  1. A regular battery charger provides enough amperage to get your battery ready in minutes, but there's the danger of overheating, off-gassing, and, sometimes, damaging the battery. So it's only recommended when absolutely necessary.
  2. A battery maintainer is used to keep a battery fully charged when the battery is not going to be used for days, weeks or months at a time. This prevents the battery from dying or going bad. Just leave the battery maintainer hooked up to the battery and the device will keep the battery charged.
  3. A trickle charger slow-charges a battery. Charging will take a few hours, but it won't overheat the battery. Trickle charging helps improve battery performance, and is recommended for sulfated batteries to restore battery condition.

You may want to have a battery maintainer or trickle charger on hand to take care of these two situations:

  1. Batteries that used to last three or five years are now are getting overwhelmed in late model vehicles with a growing number of gadgets: navigation systems, video and sound systems, and more engine electronic control systems and computers. All this new technology can quickly stress your battery and deplete its charge at times without warning.
  2. You may have a battery or vehicle that doesn't see much use for weeks at a time.

So here are a few important things to know before you head out to get your own battery maintainer or trickle charger.

Index
1. Battery Maintainer
2. Battery Trickle Charger
3. Fast Chargers
4. What to Look for in a Charger
5. Battery Charging Safety Tips
6. Do You Need a Battery Charger?
A maintainer charger can keep your summer or classic car's battery ready when you need it.
A maintainer charger can keep your summer or classic car's battery ready when you need it. | Source

1. Battery Maintainer

A battery maintainer is ideal when you have a car or battery that doesn't see much use for an extended period. This charger tops off the battery whenever the full charge goes down a certain amount.

This way the charger will keep your car battery charged when you are on vacation or keep your classic or seasonal car ready for use any time of the year.

A battery maintainer has several advantages. It will:

  • keep your battery charged indefinitely.
  • prevent sulfation of the battery because of lack of use.
  • not overcharge your battery.
  • keep your battery ready whenever you need it.
  • prevent the computer memory from being wiped out—critical in many newer vehicle models.

Using a Battery Charger

Use the correct charger for your type of battery and application to prevent damage to the battery or charger. And always follow the manufacturer instructions to operate the charger.

Car battery chargers come in different configurations.
Car battery chargers come in different configurations. | Source

2. Battery Trickle Charger

A battery trickle charger, also known as a slow charger, continually sends a small amount of current to the battery (usually 2 amps or more, depending on the charger). With a slow charger, it takes a few hours to fully charge a battery, depending on the charged left in the battery.

A slow charger has several advantages, for example:

  • It helps improve battery performance as it does a good job of restoring active materials back onto the cell plates.
  • It prevents overheating.
  • It presents no danger of damaging cells with high amperage.

That's why, even after jump-starting a vehicle or using a quick or boost charger to bring back to life a dead battery, it is recommended to trickle charge a battery.

When looking for a trickle charger, you might want to consider an "intelligent" or "smart" battery charger that can float the charge (maintain the battery charged) after it has reached its full capacity. Take a look at this trickle charger from Amazon.

A trickle charger with a float mode is one of the most practical chargers. If you have a car that you only drives for a few months every year, for example, a trickle charger and maintainer can keep your battery healthy and ready throughout the year. Take a look at the next video.

3. Fast Chargers

A fast charger uses a large amount of voltage and current. A 40-amp-rated charger, for example, can charge the battery in a few minutes. However, there's always the risk of battery overheating and damage. Quickly charging a battery requires close monitoring of the charging process.

Still, a fast charge is convenient when you need your car battery fast. The battery being charged with a fast charger should be in relatively good condition. If the battery is sulfated, the charging process can cause too much gassing and overheating.

Even after fast-charging a battery, it's recommended to slow-charge the battery to restore battery efficiency.

A trickle charger and maintainer can have help you get your battery ready for the winter months.
A trickle charger and maintainer can have help you get your battery ready for the winter months. | Source

4. What to Look for in a Charger

Although you can make a distinction between a trickle charger and a battery maintainer, the fact is you'll find battery chargers with a combination of features.

  • You can find "intelligent" or "smart" fast battery chargers and trickle chargers with a float mode that keep a battery charged for as long as the charger remains hooked to the battery.
  • Battery chargers may use a constant voltage or current, or both, to charge a battery. You can use either type.
  • Chargers come with a variety of safety and convenient features, in different sizes and prices.

Some features you may want included in your charger:

  • Spark protection
  • Reverse polarity protection
  • Overcharge protection
  • Overheating protection
  • Fast or trickle charger with automatic shutoff or float mode

Some convenient features you may be interested in:

  • Varying charging rates
  • Charging and maintenance indicators
  • Charger-maintainer combination unit
  • Dead battery charger
  • Jump start mode

Use the right charger for your particular car battery.
Use the right charger for your particular car battery. | Source

5. Battery Charging Safety Tips

Depending on the particular battery charger you are going to use, follow these general steps:

  • Charge the battery in a well ventilated area.
  • To prevent an explosion from battery gas, charge the battery away from water heaters, dryers and any other appliance that uses open flames.
  • Turn off the battery charger before connecting or disconnecting the device to the battery.
  • Never charge a frozen battery.
  • Many free-maintenance batteries have a built-in hydrometer or charge indicator. If the sight glass is clear or light yellow, or the charge indicator is white, you may need to replace the battery.

Always follow the manufacturer instructions to operate the battery charger you need to use.

Whether you have a classic car, a summer car or just want to be able to service and maintain your battery, a battery maintainer and trickle charger is the perfect tool.
Whether you have a classic car, a summer car or just want to be able to service and maintain your battery, a battery maintainer and trickle charger is the perfect tool. | Source

6. Do You Need a Battery Charger?

If you have a car battery you want to maintain, and you have an old or classic model, or a modern vehicle you won't drive for a few days, weeks, or months, you'll need a battery trickle charger or maintainer.

In a modern car, you may expect the battery to drain in three to six weeks if the vehicle is not driven.

As the number of electronic components and computers in vehicles grows, so will the strain on car batteries, which makes owning a charger almost a necessity.

So choose the best battery maintainer or trickle charger for your needs.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Dan Ferrell

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