The battery is obviously a very important part of your vehicle. Without it, your car can’t start and you’re not going anywhere. But not many people think about their battery’s health when they’re doing regular vehicle maintenance.
A car battery charger isn’t just something you’ll want in an emergency. Using one can actually extend your battery’s life and correct damage caused by overcharges or deep discharges. Ultimately that saves you both money and hassle.
Still not convinced you need a car battery charger? Read on below—you just might change your mind by the end of the article.
What Is a Car Battery Charger?
Car battery chargers restore energy to a car battery through electrical current. They plug into a wall outlet, drawing AC current and converting it to the 12-volt DC current a battery stores.
Unlike jumper cables or jump starters, a car battery charger provides a relatively low voltage charge to your battery. This is healthier for the battery and safer for the user. Charging a battery at too high a rate increases the off-gassing of hydrogen, which in extreme cases could cause the battery to burst.
Most car battery chargers use a 2-amp charge. This does mean they take a while—if the battery is completely dead, it could take up to 24 hours to fully charge it. While that can be annoying in the short-term, it’s the best way to go to extend the battery’s lifespan.
Why Do You Need a Car Battery Charger?
Cars already have a mechanism in place to keep the battery fully charged. That’s the job of the alternator, which generates electric power when the engine is running. This supplies the electrical power used by the vehicle’s electronic systems and re-fills the battery.
In a well-functioning vehicle, the alternator does a great job of keeping the battery charged when the car is running. Once you turn the car off, though, the battery begins to self-discharge. The rate of self-discharge of a car battery is typically about 1% per day, though that will be higher in warm weather and lower in cold weather.
This might not sound like much, but keep in mind it takes a lot of battery power to start a car—and that you don’t want your car battery’s level dropping too low. Deep discharges are one of the leading causes of sulfation in batteries. In this process, sulfur deposits build up over time, limiting the battery’s overall capacity.
Car battery chargers are especially useful in maintaining the battery of vehicles that don’t get used daily. It guarantees your battery is full before you use it to start the car, preventing the deep discharges that can kill your battery before its time.
Batteries aren’t just there to start your car, either. Most modern vehicles use a lot of different systems that run on electricity, such as the interior lights, the headlights, and the radio. While the alternator runs these things when the car’s running, they go through the battery when the engine’s off. If you use the lighter port in your car to charge devices, that’s putting even more strain on your battery.
The more of these electronic systems you use when the engine isn’t running, the more you need a battery charger. Not only will it help extend the battery’s life, it will keep you from getting stranded because you’ve left the headlights on.
Advantages of Owning a Car Battery Charger
- They maintain batteries between uses. We mentioned the benefit of battery chargers for vehicles that aren’t driven every day. They’re also a great tool for maintaining batteries in storage, letting you keep a back-up when you know your current battery is toward the end of its life.
- They often have battery restoration functions. Many modern smart chargers do more than just charge up your battery. They also often feature Recovery or Desulfation programs, which use a low-level energy pulse to remove sulfur deposits from the plates of the battery. You can use these programs to return a damaged battery to its full capacity in many cases.
- They’re not just for car batteries. There are a lot of different car battery chargers out there, and many are quite versatile. Some will charge 6-volt batteries for power tools and recreational vehicles, for example. Others have USB ports or outlets that let you charge other devices while charging your battery. These helpful extras sometimes cost a bit more, but they can turn a simple battery charger into an all-purpose power station for your garage.
- They’re helpful in an emergency. While battery chargers are intended for long-term, slow charging, you can find models that also offer “jump” or “boost” modes. A portable battery charger with this option can be a lifesaver if your battery dies while you’re away from home.
The Bottom Line
All car batteries do eventually die—but it doesn’t need to happen nearly as quickly as some people believe. With the right maintenance and in the right conditions, a car battery can last as long as ten years or more before it needs to be replaced.
Getting a car battery charger can be a big part of getting that maximum lifespan out of your battery. These devices protect your battery on two fronts: they prevent damage by maintaining a consistent charge, and they can heal the damage from deep discharges and repeated use.
There are some things that damage a battery you don’t have any control over. Extreme heat causes batteries to operate at higher levels of efficiency, and that means they release more energy. Batteries naturally have a lower life-span in warm climates because of this. Vibration and moisture can also reduce a battery’s life over time.
If you live in an area where you deal with these environmental factors, a battery charger can be even more important to maintaining your battery’s long-term health. Since they’re not very expensive, it’s a great investment that will save you money in the long run.