In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
How to Wreck Your Batteries
Feb 01, 2012
So, it can be boring on the farm this time of year, and a trip to town is often a welcome break. In case you need an excuse to make that trip, here are some sure-fire ways to damage batteries in farm equipment so you have to drive to town for new ones:
-Store them in below-zero temperatures at less than full charge. I don't fully understand the chemistry, but from personal experience know that the electrolyte in a well-charged battery is very resistant to freezing, while the electrolyte in discharged batteries will freeze. Fully frozen batteries are junk batteries because the pressure from the expanding ice either ruptures the battery's case or damages the plates inside.
-Connect an industrial-duty battery charger to a battery, set it to "boost," and leave it charging for half-day or more. "Boost" settings are "dumb" settings---the charger keeps pouring high amperage into the battery whether the battery can accept it or not. Overcharging a battery can kill it. Unless a battery charger is specifically designed to monitor and self-adjust charging rates, be very cautious about leaving chargers attached to batteries for more than a couple hours at high amperage settings.
-Lose your temper while trying to clean the battery clamps and terminals. Been there, done that myself. Trying to clean battery terminals in the back corner of the machine shed, with poor lighting so you can't see what you're doing, is a sure-fire way to light the fuse on a temper tantrum. Your hands are numb, you're fumbling with cold wrenches while wearing gloves, and it's tempting to start pounding, twisting and prying on the clamps and terminals to get them apart. Plastic battery cases are more brittle when cold so it's possible to crack the case if you pry or pound on it. Rough twisting or prying of the cable clamps can dislodge/crack the junction between the top of the case and the battery post. Batteries are tough but they're not indestructible.
Ultimately, prevention is the best cure to prevent damage to batteries. With big tractor batteries often priced at more than $200 each, it's worth a little patience to make sure they're fully charged before storage and kept charged during storage. If they need charged or boosted during cold weather, do it with discretion. And if things aren't going well on a miserably cold day while attempting to remove battery clamps and clean battery terminals, and you feel the urge to "remodel" the battery terminals or clamps with a big hammer...I recommend a 32-ounce ball peen hammer. Might as well enjoy yourself before you drive to town for a couple of those $200 batteries.