Tech / Tech Projects

Battery Life: Choosing the Right Automotive Battery for 4x4s

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Picking a battery for your 4x4 can be overwhelming. They come in a wide variety of prices, sizes, features, and construction. Start by determining what your constraints are (space, budget, weight) and then go from there.

Automotive batteries consist of six electrochemical cells, each producing 2.1 volts. Two lead plates are found in each cell electrons traveling from the positive plate to the negative plate to generate electricity through a chemical reaction. In a traditional battery, that chemical reaction happens in sulphuric acid inside the cells that can leak when subjected to vibration off road.

We replaced the huge Group 49 battery in our 4x4 with an XS Power battery from Summit Racing. Since the battery is mounted inside of the passenger compartment of our SUV, it is worth it for the peace of mind of having a battery that will not vent or spill. As a bonus the XS Power battery also has higher cold cranking amps, more reserve capacity, and can be fully discharged without harming the battery.

AGM batteries like this Optima Red Top can be mounted in any orientation to fit unique applications. This battery is mounted under the bed of our pickup where it is slow in the chassis and yet still easy to access. This truck sits for long periods of time so we often put a Battery Tender we purchased from Summit Racing on the Optima to keep it fully charged and ready for when we hit the trail.

Unlike other batteries, Optima wraps the lead in each cell in a roll in their proprietary “Spiracell” technology. This packaging method is vibration resistant and means that even if one cell is damaged for some reason, the others can still power the vehicle.

This tiny Braille battery only weighs nine pounds, making it perfect for applications is a higher priority than maximum power. The Braille battery, and many AGM batteries, have threaded inserts to accept ring terminals but also have the ability to add optional studs to use more common battery cable terminals.

Don’t forget the mount! If you are using a battery that is larger or smaller than the factory battery, it likely will not fit securely in your stock battery tray. There is no need to resort to bungee cords and ratchet straps, Summit Racing has a vast array of battery boxes and trays from fancy polished billet units to minimalist brackets.

Off-road vehicles have unique charging requirements.

While a hot rod or muscle car may have a high compression engine that requires a lot of cranking amps to fire, once the engine is started hot rods generally do not draw many amps and even the factory alternator can handle most all charging demands. Contrast that with a 4×4, where auxiliary lights, electric fans, GPS, and winches can all tax your charging system, requiring more amperage than the alternator alone is able to deliver. The solution is a more powerful battery to act as a result for those big amp draws. And if you are spending the money for a new battery for your 4×4, an absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery is the only way to go.

Summit Racing carries a variety of AGM batteries from Odyssey, Optima, Braille, XSPower, and more to fit nearly any vehicle application. AGM batteries are more powerful than their traditional wet flooded counterparts, can be mounted in any orientation, and you never have to worry about them leaking our out gassing. Those are features that any gearhead can appreciate, regardless of what they drive.  And as an added bonus for 4x4s, AGM batteries will not leak and are resistant to vibration. In a traditional wet flooded battery, the lead plates can break loose, causing a short circuit and damaging the battery.

Important Note: When using a Gel or AGM battery, make sure the charger has a setting for Gel or AGM. It’s important to note that using a regular automotive charger on these batteries can cause them to overcharge.

When purchasing a new battery for your truck (assuming you aren’t using a custom box), the first thing to look at is size, which is specified in the BCI Group Sizing Chart. Also, look at the number and locations of the battery terminals. The next choice will depend on your application’s power requirements. Look at HCA ratings for hot climates, CCA ratings for cold climates, and CA ratings for climates that are moderate or fluctuate between extremes. For a RV, boat, golf cart, etc., where the battery will be drained without being concurrently recharged, make sure you purchase a “deep cycle” battery. These deep cycle batteries usually have a slower rate of discharge and may not be able to handle large cranking requirements, but they can handle large DODs (he percentage of battery capacity that has been discharged) for many cycles. If you are looking for a battery for an off-road vehicle that will handle large vibrations or the occasional upside down operation, then look for a sealed battery.

It is important to remember that batteries will need to be replaced every so often. In ideal conditions, a quality battery will last from eight to 10 years, but its lifespan is primarily dependent on how and where in your vehicle you will use the battery. Higher DODs would be capable for a fewer number of cycles than just partially discharging a battery. Remember to keep the terminals clean of corrosion and the proper balance of the electrolyte solution of unsealed batteries.

Lastly, look at the battery’s manufacturer, as well as what type and length of warranty they offer. There are several well-respected companies that produce extremely durable and dependable batteries. Proper maintenance and operation will boost the potential of your battery’s performance and lifespan.

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