For some racers, 12 volts just aren’t enough.

Many drag racers and circle track racers have opted to run 16-volt batteries to give their ignition system and other components a boost. The extra voltage from these batteries creates a hotter spark, allowing you to run a larger spark plug gap and even jet up your carburetor. Combine that longer, hotter spark with increased fuel and you get improved performance.

And that’s not all.

16-volt batteries can enhance the operation of other critical race components including water pumps, fuel pumps, and trans-brakes. “Using a 16-volt battery and charging system is like adding a supercharger to an MSD box, nitrous solenoids, and trans-brake solenoids,” said Carl Pritts, an advisor in the Summit Racing technical department. “It makes them bigger, stronger, and faster.”

(Image/Turbo Start)

How It Works

Standard 12-volt batteries utilize six cells, which deliver a full open circuit of 12.6 volts (2.1 volts per cell). Under high loads, voltage will drop rapidly to under 12 volts, which are not enough to efficiently operate ignition and electrical components. A 16-volt battery adds in two additional cells for a full charge voltage of 16.8 volts (2.1 volts per cell). This additional voltage provides a cushion under the higher loads found in race competition. In fact, a 16-volt battery will still produce 14 volt when totally discharged; whereas, a 12-volt battery only produces 10.5 volts in the same situation.

Even though 16-volt batteries have been around for quite some time now, questions still remain. Do I really need 16 volts for my application? Can a 16-volt battery damage sensitive components? With help from Turbo Start and Summit Racing, we’ve put together answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about 16-volt batteries.


When is it most advantageous to use a 16-volt battery? 16-volt batteries should really only be considered for race applications, according to Pritts. The increased voltage creates a hotter spark and spins the starter, electric fan, and water pump faster. It also increases pressure at the fuel pump. All of these things can foster a decided performance advantage. In addition, the additional load required by any extra race electronics can be met by the extra voltage in a 16-volt battery without dropping below 12-volts–a threshold for efficient ignition operation.

Can you damage certain accessories using a 16-volt battery? It is possible that a 16-volt battery can damage some delicate components such as light bulbs, gauges, and OE on-board computers. Many components are now designed to work with 16-volt systems, however; both Turbo Start and Summit Racing recommend checking with the manufacturer of each component to verify.

Turbo Start states that it has never heard of damage to ignitions in race applications. Other race components that typically work well with 16 volts include starters, electric fans, electric water pumps, and electric fuel pumps. You’ll want to verify 16-volt compatibility for items like your transmission brake, delay box, timer, and throttle stop.

What if a component(s) is not compatible with 16 volts? This is where a resistor comes into play. A resistor allows you to step down the voltage to certain components, enabling you to run the full 16 volts where desired while protecting the more delicate parts. According to Turbo Start, components designated as 12V/16V should have no issues with 16 volts. However, you should always try to check with the manufacturer for 16-volt compatibility as well as the need for a resistor.

Some battery manufacturers also offer three-post versions of their 16-volt batteries. With these batteries, you can power 16-volt components (ignition and starter, for example) from one post and 12-volt accessories from the other. (the third post is the common ground). However, these batteries can be susceptible to a condition called cell imbalance if not used with an alternator or a boost box on the 12-volt side. Consult with your battery manufacturer for proper setup.

Can 16 volts mess with my gauges? Turbo Start claims there have not been issues with gauges involving any of their 16 volt batteries. However, you can always use a resistor if concerned.

Do I need to use an alternator with a 16-volt battery? Some racers opt to not run an alternator to save weight and power. Some forms of racing don’t utilize an alternator at all, so Turbo Start designed its 16-volt battery with deep cycle capabilities. The bottom line is you do not have to run an alternator, but you will need to charge the battery more often–sometimes between rounds. Ultimately, this will shorten the life of the battery. That’s why Pritts recommends the use of an alternator whenever possible.

“Many batteries in use at race tracks today are not deep cycle batteries and discharging and charging between rounds is not recommended for the best life expectancy,” he said. “For the very little bit of horsepower consumed and weight added by the alternator, I always recommend running one. It’s a small price to ensure the best life of the battery.”

Do I need a special charger with a 16-volt battery? Yes, you will need a special 16-volt charger.

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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.