Tech / Tech Articles

16-Volt Guide: 6 Things You Should Know About 16-Volt Batteries

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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.”

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.

FAQs

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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20 Comments

  1. Brad Urban says:

    I thought current and voltage & current are two different things.

  2. OnAllCylinders says:

    Brad, thanks for reading. And you’re right–current and voltage are two different things. Where the article said “current” it should have said “circuit.” Sorry for the typo; the correction has been made.

  3. Why not 14V batteries? 7 cells should put you right at the peak 14.7V that most ordinary systems can handle, on many of my cars I have upgraded to a 14.7 or even 15.0V charging relay…yet a 7 cell battery still deliver about 12.2V when discharged.

  4. Great article but I have a question, I plan on using a 16volt system for my audio equipment but keeping the vehicle 12volt. My question is can the same ground be used? I plan on running 3 alternators 2 16volt and 1 12volt. The problem Im running is to is that the alternators use the engine as ground and I was wondering if this is going to cause a problem and if so is there any way to isolate this so I can just run my wires for alternator ground to 16volt batteries?

  5. Pingback: 16-Volt Guide: 6 Things You Should Know About 16-Volt Batteries | Screamin' Jesus - Mud Racing Team

  6. Dennis McMurtry says:

    Can we series 2 of these together to give 32 v for 1000 cca ? and use a 32v charger ?

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Putting two 16 volt batteries in series to get a total of 32 volts can be done but, it is recommended to disconnect them during charging using a 16 volt charger and following the manufacturers charging instructions!

  7. Owen Mauseth says:

    Why not have 16V battery and alternator with a Diode to only allow 12V through the greater electrical system? This would stop voltage drop wouldn’t it?

    • O.G. (Old Guy) Rob says:

      To the best of my knowledge… a diode is used to let current flow in one direction. Sounds like you really mean to use a resistor (to cut-down the voltage)instead.

      • Actually, diodes have a small forward voltage drop – typically 0.7 volts – and they have the advantage of keeping that voltage drop no matter the current you pull through them (within reason.. lol). Four or five diodes in series on a 16 volt battery supply would drop it down into the safe zone for most automotive electronics. Just be sure to get diodes rated for the amperage you need to pull through them.

        A resistor as suggested in this article, on the other hand, will vary it’s voltage drop depending on the current through it. That could have adverse effects on your equipment if it’s current draw varies a lot.

  8. Quote “Under high loads, voltage will drop rapidly to under 12 volts, which are not enough to efficiently operate ignition and electrical components.” This is misleading with regard to ignition, and patently false with regard to ‘electrical components’. Such components are all designed to work well in vehicles with their varying supply voltages. With regard to ignition, the only time any vehicle Might drop below 12 volts is during starting. After that, the alternator supplies all the power needed unless it’s damaged or you’re trying to power thousand watt amplifiers with it. If you’re racing, I would have to assume you chose the right alternator for your engine setup.

  9. I currently use 2 optima yellow top batteries in my race car wired in series. Fully charged the engine cranks slow as if the timing is off, but it is not. Will one 16 volt battery help with this? When I put the battery charger on, the engine turns over much better.

    • Two 12v batteries wired in series would create 24v, wired in parallel would would still be 12v with higher capacity. MSD makes ignition boxes with ability to pull the timing back briefly so high compression engines can crank over easier. Could also try a high torque starter. Make sure you got a nice large positive cable feeding power to your starter preferably with joints on both sides Soldered.

  10. Can i hook up my airhorn pump to 16 volts it calls for 12 the dixe wolo

  11. Ole Petter Stokkeland says:

    Hi! I have two of these batteries and a charger of the same brand. They don`t seem to be able to turn the engine as fast as a Optima 12V battery even when just charged. How do i determine if the batteries are ok or not? They have over 17v when they are charged. And also how long can they be charged? Is over night ok or just an hour or so?

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  13. I have 2… 16 V XXSS batteries in my race car the temperatures are 20° in the garage and I’m trying to charge them they’re saying they’re charged when I know they’re not when I put the slow trickle charger on them The gauge starts to go up then goes on triple zero like they were charged Besides taking them out and bringing them in the house is there anything else I can do to charge them

  14. Michael Smith says:

    i bought a 16 volt battery and charger . hooked the charger to the battery. battery got hot an swelled. is the battery any good now’

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