Battery Inspection

by George Lyle

"I feel like I'm a member of the 'battery of the month' club! I bought a new battery for my 73 Westy in July 96 (Champion brand from Walmart). 6 months later it was dead so I took it in and they gave me a new one."

Well, you might want to figure the cost of your time and hassle into the equation. Each "free" battery is probably costing you far more than its value in your lost time!

It's unusual for batteries to die with such regularity. Since the batteries are probably of reasonable quality and freshness it might be a good idea to check out your electrical system.

With the engine off, pull off the negative cable and put an ammeter in series from the cable to the negative terminal of the battery. You should see 50ma or less (preferably less!). You may see some current flow because of memory requirements of stereos, alarm systems, etc. If the battery is run low regularly it is in danger of shorting out its plates. Batteries work by dissolving lead from plates into solution and then replating the lead onto the plates. The problem is that the lead doesn't get replated into the same place it dissolved from. This isn't a problem when the battery stays charged, but if you run it down the life can be shortened.

Reconnect the battery and start the bus. Measure the voltage between the battery terminals. Rev the engine up to cruising RPM. You should see 13V-14V at the battery. Less and the battery won't get charged, more and the battery will be evaporated of water by the excess current.

If either excess drain or charging is present, you need to pay attention to the electrics in your bus. If they aren't, you need to get a different brand of battery!

I tend to use Pep Boys batteries as they are inexpensive, have given me good service, have removable caps so that I can refill the fluid (with distilled water) if I have an overcharging episode, and if all else fails they have a reasonable return policy. Years ago I used Sears batteries, but the quality and warrenty terms both became bad. I also tired of dealing with the high pressure sales geeks who apparently were given electrical shocks if a customer escaped without spending at least $500!

If you aren't already doing it, use a good 'ol 'merican Group 24 battery in place of the Bug battery normally supplied for the bus. It fits in the battery space fine and has a lot more reserve capacity.

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