A car battery charger is a great tool lying around, especially when one’s car battery goes completely dead. However, there’re many factors to be aware of when choosing the best car battery charger, such as amperage, voltage, type, etc. This is very important as using the wrong battery charger for car can cause damage to both the battery and charger. Aside from that, each different type of battery charger suits different needs and budgets. Reading the rest of this guide will give you a much clearer idea on what to get.
Car Battery Charger Specifications
Jump Start Rating
The amount of amperage it takes to start a car depends on a number of factors such as weather and the type of vehicle. In fact, the startup range can be anywhere from just 75 amps to hundreds of amps. Simply put, chargers that have a higher jump start amperage are able to start a car more effectively.
Just about every charger has been rated with this specification. In simple terms, the peak amps measure the highest amount of amperage a battery produces about one millisecond. Chargers with higher peak amps are able to draw more current at a time without suffering damage. Keep in mind that this rating does not necessarily measure how fast a charger is able to charge a battery. Instead, it measures the overall quality of the charger. Higher peak amps are always a good sign, regardless of the battery type that needs charging.
The charging time of different car battery chargers can vary drastically. In fact, the charging time can range from anywhere between 2 and 12 hours. As a general rule of thumb, chargers with quicker charging times are more expensive. Portability is another factor one may want to consider. If one wants a charger for around the house, then they might as well get a full sized charger. Because portable chargers typically come with extra features, they are likely to be more expensive. Overall, one who plans to get a portable charger should consider if whether or not they truly need it.
Operating Difficulty Level
What may be easy to use for one person may be extremely difficult for another person, especially if they are new to charging batteries. If the latter situation is the case, then they should ensure that the charger they are buying comes with a clear instruction manual. Also note that some types of chargers may be harder to use than others. Preferably, one who is new to charging car batteries should get a setup that measures all current specs of the battery, such as amperage, voltage and such.
Another thing to consider is the length of the charging cables, as nobody wants to fool around with inconveniently short cables. Most importantly, an automatic charger is far easier to operate, as it won’t accidentally overcharge a car battery and cause damage. Safety features, such as emergency shut-off switches, surge protectors and the like, are not to be ignored as well.
Other Common Charger Features
Testing the Battery
Most chargers come with an indicator level that measures the voltage, or charging percentage, of the battery. If this isn’t the case, one may have to go out and buy a separate battery tester. This device is especially important to have if the person doesn’t own an automatic charger.
Unlike older car battery chargers, automatic chargers shut off as soon as the battery is fully charged. This primarily prevents the battery from overcharging and getting damaged. It is equally as important to note that this automatic shut-off feature is controlled through different methods. In one setup called a solid state control, the battery shuts off by using resistors and capacitors to measure the voltage of the battery. Unfortunately, these components can fail, leaving behind a damaged battery. A microprocessor, on the other hand, controls the charger itself and is far more reliable and accurate. In fact, these types of chargers have seven different stages of charging: energizing, fast charge, absorption, completion, resting, exercising and restoring.
Most cables and terminals come with insulated clamps that protect one from electric shock. Ideally, one should never use a device that does not have insulated clamps.
Spark Resistant Terminals
As with insulated clamps, many car battery chargers come with spark resistant clamps, which automatically shut off the power source when they become disconnected from their terminals.
Testing the Alternator
Some car battery chargers even come with an alternator tester that measures alternator voltage.
Most importantly, one should fully read and consider the product’s warranty. These warranties can run anywhere from 90 days to five years. As always, this will entirely depend on the company. Also, make sure that the warranty covers manufacturing defects and accidental damage as well.
Reverse Polarity Alarm
This is an excellent feature for those who are new to charging car batteries. Hooking up the terminals the wrong way can result in serious damage to the battery, battery charger and person. A reverse polarity warning eliminates this possibility by alerting the user whenever they hook up the cables wrong. Some designs send off an alarm when this happens. Whether the person is new to charging or a professional, a reverse polarity warning is always a great safety feature to have.
It is imperative to know which chargers and batteries are compatible. Using the wrong charger, battery or both can cause damage to both the charger and battery. Keep in mind that car, boat, RV and motorcycle batteries should not be used on the same charger, as each battery type requires its own specific charger. Certain types of car batteries, such as flooded batteries, may be picky about chargers as well. However, the number one way to be sure is to look over the car battery charger’s instruction manual. Ensure that the charger you buy is the right one for your battery.
This is a great feature that can substitute the place of a portable charger. These chargers are small and come with a miniature battery which is able to start up a car easily.
Fast vs Slow Charge Rate
Believe it or not, most chargers have both a slow and fast charge setting. However, keep in mind that some models of chargers don’t have this feature. The fast charging option is great for one who needs their battery charged in a short amount of time. On the contrary, this faster-charging feature puts more strain and stress on the battery, which could potentially decrease the battery life. This is where the slow charging feature comes in handy. So although a slow charging rate is good for the battery, you’ll want the fast charging option for emergencies.
Although this guide is primarily about battery chargers, it is vital to discuss the two main types of batteries as well. If one owns multiple vehicles that have different batteries, they’re going to need the right type of charger or chargers to get the job done. For instance, flooded batteries happen to be the most common type. However, other batteries such as the AGM and gel cell batteries are gaining popularity. Using a solid-state charger on the latter batteries has been well known to cause severe internal damage. Therefore, the many different types of batteries and their ratings will be thoroughly discussed next.
In simple terms, amperage is the measure of how fast the electricity is traveling. There are many different types of amperage ratings as well, which include cranking amps, cold cranking amps, reserve capacity, and amps per hour.
Cranking amps is the total cranking power of a battery at a temperature of 32 degrees F. Cold cranking amps is the amount of amps the battery puts out at a temperature of “zero degrees F for 30 seconds without dropping down below 7.2 volts.” This rating is used to determine the right type of battery for a vehicle. Reserve capacity measures how long a battery can put out 25 amps while remaining above 10.5 volts. Amps an hour defines the absolute amperage rating of a battery. This is commonly used in deep-cycle batteries. For instance, 200 AH is equal to 20 amps at 10 hours, 200 amps for one hour, etc.
Flooded batteries, the most common type of batteries, come in both conventional and sealed versions. Sealed flooded batteries do not typically need to be maintained as they don’t need water periodically added, hence the name sealed. Conventional batteries, on the other hand, contain individual cells that are separated. The electrolytes eventually become used up in the charging process and need to be replaced with distilled water. In fact, these are commonly found in classic cars. What’s even more interesting is that some modern batteries still need this maintenance.
Instead of using a liquid like water as an electrolyte, gel batteries use a gel-like substance to keep the charging cycles going. By using a gel-like substance, the battery becomes more stable due to the gel remaining still during installation and driving.
Other Types of Batteries
Because this guide is primarily based on car battery chargers and not actual batteries, other battery types will not be thoroughly discussed. However, other types include AGM, starting, deep-cycle, NiMh and Lithium batteries. As a general rule of thumb, never use an older-design battery charger, such as a solid-state charger, for a newer design battery.
Categories of Car Battery Chargers
The Casual User
This category is for those who occasionally use their charger, such as in the case of an emergency. This person typically owns one to two cars and lives in a warm climate. These types of chargers are also great for charging smaller batteries such as personal watercraft, ATVs and even lawn equipment. For the most part, this type of charger will fit the average person’s needs. Below are some great chargers for the casual user.
This particular charger has an amp rating of 10, 6 and 2, meaning it can be set at different amperage levels. The overall dimensions are 4.5 inches in height and eight inches in length, making it extremely portable. Because it’s a smart charger, it’ll automatically shut off when done the charging. The cable length is 72 inches, giving one plenty of room to work with. The Pro-Logix PL2310 is able to charge conventional, maintenance free, AGM, gel cell, deep cycle and marine batteries.
The PL2320 version is able to charge all the same batteries as the PL2310 version. It also has automatic operation, smart clamp technology, a seven-segment LED display and a soft-start mode for really low batteries. The amp rating for this device is set at 20/10/2. It happens to be the same size as well, including the 72 inch cable.
Casual Plus User
These are more for people who do activities, such as dirt biking, off roading and the like, that require using a battery charger. Unlike the average person, this guy has multiple vehicles sitting in their driveway at one time. They also don’t drive them very much, causing the batteries to drain even faster. They may even own other vehicles such as RV’s, ATVs, dirt bikes, motorcycles, boats and such. In the worst situations, these people may live in climates with extremely cold weather that zaps a battery over night.
With an amp rating of 10/6/2/55, this charger is able to power most batteries. Because of the higher amp rating, it is able to charge batteries considerably faster. The 72 inch cable allows for plenty of room as well. The physical dimensions are seven inches in height and 10 inches in length, making it a little bigger than the previous charger. Thanks to the automatic feature, one won’t have to worry about overcharging.
Both the PL2520 and PL2510 version share the same physical dimensions, charging compatibility, automatic operation, seven segment LED display, soft start mode and smart clamp technology. However, what sets the PL2520 version apart from the former is its higher amperage. In fact, this version has no many amps that one can have a fully charged battery in a matter of minutes. This is especially important for those who live in cold climates.
The professional user is someone who owns a shop or simply owns a bunch of vehicles.
This car battery charger comes with a lengthy two-year warranty and an LCD display. Its dimensions are 23 inches in height and 15.8 inches in length. It can charge just about every battery that the previous versions can charge. However, this machine has a 5, 15, 40 and 60 amp charge mode. It also has a 250 amp charge mode for batteries that are completely dead.
Choosing the best car battery charger is a matter of knowing the different battery types and ratings. One should never get anything more than they need, as this will simply waste money. As with everything, there are tons of different makes and models of chargers out there. With that in mind, one should look into the charger’s warranty policy, as well as customer reviews. Education is key when it comes to finding the right battery charger for car.