GETTING WITH THE PROGRAM
There is quite a bit of outdated (but still widely used) battery technology out there, which is weird since technology everywhere else is moving too fast to keep up with. Why would you drive down the road with your lights on, listening to your iPod, using a GPS system, talking on your cell phone, and all the while trusting the 70-plus-year-old battery technology to keep up with all of that and more? The electrical demands of today's cars far exceed what they were just a decade ago. This goes for the "hobby" cars we build, as well. They are getting all of this new technology built into them, including the current powertrain swaps. Let's take a quick look at what separates the men from the boys in the battery world.
There are four technologies used in automotive batteries today: traditional flat plate (flooded), gel cell, flat-plate absorbent glass mat (AGM), and SPIRALCELL (spiral-wound AGM) technology. The chemical reaction in traditional flat plate (flooded) batteries is produced from suspended lead plates, hung from tabs, reacting with free-flowing electrolyte (acid). Since they are the most common product on the market, flooded batteries offer more size and design options than other technologies, and are readily available at most outlets. Being the most common and inexpensive batteries out there, they do have their disadvantages. In flooded batteries, metals are added to the lead to maintain the integrity of the flat plates. The introduction of these metals can accelerate corrosion of the flat plates, which in turn shortens battery life. Plus, most flooded batteries do require maintenance, meaning that it will be necessary to add water on a scheduled/regular basis, increasing the down time and unwanted maintenance costs.
Much like flooded battery designs, the gel cell design also incorporates lead plates reacting with the electrolyte. However, gel cell batteries introduce silica to the electrolytes, immobilizing the acid and making it less likely to spill. Gel cell batteries typically require a specific charger because the recharging process must be precisely controlled with lower voltages and slower recharge rates, adding to the higher average battery cost of gel cell technology. Also, gel cell batteries are susceptible to overcharging. To further address various battery issues, including shortened shelf life, spillage, gassing, and failure due to vibration and heat, flat-plate absorbent glass mat (AGM) technology was developed. This technology places an absorbent glass mat between the lead plates, essentially immobilizing the acid (holding the electrolyte in place). The physical bond between the separator, fibers, lead plates, and containers make these batteries spill-proof and even more vibration-resistant than flooded batteries. Although they are more expensive, the flat-plate AGM batteries are virtually maintenance-free, spill-proof, and more vibration-resistant than traditional batteries. A major disadvantage of flat-plate AGM technology batteries is their limited size and availability. The final and most advanced battery technology available for performance vehicles is spiral-wound AGM or SPIRALCELL TECHNOLOGY, as offered by Optima Batteries. Like flat-plate AGM, Optima's SPIRALCELL TECHNOLOGY Batteries restrict all of the acid in an absorbent glass mat. The mat is spiral-wound with lead grids and placed in one of six cylinders within the battery to create the lead acid reaction. Each cylinder is compressed and locked tightly in place, creating a durable and vibration-resistant battery, able to withstand even the roughest terrain. The reaction, housed in a completely sealed case, also means no acid spills or damage to a vehicle's electrical components. In addition, Optima uses a much purer lead than traditional batteries (99.9 percent), making for a lower rate of corrosion, and therefore having double the life span of flat-plate batteries!
Now that we found the top of the battery food chain, let's look at the two choices in performance that Optima offers: the RedTop and YellowTop batteries. Both are built with Optima's patented SPIRALCELL Technology, providing a strong and clean power source that surpasses any of today's filled lead/acid batteries. Both offer 15 times the vibration resistance, and up to twice the life of ordinary batteries. Both have sealed cells that make the battery spill-proof, even if you install it on its side. This prevents external gassing and leaking, which can damage engine components and limit battery performance. Where do they differ? Well, do you need more starting power, or do you have high electrical demands from accessories?
If your battery is used in vehicles that demand extra starting, reliability, and performance, Optima RedTop batteries deliver the quality you demand. RedTop batteries deliver a higher level of power to the starter in those critical first 10 seconds of the vehicle's starting cycle. The SPIRALCELL Technology allows for the lowest internal resistance of any battery on the market today. This decreased internal resistance, along with the completely sealed case, is the key to Optima's unparalleled high power delivery, increased cycle life, and fast recharge capability for fast recovery in short driving cycles. Ideal for seasonal use, fully charged it can sit unused for up to 12 months at room temperature (or below) and still start your car.
If your vehicle has a lot of accessories like running lights, high-performance stereo/AV system, winches, or hydraulics, you're putting significant strain on your charging system. Optima YellowTop deep-cycle batteries provide the extra performance and deep cycling capability to meet those demands. They have a greater cycle life so they can be drained and recharged more often. The YellowTop handles many discharges as well as recharges without losing significant capacity. YellowTops are also great for seasonal use because of its very low self-discharge rate. That means you can store your vehicles all winter or just between shows without regular charging, and still fire it up when you need it. Just like the RedTop, when fully charged it can sit unused for up to 12 months at room temperature (or below) and still start your car.
After sorting through all this info from Optima and speaking with them about my needs for my daily driver, we decided the RedTop would be best since I won't be running any big accessories or electrical devices. I know that changing out a battery is straightforward, so I thought I would share just a few tips and things to look for while doing so since this area of our engine bays is usually overlooked.
Once you get the battery back in, make sure you secure it tightly with the battery held down, and I don't mean by a bungee cord or its equivalent. Even thought the Optima can take the abuse from being knocked around, it can damage the cables, connections, or fall into the fan and really mess things up. If you need to get a new hold down, do it. It's cheap insurance. This can be a big problem in a lowered vehicle that rides a little rougher. Also, be careful to not over-tighten the connections.
THE SMARTEST BATTERY CHARGER IN THE WORLD!
...Is what its maker, CTEK, claims their product to be. CTEK is a Sweden-based company, and they have been working in the battery market since 1992. It appears that they have come up with a revolutionary little battery charger. As you can see in the photo, I set my phone next to it. The charger is just a little bigger than the phone. We all know battery chargers to be those heavy boxes with a bunch of switches that make a lot of noise, or those even bigger boxes on wheels that make even more noise. Going back to cells phones as an example, they aren't as big as they used to be. In fact, they are probably 20-30 times smaller than the first generation of those big mobile phones. In today's age of blindingly fast electronics development, it only makes sense that something as primitive as a battery charger is due to step into the new millennium. CTEK has brought it here. In Europe, when you buy an Aston Martin, Mercedes, or Harley you get one of these chargers with it because they are so easy to use and it takes a load off the dealers for warranty work.
They are sealed, waterproof, noiseless, can withstand being run over, and will not harm your car if hooked up wrong. They use Switch Mode technology like the one used by a laptop computer charger. The settings on it are simple to use, and with the way they are designed they will FULLY charge (as opposed to overcharging) because of their preciseness. CTEK's chargers work well with Optimas. In many cases, they can revive a dead battery through a process that mixes the contents of the battery back up. For under $75 it's worth it to keep your Optima, or any other battery, at its best. Because of CTEK's prestige in Europe, for now they are being selective about who carries them overseas. For more info and to buy, check out www.ctek.com.