So, What Is a Trickle Charger?

trickle charger

Trickle chargers, also called battery maintainers, can come in handy if you have a struggling car battery or when it’s time to dust off the long-garaged cars or recreational vehicles like boats, jet skis, RVs, motorcycles, and golf carts. Even though you may be ready to hit the road (or water), it doesn’t mean your vehicle’s battery is.

There’s an easy way to prevent battery failure when you’re storing vehicles for a while, however. Read on for some expert advice about battery maintenance and how these trickle chargers work.

First, about your batteries

All batteries self-discharge, which is a decrease in power over time. Motorcycle batteries, for example, self-discharge 1% every day, even when not in use. The same goes for car batteries: keep a car stored in the garage for a couple months and you might not have enough battery juice to start it. A car’s alternator does the job of maintaining a healthy battery, but it won’t recharge a dead battery. That’s where a trickle charger comes into play. Basically, trickle chargers help the battery maintain power and stop self-discharge.

Even when not in use, a battery still gradually loses power.

How trickle chargers workhow a trickle charger works

Trickle chargers use electricity to replenish batteries at the same rate as the self-discharge. The energy is transferred in a “trickle,” thus the name. We recommend that you use a trickle charger that shuts off automatically, or goes in “float” mode, when your battery is fully charged; otherwise, you need to monitor your battery and unplug the charger when you have enough power. A trickle charger can overcharge and damage your battery if you leave it on for too long, so don’t forget about it!

The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

Low and slow wins the race

A quick jump charge from your neighbor or tow station may get your vehicle running, but it comes at a high cost to your battery by prematurely wearing it out. The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

trickle charger for atvs

Battery storage and maintenance tips

A trickle charger is just one tool you can use to maintain your vehicle’s battery life. To ensure you don’t end up stranded on the road or lake, you can also follow these steps:

  • Store your battery or vehicle in a cool location protected from extreme temperatures and changes.
  • Use a battery with the correct amperage needed for your vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual.
  • Reduce vibrations by tightening the battery’s hold-down clamps when in use.
  • Accidents happen, but try to avoid deep-discharging, aka “killing/draining,” your battery (by leaving on your vehicle’s lights for example).
  • Never keep a battery dead for long periods of time.
  • Keep your battery fully charged as often as possible.

So, do you use a trickle charger to help with keeping your battery powered? Let us know in the comments.

Tips on how to jump start a car

Advance Auto PartsBefore missing that important meeting, being late to pick the kids up from school or enduring first date embarrassment when you need to call to ask to be picked up, take the time to learn the basics of how to jump start a car battery yourself.

Many people are surprised at how easy it is to learn how to get car batteries running again, and quickly become confident in what to do if a battery gives out at a bad time.

Jump start with the following steps:

1)   First, park a working vehicle next to your car. It’s best to line them up side by side or hood to hood, but be sure they don’t touch. Then, turn off your car’s ignition and also turn off any accessories in your car such as a CD player, phone charger, dome light and so forth. Check to make sure your external lights are off, too, which can drain car batteries further.

2)   Then, with your jumper cables, connect the red positive clamp to your dead battery’s positive post. This is clearly marked by a plus sign on your car’s battery. Then, connect the other red clamp to the positive post on the good battery in the other vehicle.

3)   Next, make sure the cables are out of the car’s hood components and not tangled in any way. They should run along the ground and not rest on the battery itself, the engine or any other internal component of either vehicle.

4)   Take the black clamp and connect it to the good battery’s negative post. Then, connect the other black clamp (also known as the negative clamp) to any metal surface onto the inside of the dead car. Carefully check the cables entirely to be sure they are not lying against or tangled up with any moving parts of either vehicle.

5)   Start up the engine of the working car and let it idle for a few minutes. Then, start your dead car and wait a few more minutes for it to receive a bit more power from the good battery. If it is still unable to start up, give the battery a few more minutes to revive.

6)   When the car is started, undo the BLACK NEGATIVE clamps first. This should be the reverse order of how you placed them on the car and it’s essential you remove the negative ones first to avoid injury or damage. Continue to be careful to keep dangling cables out of the car’s internal parts.

7)   Drive your revived car around for a bit to make sure the battery is working properly. Do this in a parking lot or another area where you are safe if your car battery dies again.

8)   Do not turn off your vehicle until it’s had adequate time to run and recharge a bit on its own.

It’s really that simple to revive your car battery, and almost anyone can learn how to do it.

Also watch a video on how to jump start a car battery, created by automotive experts at Advance Auto Parts.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for more info on the quality car battery options available.

Molly’s Truck

Molly lives in the small white house on the hill. I can see it from my home about a half-mile away. Johnny, her husband, passed away last year. I stop in to check on her from time to time. A couple weeks ago, she came to see me with—no surprise—car troubles.

Dead car battery truckJohnny’s truck, a 1994 F150, has been stored in a barn since last year. With summer winding down, Molly was in her belated spring-cleaning mode, and wanted to haul a batch of old paint, worn tractor parts, depleted auto batteries, and half-empty bags of fertilizer to the annual county clean-up. But alas, the truck wouldn’t start. I volunteered to have a look.

The car battery had been in there for quite a while and looked a mess. Add to that the fact that one in four auto batteries on the road is about to fail, and jeez, it’s no surprise it wouldn’t start. The battery terminals were corroded, which I explained could be prevented by spraying battery terminal protector after first using a battery post and terminal cleaning brush. If the truck hadn’t been sitting so long, and hadn’t been stored in a hot barn—with heat being one of the worst enemies of a car battery—I would have just jump-started it, but it’s often better to just replace a car battery when it’s old like this one.

After pulling out the faded, old car battery, loading it into Molly’s trunk, and sending her on her way, I had to hold in a chuckle because she literally thought car batteries lasted 20 years. Beyond that, the truck needed some other TLC. I went back under the hood, checked the fluids (the radiator was bone dry), aired up the tires, and put fresh gas in the tank. Molly returned with a new car battery, surprised at how many other auto batteries there were to choose from.

I tightened the new car battery down, installed the cables, and told her to try it. And as luck—along with a little basic, car-maintenance ingenuity—would have it, the old Ford fired right up.

She put it in gear, and with a wave, was off with her load of old car batteries and assorted junk in tow. I wiped my hands on an old rag that I had found in the barn, satisfied that I had helped a friend, but knowing it probably wouldn’t be the last I’ll see of Molly…or her truck.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts offers free car battery testing, recycling and installation with purchase. We’d be happy to check your car battery, at one of more than 3,500 Advance Auto Parts stores.