Lead Acid Battery

Unless you have a hybrid vehicle, you have a lead acid battery in your car. A lead acid battery provides the energy that your car needs to start, as well as any energy that is used when the car is off. Lead acid batteries use a combustible chemical reaction involving lead plates, sulfuric acid and electrolytes. In essence, a car’s alternator feeds electric power into the vehicle and the battery once the car is on, and this process allows the battery to convert that electric energy into chemical energy, which is used once again to start the car.

How does a car's lead acid battery work?
The lead acid battery in a car is called a starting battery. Starting batteries work by discharging power quickly, which is needed in the process of starting a car. A starting battery spends most of its time at or near fully charged; starting the car only uses about 20 percent of the batteries power, meaning that it's possible to go through the batteries lifespan only using about that much power. As opposed to deep cycle batteries, they do not perform well at low levels.

The battery's power comes from its electrolytes interacting with its lead and lead dioxide plates. The lead dioxide plates are placed in a solution comprised of sulfuric acid and water. This solution causes a solution that releases electrons, the batteries energy source. The energy flows through the conductors, interacting with the lead plates and changing the surface to lead sulfate. When the car is on, the alternator reverses the process, recharging the battery and bringing it to its original state. In a starting battery, the lead plates are very thin, which is what allows more power to flow out quicker, but inhibits its lasting ability.

How do I care for a lead acid battery?
As mentioned earlier, starting batteries are not built for long, sustained discharge (as opposed to deep cycle lead acid batteries). Beyond performance, however, starting batteries actually cannot take being fully discharged, as occurs when the car lights are left on when the car is off. Done more than a few times, this process permanently damages the battery. Because of this, the best way to help your car batteries lifestyle is to not use it when the car is off. If not used, the battery will likely not use any more than 20% of its charge throughout its lifetime. This can add months, or even years, to a batteries lifecycle.

It is important to clean your battery about once every six months, as this will help with the battery's sulfation process. Make sure you disconnect the cables before cleaning. Also, check the battery case and alternator for cracks to make sure their integrity is completely intact. Another good idea is investing in a battery load tester. This won't care for your battery, per se, but it will allow you to follow your battery's degradation as it ages. This way, you will know in advance how close your battery is to dying, and make an informed decision on when to buy your next battery.

How long will we be using lead acid batteries?
The technology for lead acid batteries is more than 100 years old. With the growing popularity of hybrid cars, companies are scrambling to find better battery technology. Lithium batteries, in particular, have received much attention. It’s almost certain that we’ll be using lead acid batteries for at least the next 20 years, but technology is constantly changing and evolving, and there is no way of knowing how long lead acid batteries will be the primary source of car battery power.

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