Side by Side: Battery chargers

Agriculture.com Staff 05/18/2006 @ 8:30am

This battery charger sees regular duty on the Dick (right) and Bob McPherson farm near Norwalk, Iowa. The brothers have 23 vehicles on the road or in the field. (Note: Some battery chargers are designed for outdoor use and some are not. As a precaution in damp situations, use a ground fault interrupter or plug the charger in inside. Furthermore, protect the charger from moisture getting into the case.)

One of the most aggravating sounds on a farm is an engine that won't quite turn over because of a weak battery.

But having the right kind of battery charger in the shop can reduce the level of aggravation and the amount of valuable time lost.

When it comes to battery chargers, size matters. A 10- to 50-amp charger is fine for automobiles and yard equipment. But when you start talking tractors and trucks, it's nice to have a charger with 200 to 300 amps of cranking power. That's big enough to get a tractor going in a hurry (unless a battery is shot). Plus, it can charge batteries faster.

Pete Maziarz, customer service manager for Schumacher, a major manufacturer of battery chargers, says, "The cranking amperage of the starter motor in your machine is the determining factor on how big a charger you need and what kind of draw load a battery is going to see."

The table (see page 2 of this article) has information about several common brands of battery chargers. They are all wheel chargers, and most of them have about 250 amps of cranking power. But when shopping, don't automatically rule out some of the 200-amp models with a handle instead of wheels. They can be really convenient as long as 200 amps is enough cranking power. Plus, they are less expensive.

As you would expect, there are some significant price differences among brands of battery chargers. Perhaps more surprising is the wide range of prices among retailers for the same brand and model.

Online retailers often have lower prices because they have very little overhead. However, they aren't equipped to provide service like a storefront dealer is. Only you can decide how important that is for your operation.

Most of these chargers handle 6- and 12-volt batteries. Some also handle 24-volt batteries.

Most chargers have several numbers printed on the case. If the largest number is 250, that typically means it has 250 amps of cranking power for 12-volt batteries.

The lowest number is often 10. That means it has a 10-amp setting for slow charges, which big batteries sometimes need. However, some big chargers also have a 2-amp setting for charging motorcycle and lawn mower batteries.

Features account for some price differences. Most of the chargers in this size range have ammeters. An ammeter shows you the amperage that is being forced into the battery.

Voltmeters are less common. They indicate the state of charge of a battery. Randy Judge is the sales manager for NAPA distribution center in Des Moines, Iowa. He thinks opting for a voltmeter "is money well spent."

Most battery chargers come with fairly detailed operating instructions. There is also a wealth of information available online. For example, a John Deere site (http://jdparts.deere.com/partsmkt/document/english/pmac/5666_gn_JDLead_ AcidBatteryChargeProcedure.htm) has a useful six-page pamphlet on charging procedures for batteries.

If that whets your appetite, go to www.uuhome.de/william.darden/batlinks.htm. Bill Darden of batteryfaq.org has compiled a 51-page list of Web addresses for books, manuals, magazine articles, and directories about battery care and maintenance.

This battery charger sees regular duty on the Dick (right) and Bob McPherson farm near Norwalk, Iowa. The brothers have 23 vehicles on the road or in the field. (Note: Some battery chargers are designed for outdoor use and some are not. As a precaution in damp situations, use a ground fault interrupter or plug the charger in inside. Furthermore, protect the charger from moisture getting into the case.)

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