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How to Keep Batteries Alive Through Winter

Ask collectors about the number one headache involved in keeping tractors running and they will likely snort, “Dead batteries.” 

Little wonder since collector tractors often don’t get the run time needed to keep their batteries in prime condition. And a battery that isn’t being recharged on a regular basis faces an early death. 

A whopping two thirds of batteries never reach their full life rating as a result of this, says Andy Anderson of BatteryStuff.com. 

Idle life leads to death

Idle batteries, especially those sitting in tractors during long winter months of storage, slowly lose their charge to parasitic drain. When this occurs, sulfur molecules in the sulfuric acid that constitutes a battery’s electrolyte solution attach themselves to a battery’s lead plates. That sulfur can coat the plates so thoroughly that in a surprisingly short time (often less than a couple of months) it prevents the battery from being recharged. This process is called sulfation and is the number one cause of battery failure.

Certainly, disconnecting the cables from a battery of a tractor going into storage is a good start. Even then, a fully charged battery in storage will deplete itself at a rate of 1% discharge per day. 

Store them for the winter

So your best bet is to remove the battery from the tractor and keep it charged in storage. By the way, storing batteries on concrete floors does not cause them to discharge any faster than if they are sitting on a wooden shelf. This myth was perpetuated in the early 1900s when battery cases were made of porous material. Today’s polypropylene or hard rubber-encased batteries are sealed better, so external leakage discharge is no longer a problem.

Wherever batteries are stored, be sure the area in not subject to freezing or high temperatures. In fact, high temps are worse for batteries. A battery stored at 95°F. will self-discharge twice as fast as one stored at 75°F.

Get a smart charger

Purchase a charger regulated to maintain a battery at normal levels for long storage periods. Such smart chargers use a microprocessor that senses when a battery has reached its peak charge and then switches to a float mode. This feature maintains voltage at a level sufficient to keep a battery from discharging, but it also prevents it from being overcharged.

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