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If you have a jet ski, a rarely driven vintage car, a golf cart, a boat, or any other vehicle that only sees active use occasionally (if at all), then you're no doubt very familiar with the fact that batteries die. In the case of a vehicle that's driven frequently, if not daily, the alternator handles most of the job of keeping the battery juiced up and functional from one drive to the next. A vehicle that spends months (or even years) sitting in a garage or a shed between uses, on the other hand, may not be able to start up at all if it's been left to its own devices for too long.

That's because all vehicle batteries self-discharge at a slow rate over time. Granted it's only a rate of about a percent per day, but those percents can quickly add up to a completely dead battery over a couple of months or more. Naturally not everyone can make time to start up each and every vehicle they happen to own as often as they start the car they use for their daily commutes, but trickle chargers can be a huge help in making up the difference. Here's a closer look at what they are, how they work, and how they can take some of the guesswork out of battery maintenance for you.

Trickle Chargers: What Are They and How Do They Work?

So, what is a trickle charger and how do trickle chargers work? In essence, a trickle charger is a special type of battery charger designed to replenish a vehicle battery at a very low, slow rate. (The slow, gradual charging speed is actually why they’re called “trickle” chargers in the first place.) In most cases, the charge rate is about equal to the battery’s natural rate of self-discharge. This makes it possible to leave the battery connected to the charger on a long-term basis, as there’s little to no chance of it actually overcharging the battery and damaging it in the process. Other benefits of the “slow and steady” trickle charge approach to battery maintenance include:

  • A better, more thorough charge that you can really trust
  • A longer, more efficient lifespan for your battery
  • A much more convenient way to keep your battery road-ready when your vehicles aren’t in use

For best results, invest in a trickle charger that automatically self-regulates and goes into float mode once your battery is fully charged. If yours does not do this, you will definitely want to keep an eye on the process to make sure your battery doesn’t wind up overcharged.

Trickle Chargers as Compared to Other Charge Methods

Of course, trickle chargers aren’t the only ways to keep a battery charged up and ready to go. That said, is it the best way or simply something that’s nice to have on hand? How does it stack up against other more commonly used ways to keep a battery charged or replenish a battery’s charge from scratch once it’s nearly been depleted? Here’s a closer look at the answers to all of those questions and more.

  • If you already have a standard battery charger, you may be wondering why you can’t just go ahead and use that to keep your batteries full. The answer is that you can, but it truly isn’t what’s best for the battery. Faster isn’t always better and this is definitely an instance where that would be the case, as the faster the charge, the harder the process is on the battery. You don’t want to use a standard charger on a long-term unattended basis at all, as it can be extremely dangerous. The battery can actually overheat and even explode.
  • Jumping your battery to get it started is actually the hardest on its integrity, so it’s something to refrain from unless it’s an absolute emergency. It’s definitely not a process to subject your batteries to as a rule.
  • Simply making it a point to start your vehicles and drive them around every so often seems like an easy solution, so long as you have the time and patience to work it into your schedule. However, your vehicle’s alternator doesn’t actually put out much of a charge. Driving around the block a time or two definitely isn’t enough to keep your battery fully charged, so you’re likely not replenishing it to the extent most people think they are.
  • You can always drop your vehicle off at your favorite body shop for the day and have a mechanic handle the task of fully charging your battery. However, this isn’t a convenient or cost-effective solution for most people.

At the end of the day, the right trickle charger can really take a lot of the guesswork out of keeping idle batteries fully charged. It’s safer, it’s more efficient, and it’s a lot more convenient than many of the alternatives. It’s also a much better solution for people who really need to be able to “set it and forget it” for the most part when it comes to managing stored vehicles or seasonal rides.

More Battery Maintenance Tips To Know

Using the right charger is a good start when it comes to taking care of your batteries, but it’s not the only thing you can do to maintain a battery’s integrity, especially during charging. Always make sure your car battery’s caps are in place before charging. Make sure your battery and the space around it is clear of any metal objects or materials before beginning the charging process. In the event there’s a short, you don’t want any sparks to be generated, as they’re a fire hazard. You’ll also want to refrain from wearing metal bracelets or rings while connecting or disconnecting a battery, as you can sustain burns.

AutoZone is proud and pleased to be your one-stop resource for everything you need to keep your vehicles in perfect working order, including battery maintenance supplies and services. Explore the possibilities today!

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Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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