The Basics Of The Car Battery

It is hard to believe that the first automobiles did not have a battery of any sort. The starting procedure was done by hand (sometimes call the starting handle or crank). All dials were mechanical; lights were sometimes gaslights and the horn, something you squeezed to get a noise from. The introduction of the car battery into the fossil fuel drivel automotive sector, created that convenience and automation that we now take for granted. The car battery became the electrical power point for the modern motor vehicle.

what a modern car battery may look like

It Needed To Be Rechargeable

A core consideration is that all batteries needed to be rechargeable, initially from dynamos and then alternators. The circular movement of the engine once started would turn the alternator creating electricity which was fed back into the battery keeping it charged. Voltages have risen since the first introduction positive earthed 6 volts has moved to the more modern negative earthed 12 volt system.

The most amount of power used by the battery is during start up, where a heavy starter motor tuned over the engine until a spark and combustion begins and the engine then fired and turned under its own fuel and created its own spark.

By driving the vehicle for certain distances the battery would be recharged ready for the next start up process. Ironically the alternator change needs to be slightly higher than 12v to charge the battery, normal around 13.5 volts or just higher. This is how to check is an alternator is working correctly, but connecting a volt meter to its terminals whilst the engine is running and measuring if there is at least 13,5v. If there is less, the alternator is not functioning correctly.

a typical old alternator used for charging

Powerful Ampere

Depending on the size of the engine and weather conditions, the typical auto battery needed to be very powerful, to turn over a large engine and its cylinder until it fired up. A typical household battery would ever hold that kind of power. Even the smallest battery will deliver over 40 amps of power and that increases with larger engine vehicles.

The manufacturing process would include lead encasement and acids across several cells to produce this power. They can be bought as sealed units or with flaps that can be opened to add distilled water or acid, should they need maintenance.

The Physical Size And Terminals Should Suit The Vehicle.

Every car, van or truck has a space allocated for the battery under the bonnet (American Hood). Obviously to suit the manufacturers recommended brand of battery to be used. A coding system is often used to ensure to buy a suitable replacement, even if the brand is changed. It is also important to ensure the terminals are on the correct side. Sometime, positive is on the right hand side, sometimes the negative terminal is.

use the correct recomended battery

There are mainly 2 types of terminal. The first is where a clamp goes around the round terminal and the second is where a bolt fits through the terminal. Both are tightening to complete the connection. Often a plastic cover with protect the terminal form the weather. Sometimes as part of a servicing routine, grease will also be added to protect.

the clamp conector with cover to protect

Modern Vehicle Use

There are more electronics on vehicles now than we could ever imagine not many years ago. But the good news is, technology has also moved forward regarding the charging process and electric management. So in theory, in most cases the alternator would handle all the required electricity whilst the engine is running. All the battery will do is act as a conductor to the process and all itself to be recharged for the starting process.

Going Forward: The Future Role of Batteries

No-one is likely to argue that electric cars will play a bigger role in future transportation options, once the price of these vehicle types role and driving range increases. The future of the battery is likely to look completely different, where charging needs to be much quicker, weight needs to be less and long life operating is even more important and of course manufacturing costs needs to be cheaper than they are today.

The electric Nissan Leaf

Most electric vehicles use “NiMH” or “Lithium Iron” batteries rather than the traditional lead acid types. But this technology is moving on fast although not as fast as the mobile phone revolution, over recent decades. Supply and demand will dictate how quick these types of batties will improve and reduce in cost. Ironically the price of oil will probably be a factor, as vehicle owners loko for a cheaper energy source than petrol or diesel.

Disposing Of Old Batteries

There are strict European rules to how to dispose of batteries that have come to the end of their life or during the scrapping process of a vehicle. The acids within the battery are very toxic and need handling with care, not to mention the lead. The acid needs to neutralised, water is purified and the lead is then mantled down. This can only happen at a licensed recycling centre. Most scrap yards with either do the process themselves, or send them to a third party business to do it for them.