Any driver who's been behind the wheel for many years probably knows the feeling of turning an ignition key and hearing nothing. It's that dreaded sign that the car's battery is either low on power or dead. A trickle charger can get the battery back up to speed or prevent it from dying in the first place.
There are numerous reasons why owning a trickle charger makes sense. If a car isn't driven every day or is stored in a climate where the battery faces the possibility of freezing, it can be helpful to attach a trickle charger to make sure the car is always ready to start when its needed. Owners of garaged vintage cars would definitely be wise to keep a trickle charger on hand.
Why Buy a Trickle Charger?
While a jump box, fast charger or jump starter has enough power to replace a battery and get the spark plugs firing, or quickly charge the battery at a high amp rate, they're not always the most prudent method for rekindling the ignition's power source. A trickle charger provides a small, steady supply of amps to bring the battery up to its power level over a longer period of time, which is usually better for the health of the equipment. Many battery manufacturers recommend using a trickle charger because a power source with a high amp rate can cause overheating.
A trickle charger can also be used in combination with a jump box, first getting the car started and then using the trickle charger when the car is at rest to finish the battery recharging. Prudent car owners may want to invest in both. This guide will focus on buying a trickle charger.
Trickle Charger Features to Consider
Not all trickle chargers are made alike. Here's a list of features that make sense to consider.
There can be a notable disparity in the quality of trickle chargers. Brand names such as CTEK, Schauer, Exide, Battery Tender, Die Hard and Schumacher are well established and may be more expensive than other chargers. That doesn't mean these chargers are definitely better than other brands, but they have earned a reputation for products that last longer.
The amount of ampage the trickle charger provides will often determine how long it will take to recharge the battery. A driver should know how many amps (or CCA) his or her car's battery is so there aren't any surprises when it's time to recharge. To find the amp amount, take a look at the owner's manual or measure the battery with a voltmeter. Depending on the power level of a trickle charger and the size of a battery, it can take hours or days for the trickle charger to fully restore a battery.
There are many types of trickle chargers for sale, but not all of them are made for charging a car battery. A search online will yield trickle chargers made for boats, motorbikes, motor homes and more. Be mindful of the charger's intended use before buying.
Plug-in or Solar?
Some of the new trickle chargers offer the option of using the sun's power to recharge a car's battery. A solar-powered trickle charger can be great for both economical and environmental reasons. However, a solar charger may require a certain amount of direct sunlight to properly work. It makes sense to read the description. When buying a plug-in trickle charger that wasn't manufactured for the Australian market, be sure it includes an adapter and will work properly with the power source.
Since many trickle chargers work over several hours or days, few drivers will want to regularly check if the battery is completely charged. A trickle charger with an automatic shutoff ensures that it will stop charging when the battery is full.
Using a Trickle Charger
Before buying a trickle charger, it makes sense to know how to use one. Thankfully, it's pretty easy. Most trickle chargers consist of a box where the electronics are housed, a plug, and two clips to attach to the battery. Make sure the car is parked in a well-ventilated area where it won't be rained on. There's a possibility that the charging process will create hydrogen gas, which isn't good to keep in an enclosed space.
Find a suitable grounding location, often on the frame of the car. Once the charger is grounded, it's possible to attach the alligator clips, the (black) negative one first and then the (red) positive. Double check that the negative clip is attached before plugging in the charger. Plug the charger in, turn it on and make sure it's charging properly. While some trickle chargers can be left attached to a car for months, others should only be connected for a few days. It makes sense to check the manual for details.