If you have old cars (bikes, boats, planes, trucks, whatever), you likely have (or should have) what everyone used to call “trickle chargers” those little plug-in devices that keep your car batteries topped up and hopefully ready to fire at the first twist of the key. They are great devices for sure, but much as electronics and battery technology have advanced over the years, so has the art of battery charging and maintaining devices.
One product line I’m particularly impressed with is from CTEK, which loosely stands for “Charging TEKnology.” What’s important with any of these devices is that they should be able to slowly, and deeply charge up a battery from stone cold dead, then keep it topped up at peak levels without overcharging.
Before we get into any product specifics, let’s talk about the “whys” of using a charger/maintainer. The benefits are many, the downsides are few, and the cost savings can be great:
The first and most obvious bene is that you never again have to stumble into the garage and try to crank over your ride only to have not it start, and then you need to get out a “big” charger or the jumper cables…no fun and a waste of time.
Another important factor is that lead acid batteries, the type found and used in nearly every car, truck, and thing with a motor, don’t like to be dead. It’s bad for the cell plates inside, and absolutely shortens the life of the battery. And if you haven’t noticed, high quality vehicle batteries are expensive. So the more time it spends dead, the sooner you’ll be replacing it.
Constant depletion and recharging cycles also shorten the life of your battery; you know the deal, the battery is dead so you bolt on the charger and charge it up to full, then drive the car and everything is golden. Then the car sits a month or two or six, and the battery goes flat again. This kills the battery slowly and painfully.
Finally, when the battery is low, but has just enough juice to fire the car, your car’s regulators sense that the battery is low, and then amps up your charging system to full power to restore the battery…which is really hard on your car’s alternator, regulator, and diode packs if so equipped. Once the car starts and senses a low battery, it goes to full jolt and then down, and then full power, and then off, and you restart the car…and the cycle continues. Putting undue, and very harsh strain on your charging system, wiring, and battery. You don’t need to do this! Just get a high tech, quality charger maintainer to keep everything in balance.
My CTEK unit is the MXS 5.0 model, which has a variety of modes and internal electronic processes it goes through to evaluate a battery’s condition and charge status, prepare and condition it for charging, then charge it up to full, and then regulate maintenance charging and keep things safely topped up for two days, two months, or two years. It’ll charge a battery up from stone cold dead, which takes some time, as it needs to happen slowly. A series of status lights on the side of the unit tell you at what stage of charging its at, and when your batter is fully charged and ready to go. Magic! I’ve now tested it on several of my cars, and it works a treat on all of them. The unit is light, and compact and will fit in your glovebox or backpack. It’s no more difficult to use than connecting the red and black alligator clips to your battery, and plugging it into the wall.
Something to remember: These units are for slow, deep, regulated charging and maintenance; they are not jumper chargers. You can’t expect to attach this little guy to a dead battery, and key the ignition for a “jump start.” Its not designed or powered for that job, and you’ll either blow the unit’s fuse or damage its internal electronics.
My particular unit has selectable modes for car, motorcycle, boat or aircraft use, and the little LED readouts tell you everything you need to know about the process and your battery’s state of charge.
If you have a vehicle that tends to sit in between your Sunday drives , races, rallys and cruise ins, I strongly recommend you maintain its battery with a charger/maintainer, and I equally recommend you consider one of the high tech “Smart Chargers” from CTEK. Learn more at CTEK.com.