Battery 101: The Slow Trickle Charge

The odds are pretty good you’ve at least heard of a trickle charger, and can figure out what it does from context clues. The question most charger newbies have is, “Why use a trickle charger?” The simplest answer: trickle chargers are great for maintaining a battery as opposed to just blasting it with a fast charge and moving on.

While regular chargers are of course effective, they can actually shorten the life of your battery over time if not used properly. Trickle chargers won’t give you a quick burst of power, but they will help you maintain the charge in your battery when it’s being stored. Let’s break it down a bit.

Why a stored battery dies

All batteries have a self-discharge rate. It doesn’t matter if you fully charge the battery before you store it or you’ve simply parked the car in your driveway for a minute. As soon as the battery is no longer in use it will self-discharge.

Different batteries will discharge at a different rate, but regardless of the rate of discharge, over time your battery will die. Most people don’t have to worry about the rate of discharge because as soon as they start their car, the alternator recharges the battery and all is right with the world.

The trouble begins when you let the battery sit. If your battery is getting on in years it can take as little as a day or two of sitting before your battery calls it quits from self-discharge alone. The longer the battery sits, the more likely you are to come back to a dead battery.

How to store a battery

There is more than one way to store a batteryalthough some are clearly better than others.

For instance, if you don’t have access to a trickle charger, but you know you’ll be letting your boat or motorcycle sit for the season, you may want to remove the battery from the item it’s powering and then hook it up to a charger to fully charge.

From there you’ll want to check in on it and charge it up as needed to maintain a full charge. Check out this post on how to store your battery for more details. There are quite a few challenges with this method but it can work. Want to avoid the complications of over or undercharging? That’s where trickle chargers come in.

How trickle chargers can save your battery life

Just like a regular charger, trickle chargers use electricity to charge up the battery. A trickle charger just does so at a slower rate, typically at the same rate as the batteries self-discharge.

Most trickle chargers come equipped with a float, or an automatic shut off that will keep the battery from overcharging. (There are some models that don’t have this feature so it’s important to keep an eye on it to keep the battery from overcharging.)

Keeping your battery charged at a slow and steady rate results in a better charge without reducing the life of your battery like a regular charger does.

There is a lot more to maintaining your batterythan just making sure it’s charged. How you charge it and having a regular maintenance routine will keep your battery working at peak levels for the entirety of its life cycle.