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Pulling in the power

12-volt batteries are a win-win for garages and customers but only if the opportunities are grasped, as Rob Marshall finds…

Languishing as we are, in the post-Christmas hangover, most people are keen to keep expenditure to a minimum. This poses a problem for garages, because it is even harder to persuade customers that it is a good idea to replace a part before it fails. Of course, any business must make a profit to survive but you should not feel guilty for thinking about the bottom line. In most cases, you are also saving customers money in the long run, as well as helping them to avoid inconvenient and potentially dangerous situations that come with flat batteries.

Grasping the nettle…

Varta reminds us of its findings that nearly one in three 12-volt batteries needs workshop attention. This means that garages are not just losing out financially, but they are also not acting in their customers’ best interests, by omitting to assess the battery on every vehicle that enters the workshop. Ecobat agrees with Varta that EFB and AGM batteries require more up-to-date testing equipment that supplies information about not just the State of Charge but also State of Health and highlights its EBT780 for consideration. Banner Batteries adds that modern testers can assess the entire charging system and promotes its BBT HD1+ tester as one that does just that. Yet, testing is only one part of the diagnostic
process. Ecobat reminds us that new batteries require validating with the car’s Battery Management System, for the correct charging algorithms to be applied to optimise the new battery’s life.

Not all 48-volt Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicles use AGM batteries. This 2023 Ford Puma uses an EFB. While it could be upgraded to an AGM, come replacement time, it should never be downgraded to a ‘standard’ flooded battery.

Avoiding temptations…

Should an impecunious customer sanction a battery replacement, resist any pressure to fit the cheapest battery you can, especially if it downgrades the original specification. Ecobat says that downsizing is a false economy. As battery performance levels are dictated by the carmaker, owners should not opt for anything below this standard. This applies not just to reducing the capacity (CCA) but also the technology type. Varta says that, if an Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) has been removed, it should be replaced with an AGM and garages should not downgrade to a traditional flooded battery, known also as an SLI, or Starter, Lights and Ignition.

While most technicians are familiar with the delicate battery monitoring sensor on the negative terminal, they do not negate battery replacement programming. Interestingly, Hella recommends that the BMS and its cable be replaced at every battery change.

Support, or charge?

Most garages realise the importance of supporting the battery during protracted diagnostic or software update sessions. Apart from the corruption risks, a technician does not wish to be led down the wrong paths, due to faults caused by low-voltage situations. Ecobat argues that battery life could be reduced as the result of a deep discharge, something a garage would not want, while the vehicle is on-site.

Yet, most cars cannot recharge their 12v batteries fully and so offering an overnight recharging service for low-mileage users might be beneficial, should testing indicate a low state of charge.

LKQ Euro Car Parts explains that a battery charger goes through various stages of float to provide current, to define and supply exactly what the battery needs, when it is not under load. In contrast, a battery support unit provides a constant power supply and can react in milliseconds to a sudden power draw that may be caused by, for instance, a door being opened.

Going the extra mile…

While Varta agrees that you should fit like-for-like, it also sanctions fitting like-for-better. In most cases, this involves fitting a superior and more profitable battery that is more likely to last longer. Varta advises that, should a garage choose to store a range of batteries, it recommends the AGM range so you can keep your stock range manageable. The main reason is that these premium lead-acid batteries can be fitted to all cars, including those that are electrified.

Ecobat recommends strongly that technicians consider that the battery needs to satisfy not just the vehicles’ systems but also driving cycles. If the recommended specification battery has failed not just due to old age, upgrading the replacement would be a sensible idea. Ecobat says that an inexpensive battery can cost more than a more expensive one that lasts up to four times longer. In start/stop applications, upgrading from an EFB to an AGM could make a significant difference.

Even so, Banner Batteries highlights that the most significant challenge facing suppliers of automotive batteries relates to incorrect use and fitting of the wrong battery type, particularly when it comes to start-stop applications. Should you be unsure, this may be an area on which you may wish to brush up your skills for 2024.

Banner claims that its BBT HD1+ tests not just battery state of charge and health but also the charging system. Note the print-out, which you can hand to the customer as evidence of your findings.

Battery finder links (battery finder rests within the drop-down menu)

About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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