Have you ever sat in traffic with the a/c blasting, running lights on, cooling fan running, stereo blaring, and you notice the amp gauge discharging and your signal lights are suddenly acting sluggish?
Rapid growth in automotive electronics is putting increasing demands on batteries and alternators. Safety technologies such as standard airbags, antilock brake systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESP), and powertrain and emissions applications like port fuel injection and closed loop catalytic converter systems all add to the power drain, as does the growing demand for comfort, convenience, and entertainment. Power windows, door locks, GPS, and powerful audio systems all contribute to the endless drain on vehicle charging systems.
A battery with a high Ah(Amp/hour) rating enables a vehicle to run longer under high drain conditions. Performance engines require more spark, and may also be running an electric water pump and electric power steering, both of which cause extra drain.
Fuel injectors also put a drain on the battery, as does the fuel pump. Add to this the heater and other electrical circuits, from video terminals to GPS, and you start to appreciate the immense demands put on a vehicle charging system.
When alternators first appeared on the market in the 1960s, power requirements were typically in the neighbourhood of 500 watts. In the 1980s, this power demand escalated to 1500 watts. Today, many production alternators are capable of 2000 watts, and designs are being developed that provide upwards of 3000 watts of electrical power output.
Accompanying this increase in electrical performance has been a proportional increase in heat loss of the rectifier bridge, since its thermal losses are essentially in line with output power.
The thermal challenges have also been compounded by the rise of underhood ambient temperatures in automotive vehicles. In the 1960s, the typical underhood inlet cooling air temperature to the alternator was 90 degrees Centigrade. By the late 1980s, this had jumped up to 110 degrees Centigrade. Today, applications approach the 130-degree range.
So what does the future hold?
The alternator’s relatively low cost per unit will ensure its continued use well into the future. Also, trends presently in place will certainly continue for the foreseeable future: higher electrical power demands, higher inlet cooling air temperatures, smaller package sizes, increased reliability, lower cost, and lower noise. Therefore, the thermal design challenges will not go away; they will only intensify.
The single most important thing you can do for your car battery is use it. An idle battery loses its charge, and when it does, its chemistry changes. Sulfates from the sulfuric acid inside the battery build up, weakening its ability to keep a charge. A battery left unattended on a shelf for six months is likely to die. Placed in a car that gets normal use, the same battery will last years.
But with use comes the need for maintenance. A conventional automotive battery is essentially a plastic box filled with pairs of lead plates suspended in a strong and dangerous concentration of sulfuric acid. The plates in each pair are made of slightly different materials, so a chemical reaction between the plates occurs, releasing electrons. Electrons are good. Chemical reactions cause problems.
A battery will have an Ah rating, which means it will supply a steady number of amps for 10 hours. For example, a 40Ah battery can provide a supply of 4A for 10 hours.
Another rating is the reserve power, which shows how many minutes the battery can provide a 25A flow at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. This tells you how much cranking power there is to start the vehicle. It also shows the life of the charge, which is useful on high-drain cars.
As with most items you purchase, the old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true when it comes to battery replacement. Generally speaking, the longer the warranty offered with the battery, the better it will be. This is key information that can help customers make an informed decision when selecting an appropriate battery for their vehicle.
“We offer a mix of two lines, one being a value-priced, yet high quality product, balanced with a premium brand name product at a higher price point,” explains Billy Norris, vice-president, national accounts for Interstate Batteries.
Interstate provides two product lines to cover both markets: Nationwide (value line) and Interstate (premium/brand name). “With these two lines, jobbers and WDs can feel confident that they are giving customers the very best value for their money,” says Norris.
In many cases, brand-name products drive the customer’s decision on a purchase. Norris agrees that interest in brand-name products varies by region. “But those WDs and jobbers that are only interested in selling a value line are missing out on opportunities for incremental sales and increased profits,” he adds.
Interstate’s strong presence in the installer market provides jobber partners with the opportunity to provide incremental sales support to their existing customer base in addition to battery sales opportunities.
“We promote this relationship through the use of flyers and line cards, which can be used as a tool to promote a jobber’s other lines as well as bringing in new potential customers for all of their parts offerings. This allows Interstate Batteries to not only promote our business of supplying top-quality batteries, but also our ability to grow a jobber’s overall business.”
According to Norris, brand name and performance go hand in hand when consumers are choosing a replacement battery. Warranty is also key.
“Consumers want to feel confident that in the event of a battery failure, they will be covered with a good warranty. Both of our lines offer a warranty that’s competitive in today’s market,” says Norris.
Most name-brand batteries currently on the market feature the latest in power storage technology and offer high performance in extreme weather conditions, and back this up with very competitive warranty programs.
For example, Interstate’s name-brand line includes the MT7 AGM Pure Matrix Power. This battery comes with a 48-month free replacement warranty. This high-performance battery features 99.9% pure-lead absorbed glass-mat and is ideal for luxury cars, SUVs, and emergency vehicles with high power demands.
Interstate’s Megatron Plus is a high-cranking battery that comes with a 30-month replacement warranty. With high cold cranking (CCA) ratings, it’s a top performer in cold weather.
Exide has introduced a line of Orbital AGM Automotive Deep Cycle batteries to meet the demands of serious car audio enthusiasts and low riders everywhere. The XCD Orbital battery is high tech, spiral wound, and sealed to handle the toughest audio applications. High-performance audio vehicles often have one starting battery and one or more deep cycle batteries, for energy-hungry audio amplifiers, CDs, DVDs, and game players. The XCD is also ideal for SUVs with winches, hydraulic pumps, and power-hungry accessories.
Spiral-wound cell design delivers performance and durability. The sealed valve-regulated battery is non-spillable and can be mounted upright or on its side. The XCD battery provides deep cycle power. Its highly absorbent glass mat separators provide cushioning for better vibration resistance, and increased reserve capacity provides RC ratings of up to 100 minutes.
The PowerFrame Grid Technology in Synergy batteries, from Calgary, Alberta-based Battery Direct, combines efficiency and environmental safety in one package.
Battery Direct’s Synergy battery features positive plate construction for superior service life and is supported by an industry-leading warranty program. Inside Synergy batteries the PowerFrame grid technology is built with structural integrity to minimize corrosion and grid fractures. The design optimizes the flow of electrons with a patented stamping technique that punches out the optimized ideal pattern every time. It also minimizes stress on the metal, giving each PowerFrame grid greater strength and longer life.
The PowerFrame grid technology is also a benchmark of the overall effort towards green product development. The manufacturing process used for making the positive metal grids embodied in automotive batteries reduces pollutant emissions, consumes 20% less energy than other similar processes and improves the quality and performance of automotive batteries.
Just as battery and alternator performance continues to improve through research, a savvy counter salesperson can increase sales volumes through research.
Keeping informed on the latest technologies through supplier training programs, trade magazines, technical bulletins, and interactive websites can make you the “go to” person when an installer calls in looking for a quick solution to a difficult problem. Your ability to solve an installer’s problem when the vehicle is on the hoist and the customer is in the waiting room is probably the most valuable asset you can have in your sales tool kit.