This month I am tapping out a few words between running around and prepping a number of vehicles in readiness for a crossing of the Simpson Desert with numerous guests from overseas.
A considerable challenge has been the setting up of vehicles with sufficient fridge space and systems to keep them ticking along nicely so we don’t leave our dozen UK guests with warm beer or limp snags.
Crucial to reliability of a cold fridge is the essentially battery power to run it for days on end in the desert heat. And this is where for many people it now becomes quite confusing. Yet it needn’t be. The wonderful web has given us so much with regards to the quick access to volumes of information, but also means that flood of information and opinions can lead to confusion or simply being misled by ‘experts’ wishing to impress the less technically knowledgeable with lots of jargon.
So I figured with this opportunity at hand I’d try and simplify some of the dark art of battery systems.
The developing technology in batteries is quite astounding but most people wouldn’t have any idea how much. The standard 12 volt battery under the bonnet is at the bottom end of the technology spectrum. That said they are still getting better.
But no matter what construction style or material battery you choose, charging and maintenance is the crucial part. Be it a lead acid wet cell battery, Calcium, gel cell, spiral wound AGM, etc, they all require the obvious; what goes out must go back in.
The issue here-in is that the average car alternator is one of the more basic forms of charging a battery. I personally choose top of the range spiral wound AGM Optima batteries for my own 4WD, but I also know they need topping up and maintaining properly. Customers see my bonnet up and charger on in the workshop and wonder why with all that fancy wiring and expensive batteries. It’s because even the custom built alternator in my Landcruiser is a simple, basic charger, nothing more.
Then of course we have new vehicles with supposedly ‘Smart Alternators’. Sorry to spoil your party, but it’s still a dumb alternator and smart ECU. The problem is car manufacturers are controlling this basic output to the benefit of economy and power, so the guy wanting to run a battery and fridge combo gets left to solve the problem. There are now a range of devices available to solve this of course.
The fundamental problem behind all this is cost. For some of who have been roaming the tracks for a while, spending well over a thousand hard-earned dollars just to run a fridge doesn’t quite compute. “I only want a second battery installed” we hear them say.
The only option available when it comes to efficient battery systems, that will do the job as expected, is to spend some coin. The battery cradle system, the cabling (don’t get me started on copper prices), the control, charge and maintenance systems, the outlets to drive devices, and ultimately the battery itself all cost a pretty penny if you want a system that will do the job right and last.
We all love to get the best deal possible, but searching for a battery system by price alone will give you grief. That’s the only guarantee applicable.
So my best advice here-in is as follows;
Invest in the best battery you can afford. Lead acid at the cheap end, Spiral AGM at the top.
Invest in the best charging/maintenance system you can. Investing in a good battery means looking after it too, otherwise you’ve wasted your first investment.
Invest in a professional installation. More issues are created by poor technique, crimping, soldering etc, than the components themselves.
There’s so much more information to offer and share, but only so much space. If you’re interested, catch me on the tracks and I’ll explain more.
See you Outback. Chris
Chris Blakemore is Owner of FNB4WD in Mt. Barker, Sth Australia