Optima Batteries – Powering The Future Of The Automobile

Modern electronics in late-model vehicles are far more demanding on a charging system than in years past. As such, battery technology has been challenged to keep up with those demands. But before we can explore the future of batteries, we must first know from whence they came. For, as they say, you cannot know where you are going unless you know where you have been. A mantra that grows increasingly important in modern society. So, we sat down with the folks at Optima Batteries to expand on the subject.

Optima Batteries are surrounded by many misconceptions. Read along and find out why they may be perfect for your ride.

History

The first automotive batteries came into vogue around 1920, and were largely spurred by the advent of the electric starter motor. However, the sealed battery, which most of us know and grew up with wasn’t invented until 1971. The major leap forward for the sealed battery was that it did not require refilling, so maintenance was fairly simple. Additionally, the capabilities had been increased by quite a bit by that time.

Because, the really early systems were not exactly like what we know today or even in the near past, they were sort of the opposite, in fact. Instead of a 12-volt system, they were designed to operate on six-volts and instead of a negative ground from the battery to the chassis, the chassis was grounded to the battery’s positive terminal.

But once auto manufacturers started using larger engines with greater compression ratios, it necessitated the move to a higher voltage system – hence the switch to 12-volt. By the end of the 1970s, this was standard for most cars. Although, there were a few holdouts – the Volkswagen Beetle comes to mind.

Design

Let’s also take a moment to reflect on a battery’s composition. The most common automotive battery type that people are familiar with is what is called a wet-cell or flooded-lead-acid battery, but nowadays there are several types to consider, so that is rapidly changing. There are also gell-cell (dry-cell), absorbent glass mat (AGM), deep cycle, lithium-ion (li-ion), and NiHM (nickel-metal hydride) batteries to consider.

Lead acid type batteries originally came equipped with a filler cap because the six cells needed to be topped-off periodically. Additionally, the caps had vent holes on them to accomodate the hydrogen gas escapement which was a byproduct of the system’s charging. You can see why we’ve strayed from this type in recent years.

Battery technology has come leaps and bounds in a relatively short amount of time. Looking in the trunk of this late model Challenger is telling of why. Modern electrical components like this sound system require more power and reliability from their charging systems.

The cells in lead-acid batteries are connected by straps running from the positive plates to negative plates in the cell next to it. Corrosion-resistant lead plated terminals are mounted on the top or side of the battery which is encased plastic to prevent spillage. Although, it is not as durable as some other options.

An AGM battery is another sealed battery that requires little maintenance and utilizes an absorbent glass-mat that soaks up the electrolyte solution. They are sometimes referred to as sealed-lead-acid batteries. The main feature is that they won’t spill if they are knocked over or banged around in the engine bay. Generally, AGM batteries are superior to gel or lead-acid batteries for most applications.

The charge time of AGM batteries is much faster and they can last longer than the battery types it replaced. AGM batteries are best-suited for vehicles with automatic start-stop applications and with braking energy recovery, which we will get into later on in this article.

The only drawback is cost – A 40-100 percent increase over conventional batteries.

The Future Of The Battery

Speaking of demands from modern vehicles, we spoke with Jim McIlvaine of Optima and he offered his expertise on the subject.

“From an electrical perspective, the automotive landscape has changed dramatically within the past few years. The electrical demands were already increasing in vehicles in very significant ways over the last 20+ years, which is why the battery under the hood, in the trunk or under a seat is now significantly larger than it was a generation ago. From integrated alarm systems to satellite-based communication systems, wifi and all kinds of other high-tech features, newer cars consume electricity in ways our parents would’ve never thought possible. As if those demands weren’t high enough, many newer vehicles are now being equipped with start/stop functionality, which results in batteries being called upon to start engines thousands of times more, while also spending more time powering accessories while the engine is temporarily shut off.”

Optima Batteries produces AGM batteries for most vehicle applications – classic or new.

“Just those factors alone have significantly and permanently changed the way we need to maintain our car batteries, but the last 18-24 months has put even more demand on batteries. When much of the country went into lockdown and daily commutes stopped happening, vehicles started sitting unused for longer periods of time. Even though vehicles weren’t being driven as often or as much, batteries were still being called upon to keep all the memory settings intact, maintain a connection to OnStar or keep an integrated alarm system running. If you took your car to the grocery store and parked it on a Friday, the battery voltage may be at about 12.8 volts. If you don’t drive it all weekend, it could be down to 12.5 volts on Monday and maybe down to 12.0 after a week or two of sitting unused. It’s not unusual now for some vehicle owners to report their batteries becoming completely discharged within a few weeks of non-use.”

“Once any battery is discharged below 12.4 volts, sulfation starts forming in the battery plates, which diminishes both capacity and lifespan. That makes regular use of a quality battery maintenance device an excellent idea for any vehicle, whether it sees daily use or maybe only weekend excursions. Topping off a battery on a daily driver once a month with an overnight spent on a battery charger won’t hurt anything and can only help ensure that battery voltage is being properly-maintained, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do in the day and age in which we live.”

Optima FAQ

We searched the Optima Batteries website and found some very useful information for those interested in making the switch to Optima specifically but are concerned with whether or not they will need to purchase a new charger/maintainer.

Can you use a regular or factory battery charger on an Optima battery? The short answer is, yes. People often assume that regular chargers included with new vehicles are incapable of charging an Optima battery because they are designed for a different type of battery (lead-acid), but that isn’t the case. Optima batteries are still lead-acid, so regular chargers will work just fine as long as they have the corresponding setting.

If you are interested in purchasing a charger or maintainer to go along with an Optima, check them out, here.

According to the folks at Optima, “the confusion often comes into play because Optima batteries are AGM lead-acid batteries, with the ‘AGM’ standing for ‘Absorbed Glass Mat.’ Apparently, the ‘G’ can confuse some folks and lead them to believe Optima batteries are Gel batteries, which is definitely not the case. While there may be a car or truck driving around somewhere with a gel battery in it, we haven’t seen one yet. Everything else on the road is probably running a lead-acid battery (or in rare instances, a lithium battery).”

“Adding to that confusion is the fact that some battery chargers have “gel” or even more confusing ‘Gel/AGM’ settings. Our advice is to simply avoid any battery charger setting that references ‘gel’ in any way, as it may not fully charge non-gel batteries and could damage them over time. We would also suggest avoiding any charger settings that exceed 10 amps, as some chargers have settings as high as 200 amps, which could severely overcharge any battery and potentially create a dangerous situation, if not properly monitored.”

If you are interested in purchasing a charger or maintainer to go along with an Optima, check them out, here.

Article Sources

About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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