Battery Testing

  = = Replacing the Battery = =  

  = = Flat Battery = =  

  = = Battery Voltmeter = =  

I treat batteries as replaceable items so rarely allow them to go over 5 years.  If a cell has got weak then it can upset the charging circuit and flash up an alarm or cause problems with vital parts of the electronics.

 see below  for a capacity test on 4 year old battery

As an aside, electric cars have a 12 volt battery which has to be replaced every three years as part of their maintenance schedule - in other words they are not prepared to risk a modern battery beyond three years.

Economy Mode

Economy mode warning is NOT a fault condition.  It is to protect the car from flat battery; if the battery voltage drops to a certain level, Economy Mode kicks in to help preserve power by progressively shutting off non vital functions, such as radio, heater, wipers.  It should clear immediately the engine restarts.

The battery condition is critical to the operation of the car as many functions - ignition, steering, sliding doors, air conditioning all rely on the battery being up to scratch.  The negative is connected to earth.

Note also that a faulty alternator can flash up fault messages on the multiscreen - or fail without giving any warning.  Also be aware that modern batteries can fail without warning.

Simple battery testing
battery meter

I use a simple  12v battery voltmeter  in the cigarette lighter socket like this for a quick check.

It should indicate around 12.3 volts with engine off - rising to around 14.3 volts with the engine running.

Advanced battery testing

The modern way of testing is to use a small digital battery tester- eg  one of these Topdon meters  - which measures the battery internal resistance and off-load voltage - and gives a clear indication of whether the battery is "good" - or not.  I bought the BT200 which does all I want.

Such a digital analyser can read 12V battery data: voltage, internal resistance, cold cranking amps and status of health very quickly — without heavy connection leads.

 = = = Smart Charging Explained = = = 

A battery can go flat in a short time if it has gone  low capacity  or there is a discharge through a fault on the car.

On all three of my 1007's (2 x 1.4 Dolce and 1.6 Sport) I found that initially there was a discharge of 1.6 amps after switching everything off - this dropped to 20-30mA after a minute or so - enough to drive the essential circuits.  The battery should last for several weeks without use at this discharge rate.

Putting some figures to it: the battery discharge when the car is not in use should be around 20 mA = 0.02 Amps.  This is just enough to keep the security module operational.

At this rate, a 60amp-hour battery should last for 60/0.02 = 3,000 hours to run flat.  But we don't ever want that so after 1,500 hours it will be only half discharged; which is acceptable.

1,500 hours is 62 days or 2 months.  So a good battery should safely last 2+ months without any need to charge it - and indeed mine often stand for over a month without being used or charged.

So if your battery "goes flat over Christmas" then it has lost capacity and is well past its scrap-by date and should be changed for several reasons -

So - consider a battery as a consumable, like tyres.  You wouldn't run your tyres below the safe tread depth would you? - so why run the battery beyond its capabilities?
Advanced battery testing — traditional method

Out of interest I checked on the battery volts on my 1.6 petrol auto with my max/min voltage meter.  This measures the lowest instantaneous voltage across the battery terminals which can't be seen on a conventional digital or analogue meter.  The car battery is a top quality silver calcium two years old.

Having stood a couple of days -

Before turning anything on, battery volts were measured at 12.1 volts

On starting, this dropped momentarily to 9.6 volts - not far from the voltage for the electronics to hiccup.

Immediately the engine was running voltage came up to 14.4 volts.

On second start-up; the battery voltage dropped to 10.2 volts - not surprising as the engine had had a short run to remove the initial stiction.

So if your battery is a little tired; could be (more so with a diesel) that the battery voltage drops momentarily below that needed to keep the electronics happy - and so a no-start situation.

Battery Capacity

Another good indication is the remaining capacity of the battery - you may have bought a 60 amp-hour battery - but what is the capacity NOW?

I tested the 4 year old battery off the yellow car.  Using a 3 ohm 100 watt resistor across the battery terminals (careful, it will get HOT as it will be dissipating around 50 watts when connected across the 12 volt battery) - I measured the battery voltage.

As the current was around 4amps, a new battery should last for 60/4 = 15 hours.  Taking voltage reading every hour, the battery lasted just 4 hours - and sometime in the 5th hour it died.  4 hours at 4 amps = just 16 amp-hour

So my 60 amp-hour battery was down to a quarter of its original capacity.  OK perhaps if the car fires up first time and you don't leave the lights on too long or leave it unused over Christmas - but a clear indication that the battery really needs replacing.

The old way of testing a battery was by a drop tester

. . . . . . but not everyone will own one of these.  This is a simple one  Gunson Tools G4184  although it will only test up to 100 amps.  I have an ex-garage one that loads a battery up at 250 amps (see below)

If the voltages are OK (12.3 and 14.3 approx using a voltmeter or the tester suggested above) then you could also try leaving the headlights on for a while (engine off).  That would take about 10 amps out of the battery which any good battery should do easily for two hours (monitor the volts and if they drop below 11 volts discontinue the test).  Have a battery charger or jump leads handy though!

A drop test places a heavy load on the battery for about 15 seconds and checks the drop in battery voltage.

To carry out a CCA pass/fail test, you should load a fully charged starter battery with half the rated CCA value for 15 seconds.  To pass, the voltage must stay above 9.6 volts at 10 °C (50 °F) and higher.  Colder temperatures will cause a larger voltage drop.

** However the battery on the 1.4 Dolce, (which appeared to be an original 2004/5 Varta battery so 7/8 years old at the time) dropped to 9.6 volts at 125 amps but went right down to 7.0 volts at 250 amps which is well below acceptable.