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What is a Trickle Charge?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A trickle charge, commonly associated with lead acid batteries, is a low-level electrical charge applied to a battery that roughly equals its rate of discharge. Trickle chargers can keep batteries topped off on secondary cars, motorcycles, RVs or boats that would normally become discharged due to infrequent use. A trickle charge device typically incorporates a float mechanism that prevents overcharging and can be left connected to a battery for indefinite periods of time.

Anyone with a second mode of transportation, recreational vehicle or boat knows the aggravation of going to use it only to find a dead battery. A standard charger can re-charge an undamaged battery in two to five hours, but this is a hassle. A jump start might work too, but none of these methods helps to reverse the negative effects that repeated discharging has on a battery. A new battery kept on a trickle charge when not in use will not only be ready to go at a moment’s notice, but batteries that go through fewer discharge cycles last longer, stretching your dollar.

During the course of a battery’s life, it will develop sulfation. Lead sulfate becomes crystallized on the surface of the lead plates inside the battery, preventing the battery from taking a full charge or operating at full capacity. The more often a battery fully discharges and sits in a discharged state, the worse the sulfation becomes until the battery can no longer hold a charge and needs replacement. If a sulfated battery sits long enough, the crystals grow to such an extent that they will eventually bow the battery case and finally crack it. Keeping a new battery healthy by feeding it a trickle charge greatly reduces the rate of sulfation, extending battery life.

There are various types of trickle charge products similar to the BatteryMINDer®, a popular brand. This small device plugs into an A/C wall outlet with a set of alligator clamps to attach to the battery terminals. Many trickle chargers also come with an optional attachment kit; a set of washers that slip over the terminal posts of the battery to stay permanently connected. A tail from the washers connects to the lead wire of the trickle charger making it easy to disconnect when ready to use the vehicle. Some trickle chargers are also marketed as conditioners, incorporating pulse-code technology to periodically clean lead plates of sulfation by using specific frequencies that dissolve the crystals.

A trickle charge uses very little electricity, but in some cases an A/C outlet isn’t handy or practical. For these situations you might consider a solar panel trickle charger. The solar panel is rectangular and can sit on the dashboard or wherever the most direct sunlight enters the vehicle. It plugs into a live cigarette lighter or auto power outlet to feed converted sunlight to the battery as an electrical charge. (If your cigarette lighter or power outlets require a key to work, the outlets are not live and the solar panel will not be able to use the outlet to charge the battery. The outlets must work without a key.) Solar panel chargers are also designed to prevent overcharging, but are not designed to charge dead batteries.

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Discussion Comments
By Grinderry — On Feb 11, 2014
I don't think that is the same thing? The cars already on the road are not the ones that might be unable to get a jump from someone or won't be able to be towed somewhere safe. It's the cars sitting in a person's driveway, that have been motionless for almost a month or more that are in question. Still it just seems that if you're going to move to an area where there's very little in the way of help, you might want to consider having one of these and making sure that it's connected properly and working on your vehicle when you aren't driving it. It just seems that this is your best bet and it eliminates just one more link of something that can go wrong in the chain of automotive safety.
By Realited — On Feb 11, 2014
I also don't think this should fall on any one person's shoulders. It is up to the individual to be aware and to ensure not only their safety but the safety of their loved ones. As for state sanctioned programs or offerings, I believe that there are highway patrol units for most of the major highways in the U.S. that are designated just for making sure the drivers on the road are taken care of.
By Grinderry — On Feb 10, 2014
I don't know that this should be everyone's responsibility, but I think there should be some form of state provided funds or service that can see to it that those people who need one can get one. If not, then there should be places that offer the ability to have one sent to the person should they be unable to move their vehicle.
By Contentum — On Feb 10, 2014
Yeah, had I known what I was in store for this winter season I would have bought one of these and had it handy. As it turns out I just have to keep on top of starting and running my car. I will now wake up on a weekend and go to the local coffee-shop, or the music store just to keep the battery humming along. And on the days when I have nowhere to go I will just take it down the hill and back up just to make sure that in case of an emergency I have a vehicle that can get me either to or away from a disaster or can transport someone to a place of safety or medical attention. And when you think about it from a humane standpoint, it should kind of be a responsibility for people who live in hard to reach areas to have one so that they can perform not just for themselves but for others who might not have the means to get one for themselves.
By Realited — On Feb 09, 2014
I haven't experienced this first hand but I've known people who have told me about it happening to them. It is frightening to think about wanting to go somewhere and not being able to leave due to a dead battery, or to be more precise, a battery whose charge has died. I agree with you about everyone who lives in places that are remote having this kind of device handy and in full operational order.
By Contentum — On Feb 09, 2014
This actually happened to me a few weeks ago. I had left my car sitting for the longest while parked out front and didn't bother to start it since there was cold and snowy weather coming, and I had no plans on leaving. I went to start it up to warm it up so that the snow plows could clear out its parking spot and it wouldn't budge. It didn't start and wouldn't do the things it normally would, such as allow me to open the window or play the radio. I had to get my neighbor's car and connect jumper cables to it and let it charge for at least 45 minutes before I was able to get enough juice to play the radio. After experiencing that, I don't think anyone should be without a trickle charger if they live in places where they have limited access to automotive services and might not be close enough to neighbors.
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