I hate to say it, but winter is just around the corner. For farm equipment, that means sitting out a long, cold period of inactivity, which can be hard on batteries. Before parking machines in the shed and closing the door, a few simple tasks will improve the chances they will start right up again in the spring.
Severe cold can kill a partially discharged battery. Even though cold temperatures actually slow the rate at which a battery naturally discharges, those charged below maximum capacity are at a higher risk of freezing. The lower the charge, the greater the risk. Keeping their voltage up is critical, and following these steps, recommended by a variety of sources, will help them last a few extra seasons.
MAINTENANCE FOR REMOVED BATTERIES
For long storage periods, removing batteries from machines is often encouraged. There are a few advantages with that approach. But when removing a battery, be sure to disconnect the negative cable first. That will prevent the risk of creating sparks by accidentally grounding a wrench from the positive battery post to a metal portion of the vehicle.
Once the battery is out, clean off the posts with a 50-50 mixture of water and baking soda to neutralize any acid. Wipe the top clean using a cloth moistened with a weaker solution. Be sure not to let any of it get into the cells. Then scrub the posts with a wire brush.
Be sure to inspect the machine’s battery tray and hold-down parts. Remove any dirt, rust or corrosion with a wire brush, and rinse them off with water. Once they’re dry, give them a fresh coat of rust-inhibiting paint to keep them in good condition. The battery cables should be cleaned and inspected, too.
Storing batteries inside a shop can protect them from severe temperature changes, and keeping them in a handy place makes it easy to periodically charge them. If you do store them inside, keep in mind batteries can give off flammable fumes that create an explosion risk, so keep them well away from sparks. Small batteries, like those in an ATV or riding lawn tractor, can be stored inside sealed plastic containers to eliminate any risk from fumes.
DISCHARGING AND RECHARGING
There are differing opinions on this, but some types of casings may allow batteries to discharge when stored on bare cement. The best idea is to put some plywood and plastic between them and the floor, which at least makes it easier to clean up any electrolyte spills from accidental overcharging.
A small trickle charger can be left on a battery for a few hours each month to keep voltage levels up. An even better idea is to use a small maintenance charger designed specifically to keep batteries at full capacity during storage. Some models can even monitor several batteries at a time. Just hook them up and forget about them.
Those chargers can be used even if batteries are left in machines. But disconnect the vehicle’s cables to isolate the batteries from electrical systems. That will prevent any voltage losses and reduce any fire risk from short circuits.
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