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Break In Those Old/New Batteries


Most of us know that new cars should undergo a break-in period where parts are allowed to ``adjust'' to one another. During this break-in period, usage is limited to mostly moderate demands on performance.

For similiar reasons, it's not good practice to brake hard after getting new brakes installed ...break in those brakes!

Do new bateries need to be broken-in? If so how? Are gel batteries different?

Increasing Surface Area

New batteries often present problems for users. Because the battery doesn't accept charge current readily, and voltage may sag with even small discharges, many users think that other parts of the system have failed ...after all, the batteries are new!

How well a battery accepts charge or discharge current is dependent on the surface area of the plates. You may not think you can change plate surface area, but you can. When a battery is discharged, plate surfaces are etched. This etching takes place on the smooth surface of a plate that came out of a mechanical press. Surface area is gained by this etching.

With additional surface area to conduct electrical ions, current passes more readily through the battery. High rate discharges, without excessive voltage loss, are made possible. Charge current is also accepted at greater values without overheating.

Old batteries can also benefit from the break-in process. Batteries that haven't been cycle for a few months may show resistance to high rate charges. Don't throw the batteries away until you tried to rejunvenate them with a break-in process.

How To Break-In a Battery

Just like a car engine should be used moderately during the break-in period, so should a battery. High rate discharges and charges should be avoided.

The first step to the break-in process is a good charge, including a short period of overcharge. The overcharge will tend to equalize the specific gravity in all the cells.

Now that the battey is thoroughly charged, turn on enough loads to approximate a discharge of 5% of capacity. That is, for every 100 Amp-hours of capacity in your bank, discharge by 5 Amps. For instance, an 8D would be discharged using about 10 Amps.

Assuming that your batteries have the expected Amp-hour capacity, the break-in discharge(s) will take about 20 hours. Let the discharge continue until the battery voltage reaches 10.5 Volts.

With a now depleted battery, recharge using a current of about 10-20% of Amp-hour capacity. Avoid high rate charging during the break-in period.

How Many Break-In Cycles?

The discharge and charge process should be done at least three times, preferably five times on new batteries. Old batteries can usually be rejuvenated with one or two break-in cycles.

Stubborn Gel Batteries

You tried bringing an older gel battery back to life, but the break-in process has failed. Now what? Sometimes rejuvenating a gel battery takes extraordinary measures to bring it back to life ...like operating it upside down! This is not for the weak of heart, and you should remove the battery from the vehicle or vessel first and do this procedure where an accident won't have ill consequences. We'd also advise wearing eye protection when working around the battery, and minimizing time around the battery while it is charging.

CAUTION!!!! The vent caps on gel batteries are supposed to be up so that if they do vent, no active material will be expelled. If you're going to operate the battery upside down, you must make sure that the battery doesn't gas. To prevent gassing, you must apply the correct charge voltage for the battery temperature! See the application note dated February 1996 for more details.

If you're positively sure that you can charge the battery properly, proceed by turning the battery completely upside down. Discharge and charge it as described earlier. If you haven't noted a significant capacity gain by the third discharge, the battery is probably too far gone to recover.

Stubborn Liquid Batteries

We don't know of any process that will recover a liquid battery which has stopped accepting high rates of charge. As a rule, liquid batteries accept charge at about half the rate of a similiar capacity gel battery, so slow charge is part of the territory to begin with.

If you tried the normal break-in process for a liquid battery and it hasn't helped, it's time to breakout something you can really charge with ...a credit card!