Did you know that electrical systems are one of the most common causes of winter breakdowns? Truck electrical systems today have become highly advanced, and the battery plays a vital role in providing them with a stable power supply. Electrical system failures can be shocking, but proactively checking and testing your truck’s electrical system—especially during the dark, cold winter months—will greatly reduce the chance of an electrical emergency.
Understanding different types of truck batteries
While the service and maintenance method for all truck batteries is similar, understanding the difference between battery types, along with selecting the right model for your vehicle, is a fundamental part of preventing battery issues.
- Flooded cell batteries: These are conventional in design and most modern versions are maintenance-free, meaning they do not require the addition of water once they are in service. Flooded cell batteries have lead plates surrounded by electrolyte and distilled water.
- Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries: These have an absorbed glass mat design. They are sometimes referred to as electrolyte starved because they contain very little liquid, and the liquid they do contain is absorbed into the plates. AGM batteries have a sealed case that experiences slight pressure and includes a pressure release system. These are part of the Valve-Regulated Lead-Acid (VRLA) battery family, which means they don’t require the addition of water once the battery is in service.
- AGM Pure-Lead batteries: These tend to have more lead and much lower resistance, drastically changing their properties. They can handle much higher amps without building up excessive heat and can deliver a healthy balance of cold cranking amps and reserve capacity. While they are more expensive, they have more internal material along with a stronger case, and will tolerate more depth of discharge (DOD) cycles.
- Energy storage modules (ESM): This type of unit replaces one of the batteries in a set and uses ultra-capacitors to start the vehicle. ESM technology delivers reliable cranking amps regardless of the ambient temperature and is typically used in a vehicle that must be started frequently throughout the day. However, the vehicle will surrender the reserve capacity of the battery that was replaced, so if you need the hotel loads, this battery may not be the best fit.
Selecting the right battery for your truck
Making sure you select the right model for your operating environment is an important part of maintaining your batteries and preserving the integrity of your electrical system.
If you have a start and stop type of operation that requires frequent cranking of the engine and little need for hotel loads, you may want to consider an ESM. Some box trucks and day cabs, for example, benefit from this type of technology. If you have a sleeper and multiple electrical devices that will run when the engine is shut off, however, you will need an AGM battery that has a higher reserve capacity.
Other factors like lift gates, operating exclusively in cold climates and vehicle application should also be considered when selecting the right battery for your truck. Visit your truck or engine manufacturer or discuss with your service shop for additional information.
Preventive measures and recognizing the warning signs
Most importantly, have your batteries serviced regularly and on time. Most batteries fail due to a poorly maintained cranking and charging system, specifically loose or dirty cables and connections, an overcharging alternator, loose battery hardware or low voltage as a result of loads left on.
Have a professional technician perform a complete electrical system test at least once or twice a year as a preventive measure. This can help identify any visual damage to connections or hardware and helps ensure your batteries can keep up with the electrical demands of the vehicle, especially during long and dark winters.
Understanding the warning signs that could indicate an issue may be present is another important part of battery maintenance. These warning signs are often easy to identify, but getting the problem checked out and repaired quickly is key to preventing progressive (and very costly) damage.
For example, if the starter continues to try to turn the engine over with low voltage, the starter will be permanently damaged internally. This can simply be avoided with proper maintenance and by reacting to the electrical issue in a timely manner.
In addition to sluggish cranking conditions, keep an eye out for dim or dimming headlights, dash voltmeter dropping and cab accessories automatically shutting down, as these are all signs of battery-related issues. Have your batteries inspected immediately if you smell any unusual or strong odors coming from the battery box—this could indicate chemicals are escaping from a damaged or overcharged battery.
If you experience any of these warning signs, stop into a TA Truck Service shop near you and let our expert technicians perform a comprehensive electrical system check. This inspection covers all vehicle batteries, battery cables, alternator, starter, pulleys, belts and more.
Need a replacement battery? TA Truck Service is also the exclusive interstate supplier and warranty provider of NorthStar® PRO and ODYSSEY® Performance batteries, offering up to a four year full replacement warranty on any NorthStar or ODYSSEY batteries purchased at TA Truck Service.