Batteries Won't Charge? Don't Necessarily Blame the Charger!
Without a doubt, the most frequently occurring phone call I receive pertaining to problems with electric golf carts is a suspected faulty charger. The stories are usually the same – something along the lines of not having used the golf car for some lengthy period of time and then coming back to dead golf car batteries and a charger that worked fine before but now simply refuses to do its job. Now this may come as a surprise but believe it or not the charger is usually not to blame - the overwhelming majority of the time it’s the batteries.
In order for the charging process to begin most automatic chargers have to detect a certain level of charge within the battery pack which is referred to as the nominal voltage. In other words, if your batteries have sat unused for awhile and are completely discharged the charger can’t detect them and is therefore unable to do its job. This was designed as a safety feature not only to prevent the total destruction of your batteries if they fail to take a charge but to also reduce the risk of electrical fires in the process. If you have a volt-meter or a multi-meter you can do a quick check to confirm this; if your 8-volts are sitting at 4-volts or lower, or your 6-volts at 3-volts or lower, you likely have a nominal voltage issue. If, however, your batteries are reading at their proper levels then you very well may have a charger problem on your hands.
Okay, so that’s all good and fine, but what do you do to fix it? Before we get started there are a couple of things you should know.
First, do your absolute best to avoid this situation from happening in the first place. Batteries don’t like to sit and die, they like to be used and charged and used again. The irreversible damage that can be done to batteries while sitting, especially in extreme temperatures, cannot be overstated and there’s a very real possibility that your batteries could be goners.
And second, working with batteries poses very real safety hazards so be sure to take all necessary precautions. If you don’t know what those precautions are then you should most likely call a professional.
Now, unless you have an old manual charger lying around that can step in you’ll have to do some manual labor of your own to make it to tee time. The easiest way to get your charger back on its feet is to give your batteries a little kick from a standard automotive-type battery charger – think of it as a defibrillator of sorts. Depending on the voltage of your batteries and the type of automotive charger you have this can be easy or somewhat of a hassle. Before you get started, check your water levels but do not fill up the individual cells, just make sure the plates inside are covered and not much more. If you overlook this you stand the chance of boiling out the electrolyte and seriously compounding the problem.
Assuming your charger is the typical 12-volt automotive type and you have a 48-volt system that utilizes four 12-volt batteries all you’d need to do is simply disconnect the batteries from each other and charge each one individually for about 20-30 minutes or so. From there, your golf cart charger should be able to take over – a multi-meter comes in very handy throughout this process.
If your golf cart uses 6-volt batteries (in either a 36 or 48-volt system) the process is almost as easy, you would just charge two batteries at a time rather than individually. When trying to revive 8-volt batteries things get a bit hairy as you’re pumping 12-volts into an 8-volt container which is something you shouldn’t do for more than 15-20 minutes max. Be sure to keep a close eye on the batteries when do this and never leave them unattended. Again, be sure to take all the precautions and contact a professional if you’re at all uncomfortable with this process.
Once your batteries have absorbed a small charge your automatic charger should be able to take over, which is ideal. Today’s chargers use a multi-stage algorithm to efficiently charge your batteries which prolongs their lifespan. Once the charging cycle has finished unplug the cord, let it sit for about 15-20 minutes or so, and then plug it back in again. This is called an ‘equalization charge’ and helps to maintain equal charge levels across all of the batteries.