CHARGE!!! Optima Batteries Get Put Through Our Torture Test

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Getting in your vehicle and cranking the engine is something most people take for granted. It is not until something goes wrong that people begin to really look at what is under the hood. A battery has more uses than people think about. One of those is powering all of your accessories.

We wanted to see how much one battery could handle with off-road use. We turned to Optima Batteries and its YellowTop to go out and test in Project Storm Trooper.

Our torture test would include off-roading and draining the battery multiple times, making sure everything we did could be safely replicated. For the test we headed out to Ocotillo Wells, California for a night run to the desert. The desert at night is something that pictures can not do justice to – the sky is darker and the stars are brighter.

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The Test

Driving the hour and a half to the desert, the anticipation grew knowing we would have a fun night ahead, or so we thought. Arriving at the desert, we installed the Optima YellowTop into the truck. The install was simple and we were on our way to testing.

This portion of our test involved off-roading at night and then completely draining the battery. Staying on Shell Reef Highway we made our way through the terrain on a relatively quiet Friday night. Not too many people were out, so we were able to open the truck up and have some fun.

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After some time beating on the truck, it was time to find a spot for the night to begin draining the battery. Seeing how it would will last with the radio, accessories, and lights on has always made us curious.

We estimated it would take two to four hours for our LED light bars, whip, radio, and inverter to drain the battery. The time had come to turn everything on, and the engine off.

When running, the battery read 14.3 volts; once the truck was off, it was at 12.2 volts. Where we had stopped, it was possible to see Blow Sand and everyone attempting to make it up the hill. The first check was after 30 minutes, and the battery had dropped to 11.8 volts.

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It seemed like a long time for the battery to last, dropping less than a half a volt. An hour into the test, the meter read 9.4 volts, too low to start the truck; the test was working. At one hour and five minutes into the test, the LED light bars on the truck shut off, and five minutes later the battery only read 7.6 volts.

We continued to watch the headlights dim and the LED whip fade into the night. One hour and 34 minutes into the test, the headlights had a small glow left, and a couple of minutes later the battery read 4.3 volts. We decided the test was over at this point with only the glow of the license plate lights on the rear of the truck.

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Getting the battery charged and the truck running ended our night in the desert. The next portion of our test would be done in the office parking lot, draining the battery even more.

Over the next couple of days, we would replicate the same test in the parking lot, draining and charging the battery over five times. Every time the battery died, we would use Optima’s Digital 1200 battery charger to breathe life back into the battery.

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The charger would take around three hours to fully restore the battery and show 100 percent. Once the battery was replenished the truck would start and act like nothing had happened. Repeating it over and over always bore the same result.

The battery went with us to cover the Baja 1000 and even after days of sitting, started right up like it had never been drained of power. The battery held up to the draining and recharging we put it through along with the abuse of off-roading.

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A Word From The Experts

We had a chance to ask Jim McIlvaine of Optima Batteries some questions about its products, and with what happened during our testing.

Why is it when the battery dies and is recharged once it comes off the charger, it takes a bit to go from 12 volts to 14 volts under the alternator power?

Jim McIlvaine: Once a battery reaches a full state of charge, it may have what is often referred to as a “surface charge.” Without getting into a response that requires the participation of our engineering group, batteries with surface charges will often show higher measured voltage than the battery’s fully-charged state, until an engine start or some other load dissipates the surface charge.

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The result is that someone might say they fully charged the battery to 14 volts, but as soon as the surface charge is taken off the battery, it may settle down to a range that is consistent with what we consider to be fully charged.

When measuring the voltage of a battery while the engine is running, which also indicates alternator output, there is often a difference in measurements when someone measures via a dashboard gauge versus measuring directly at the battery terminals themselves. Measurements made directly at the terminals will often be higher than those measured remotely. We consider typical alternator output to be approximately 13.7 to 14.7 volts when measured at the battery terminals, so 14 volts would be right in the middle of that range.

If a battery has a surface charge that is detected by the vehicle’s charging system, the alternator may not operate in its normal range – why overcharge a battery that is clearly fully charged? Once the surface charge comes off the battery, the alternator may move into a range that is more typical of normal operating conditions. Likewise, if the alternator senses the battery is deeply discharged, there may be a higher voltage output, as it attempts to deliver current to the battery.

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Optima’s Digital 1200 battery charger.

Do Optima batteries have a break-in period?

JM: While they are often not thought of in this regard, batteries are consumable items that move closer to the end of their useful life as soon as they are manufactured. Even a fully charged, brand new battery will not maintain its state of charge indefinitely and will eventually fail, if given enough time. Optima Batteries do not have a break-in period and are ready to use as soon as they are purchased.

What types of tests have the batteries been through?

JM: All Optima products are regularly tested in a variety of environments, from laboratory conditions that are closely monitored and tightly controlled, to large fleets that are used in abusive field conditions and offer a wide variety of variables. Optima Batteries are used in military and OE applications typically go through testing specific to those applications.

How many times are batteries designed to discharge and recharge?

JM: Optima Batteries are not designed with a specific number of cycles in mind, because everyone’s application is different. As mentioned previously, a battery that is only discharged enough to start an old pickup will last far longer than a battery used to run a trolling motor all day long every weekend.

We are not the only ones who have put a YellowTop to the test. John Cerejo had his battery get knocked out of the bracket which melted it. The battery was still fully functional after the burn.

We are not the only ones who have put a YellowTop to the test. John Cerejo had his battery get knocked out of the bracket which melted it. The battery was still fully functional after the burn.

What makes Optima Batteries a great choice for off-road use?

JM: Optima Batteries are up to 15 times more resistant to vibration than traditional flooded counterparts. That extra vibration resistance makes them a far better option for demanding off-road environments than a traditional flooded product. Just as electrical systems are only as strong as their weakest link, so goes the same for batteries.

Unlike most other batteries on the market, Optima’s SpiralCell design not only offers benefits of extreme vibration resistance, but the cast straps that connect the cells are a major step up from the inter-cell welds used on most batteries sold today. Casting a solid strap to connect cells is a proprietary and more expensive process, but it allows Optima products to have a robust connection between cells, allowing for less internal resistance and a better transfer of power.

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Another view of John Cerejo’s battery after he put it to the test.

Which battery (YellowTop, RedTop, BlueTop) is best for each type of off-roading (i.e. Jeep, desert truck)?

JM: YellowTop Batteries are generally the preferred option for off-roading, due to their combination of cranking power, cycling capabilities and overall heavy-duty design. Similarly-sized RedTop batteries will offer more cranking amps than their YellowTop counterparts, but do not have as much reserve capacity and are not designed or warrantied for deep-cycle applications, including vehicles with winches.

BlueTop batteries (except for the 34M, which is the marine version of the RedTop starting battery) are typically used in marine and RV applications, where the threaded terminals offer convenient connection points for applications with additional electrical accessories, like trolling motors, refrigerators, etc.

What types of off-road racing is Optima Batteries a part of?

JM: Optima Batteries can be found in vehicles at nearly every type of off-road racing, and our sponsored competitors include drivers in Ultra4, BITD, SCORE and LOORRS.

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The backside of the Digital 1200 battery charger.

How does using the Digital 1200 charger benefit charging the battery compared to jump starting?

JM: Jump starting a vehicle should only be done in emergency situations. When a battery is discharged to that point, it should be fully charged with a quality battery charger, like the Digital 1200, as soon as possible. Most alternators are designed to maintain batteries near a full state of charge, not recover deeply discharged batteries.

Asking that task of an alternator will often lead to a cycle of dead batteries and jump starts, until either the battery or alternator fails. As a result, people should use jumper cables and jump packs the same way they would use a one-gallon can of gas. They’ll get you out of a tight spot, but take care of the underlying issue as soon as possible.

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Inside the back case, all the wires for all types of charging are easily stored.

How do you use the connectors (the clamps or the outlets?) in the rear of the charger?

JM: There are two ways to use the connectors in the rear of charger. Out of a vehicle, attach the charger’s positive and negative clamps to their respective positive and negative posts on the battery. After the clamps are connected, just plug the charger into a properly grounded outlet.

In a vehicle, attach the charger’s positive clamp to the battery’s positive post. As for the negative clamp, connect the black negative cable clamp to the vehicle’s chassis. Do not connect the black negative cable clamp to metal fuel lines or anywhere in proximity of the carburetor or the battery itself. Once the clamps are on correctly, plug the charger into a properly grounded outlet.

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When Mike Kepler drained his battery in his big rig, he took the YellowTop out of the golf cart that was on his trailer to get his truck started. The battery then had a rough rest of the trip.

How long is the charger supposed to take to charge a battery?

JM: It depends on the battery, the charger, and the amount of discharge. The Digital 400 will charge at a maximum rate of 4 amps, while the Digital 1200 will charge at a maximum rate of 12 amps, although like other chargers and maintainers, they may vary amperage and voltage output throughout the charging cycle.

A typical battery like the YellowTop D34 has a capacity of 55 Ah, so if it is about 50 percent discharged (~12.28 volts), it may take several hours or longer, depending on the amperage output of the charger. Not all chargers are 100 percent efficient, so it may take longer than two hours for a 10 amp charger to deliver 20Ah to a battery. Adding 20 percent to calculations is a good rule of thumb.

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Mike Kepler’s Optima YellowTop that crashed around inside the truck’s trailer for the rest of the long journey to Dallas, Texas.

Anything new coming out to add to Optima’s lineup?

JM: While we don’t have any new products this year, a new exciting initiative we recently announced is the 2016 Optima Ultimate Film Festival Series, where we will celebrate the most exciting and compelling performance automotive stories from enthusiasts everywhere.

In Conclusion

After being put through the test, our Optima battery is still in the truck and has given us no problems. We will continue to monitor the battery and let everyone know what else we find. This test surely won’t be the last time this battery runs dead in the desert.

Optima torture stories can be seen all over the Internet with plenty of unique situations. Do you have an Optima battery you have put through the ringer? Tell us in the comments below!

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Battered and bruised, Mike Kepler’s YellowTop is still fully functional to this day!

About the author

Steven Olsewski

Steven Olsewski grew up with a true passion for anything with a motor. He loves his wife and kids, and during the year can be found enjoying quality time together. They are a huge part of his life and their passion for God.
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