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Looking after mobility scooter batteries…

Posted May 26 2010 12:00am 1 Comment

I was moved to write this because of the most abject bovine ordure I have just read in a blog post on the subject, and for which there is no excuse. If you’re going to share information, you absolutely must know what you’re talking about – or just shut the hell up. No matter how well-intentioned you might be, misleading information is worse than none at all.

The main thing to bear in mind is that your batteries, and pretty much the rest of your scooter, are best served by providing conditions that you like – not stuck out in a shed that bakes in summer and freezes in winter.

One school of thought says you should charge your batteries after every use, another says recharge only when discharged. Both are wrong. Or right. Because it’s not that simple. It rarely is.

When batteries are new, you NEVER recharge them until fully discharged (or as close as you can get and still be able to get home under power), even if that takes a couple of days (to discharge the batteries, not get home, that is). That discharge-charge cycle needs to be repeated half a dozen times, at least, before your batteries develop their full capacity, and a couple of times more won’t hurt. Failing to do that will result in your batteries never reaching their full capacity – and there’s nothing you can do to get the lost capacity back.

Once your batteries are charged, you can start charging them at the end of every day – if they’ve been used. NOT after every use. I go to Sainsbury’s early – if I put my scooter on charge when I got back, then had to take it off charge to go somewhere else later in the day, that would be detrimental. Once on charge, the charge cycle should never be interrupted, so get into the habit of recharging overnight. Not least because many scooters will take a full 8 hours to recharge from almost flat. For that reason, I put mine on charge in the evening, before settling down to read, or watch crap TV.

And don’t leave the charger connected and plugged in once the charge is complete. Disconnect the charger from the mains, then from the scooter (the reverse of the way you connect it – that is, connect the charger to the scooter first, then the mains). Never leave chargers connected and plugged in – accidents happen that way. At best you’re likely to be sitting there wondering why the thing won’t go (connecting the charger turns off the power to the motor).

Even when you are recharging after every day’s use, every month or so, totally discharging your batteries and recharging them fully will extend their lives, so make it a habit.

Batteries don’t like cold and damp, and neither do electronics (well, damp anyway – what electronics don’t like is heat), and for that reason your scooter should always live indoors when possible. Why? well no matter how hard you might try not too, sooner or later you’re going to get rained on and, stashed in a shed or garage, especially in winter, it’s not going to dry out and, sooner or later, your electrical connections will start to corrode.

Battery terminals can be smeared with Vaseline (petroleum jelly), never grease, as recommended on the post I mentioned at the start, because it can contain conductive materials, or degrade plastic. I’d suggest an occasional spray of any accessible wiring connections (take off any removable panels first), and the backs of switches, with WD-40. Just a light spray is all you need – you don’t have to soak them with the stuff.

However, no matter where you keep your scooter, in the winter leave your batteries on charge until the very last moment. This may mean tailoring your charge time to end shortly before you’re due to leave – with experience, this will get pretty easy.

Going out with warm batteries on a frosty winter’s day (what d’you mean, you don’t use your scooter when it’s cold – why?), means that the inevitable depletion of the charge by the cold will be delayed a little – useful because very cold conditions (i.e., sub-zero during the day – until last winter, a rarity, but even in the relatively recent past they were common – I crossed the Cat & Fiddle Pass, in 1985, on just such a day – it was so far below freezing the engine put out no heat at all, and the inside of the car was sheathed in ice – and I’ve been out on days close to that on a scooter – you just have to dress for it, a subject I’ve covered at length), can reduce your range quite a bit, certainly, in my experience, by over 10%, especially if your scooter lives in an unheated shed or garage. That’s the difference between a pleasant, if chilly, ride, and sitting by the side of the road, freezing your bits off and wondering what the hell’s going on.

In addition, if you happen to be carrying a camera in cold weather, take out the battery(ies) and stash in an inside pocket to keep warm. Spares, too. And do use battery cases – you don’t want them shorting each other in your pocket. And for the same reason, don’t put them with your keys or small change.

The same applies to any battery-powered devices, especially mobile phones. Most mobes are pretty much underpowered anyway, a decent battery having been sacrificed on the altar of “style”, so always keep a mobe in an inside pocket, too (a very cold day will suck the power out of an unprotected mobe faster that you’d think). This is a bad idea if you’re indulging in any form of exercise (it’ll get sweaty – not good, slip it into a plastic bag), but on a scooter, in winter, sweating is one thing you’re not going to be doing. Unless it’s with fear, as you lose all feeling in your extremities, and ice forms in any facial hair you might have!

And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Class 3, 8mph scooters are actually fast enough to generate wind-chill, even when it’s not windy. With a head wind it’ll be that much worse. That came as a surprise to me, not having had a scooter since Class 3 machines became widely available (I’ve had powerchairs, which are slower), and I suffered for it the first time out.

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Comments (1)
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Terrific advice.  Does using your scooter in 35 degree F (1.6 C) affect the batteries?  What about the heat?  It was over 100 degrees F (@38C) most of last summer.  My last batteries didn't last very long, I think it was a combination of making the mistake of buying cheap batteries online and not knowing enough about how to charge them.  I just bought good batteries from a reputable local scooter place and I want to make sure I charge them right!  Thanks! 

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