Flooded Lead Acid Battery Maintenance: Are Battery Watering Systems Worth The Cost?
Is watering a battery manually versus using a watering system actually saving you money in the long run?
By Fred Wehmeyer, Senior Vice President/Engineering U.S. Battery Manufacturing
Golf courses always look for ways to reduce their maintenance costs. But cutting corners with battery maintenance on a golf car fleet can have a dramatic affect on the life expectancy of their deep-cycle batteries. One of those essential maintenance procedures is watering. But the decision to add water manually, versus using a more expensive automated watering system, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s saving you any money in the long run.
While it may seem easier and cost effective to use a garden hose to refill each battery cell, the fact is, you could actually be damaging the batteries and reducing their life expectancy. First of all, no battery manufacturer recommends using a garden hose to refill the water in any deep-cycle battery. If you prefer to water manually, make sure to use only distilled water, and take carful measurements. Use a water delivery gun, watering pitcher or at the very least, some type of measuring cup to ensure you’re delivering the right amount for each cell. The electrolyte should be kept about 1/4-inch below the bottom of the fill-well in the battery’s cell cover.
Watering systems on the other hand, automatically and precisely fill each battery cell with the right amount. You can also water multiple batteries at once. While watering systems are easy to use, and can save lots of time, they are an added expense for a large fleet.
So to determine which method is most cost effective, we first have to decide how often the batteries must be watered, and the amount of time and cost it takes to water the entire fleet. On average, medium to heavy use golf courses should water their fleet’s batteries at least once per month.
Watering batteries manually takes about 15-30 seconds per cell, and typically involves removing the vent caps, using a watering pitcher or water caddy, (never use a garden hose), and replacing the vent caps. For a 48-volt golf car, this would translate to approximately 6 to 12 minutes per car. Multiply that times an average 100-car fleet, and watering once per month translates to 120 to 240 hours per year. Not bad, but also add in $15 per hour for an average technician, and your maintenance costs can average $1,800 to $3,600 per year.
Compared to a watering system, the time is reduced to 1 to 2 minutes per car, for any size battery pack (no vent cap removal and replacement is required on many watering systems). For the same 100 car fleet, watered once per month, the maintenance time per year is reduced down to 20 to 40 hours, and at a cost of $300 to $600 per year. That’s a reduction in cost of $1500 to $3000 per year or $7500 to $15,000 over a five year life expectancy of the batteries.
Many golf courses think watering systems are just too expensive, and that doing it by hand must be cheaper in the long run. But consider that the expected life of a watering system is somewhat longer than five years. Many fleet managers that do utilize a watering system claim they can get 10 years out of it, with a moderate level of maintenance and replacement parts. If we add all the numbers up, the cost of a typical watering system is approximately $100 per car. The cost for the 100 car fleet is approximately $10,000. With this type of investment however, a golf course could expect the payback period to be three to seven years with extended battery life as a bonus.
So for larger fleets, the upfront cost of a watering system can make a significant difference in the long run. But, not every fleet is the same, so you’ll have to figure in your numbers for yourself, to see what’s best for your particular fleet. Check the websites on various watering system manufacturers. They often have an online calculator that can help measure your return on the investment.
Saving money on maintenance costs is one benefit, but if you can also dramatically increase the life of your fleet’s batteries, then you could see some real savings that might change the way you think about battery maintenance, and the importance of carefully watering your batteries.
Find additional resources on battery maintenance and ways to increase battery efficiency and service life, visit U.S. Battery’s website at www.usbattery.com.