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Golf Cart Battery Explodes
Yet another golf cart battery exploded here in The Villages last week.
Luckily, the owner was not injured but her house was... it caught fire. But,
only the carport was damaged. This time the news reached Orlando news centers
and it was on TV. (I think it was a carport, or it could have been the garage
after the explosion and fire.) Seems like a good time to review the
following information so none of us have a similar occurrence.
Golf Cart by Chula Vista Recreation
Causes of Battery Explosions
Prolonging Battery Life
Maintaining Your Cart's Electrical
If Batteries Aren't Taking a Full
Can I replace just the bad batteries?
Storage Over Extended Periods of Time
Golf Cart by Chula Vista Recreation Center
Thanks to Cindy & Mike Vrooman for passing this along.
This was an electric
golf cart prior to blowing up from a battery explosion outside one of our
recreation centers. No one was hurt and no other carts were parked next to it.
Seeing this, I
wondered what would cause a battery to explode, so I Googled it.
find the following useful.
Causes of Battery Explosions
Much of the following information is from
an expert in batteries, as well as other sources I Googled.
The average electric cart is powered by lead acid batteries (called flooded
cell or wet cell batteries) which are positioned under the seat.
Flooded/wet cell batteries give off
hydrogen and oxygen gasses while
charging and discharging, and even while standing idle. If the hydrogen
accumulates in a battery compartment, or in a room or a depression at the
ceiling, it can explode if ignited by a spark, flame or an arcing contact.
That is why recharging needs to occur in well ventilated areas.
As little as 4% hydrogen gas in the air is considered explosive.
To fully charge any storage battery, a certain amount of
overcharge is necessary. This overcharging
equalizes the power in the cells of the battery. As each cell reaches 80% of
capacity, it dissipates the surplus energy by boiling. This causes the water in
the electrolyte to separate into hydrogen and oxygen gases, which vent from the
battery and reduce the electrolyte level.
water must be added to make up the loss or the battery could be ruined. The
danger is that many require adding distilled water constantly to keep the leaded
plates submerged in the battery's sulfuric electrolyte.
Many owners don't realize the batteries need this constant attention, and it
isn't uncommon to fold back the seat of the cart and find all 6 batteries and
all cells desperately in need of fluid. When batteries run dry, they can smoke
and even explode.
The most probable cause of internal
battery explosions is from a combination of electrolyte levels below the plates,
and a low resistance bridge that is formed between or across the top of the
plates, and a build up of hydrogen gas in the cell. The low resistive bridge or
"treeing" occurs between the positive and negative plates. When current flows in
the battery, residual gas is ignited in one or more of the cells.
An overheated lead-acid battery can actually explode. It is essential to check
your golf cart batteries on a regular basis.
prevent battery explosions, explosions can occur when jumping, connecting or
charger or battery cables, and starting the motor. If the vent cap was
clogged or a defective valve did not release the gas,
internal temperature can reach 300º F for each percent of hydrogen
overheated lead-acid battery can actually explode.
number of battery explosions while starting a motor occurs in hot climates.
can be used to prevent a hydrogen gas explosion and reduce maintenance. The
chemicals inside Hydrocaps catalytically recombine the hydrogen and oxygen
gases into pure water and return it to the cell during the charging process.
reduces watering and washes the electrolyte spray back into the battery
extending its useful power. Not only do they eliminate the danger of a
hydrogen gas explosion, they also stop corrosion because the acid spray and
fumes are contained. However, different
batteries have different cap sizes and styles, so Hydrocaps must be fitted
for a particular battery.
Another possible cause is a manufacturing defect in the weld of one of the
plate-connecting straps causing a spark, but this is not common.
Replacing just bad batteries can
also cause a meltdown of battery connections,
cables, even exploding a battery.
All lead-acid batteries require some preventive maintenance, some types more
- Flooded Cell
(sometimes called Wet Cell batteries) are the most common lead-acid
plastic container has one or more cells molded into it, each cell has a grid
of lead plates, along with an electrolyte based on sulphuric acid. Since the
grid is only supported at the edges, flooded lead-acid batteries are
mechanically the weakest batteries. Since the container is not sealed, you
must be very careful that you not come in contact with the electrolyte or
you'll get burns. They should be charged every time you use the cart or at
the end of the day.
- Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries
use a fiberglass-like separator to hold the electrolyte in place. The
physical bond between the separator fibers, the lead plates, and the
container make AGMs spill-proof and the most vibration and impact resistant
AGMs use almost the same voltage set-points as flooded cells, so they can be
used as drop-in replacements for flooded cells. However, since they are
sealed, controlling the rate of charge is very important.
The higher charge efficiency allows you to recharge faster with less
energy. Flooded/wet cells convert 15—20% of the electrical energy into heat
instead of potential power... AGMs as little as 4% is converted to heat.
are lead-acid batteries that are designed to be regularly deeply discharged
using most of its
capacity, discharging between 50% and 80% of its capacity, depending on the
manufacturer and the construction of the battery.
these batteries can be cycled down to a 20% charge, the best lifespan vs.
cost method is to keep the average cycle at about 50% discharge. There is a
direct correlation between the depth of discharge of the battery, and the
number of charge and discharge cycles it can perform. Deep cycle battery
plates have thicker active plates, with higher-density active paste material
and thicker separators. The thicker battery plates resist corrosion. They
should be charged at least once a week.
- Gel Cell batteries use a thickening
agent like fumed silica to immobilize the electrolyte, so if the battery
container cracks, the cell will continue to function. The thickening agent
also prevents movement of electrolyte. Gel cells are sealed and cannot be
re-filled with electrolyte, controlling the rate of charge is very important
or the battery will be ruined in short order. Furthermore, gel cells use
slightly lower charging voltages than flooded cells so the set-points for
charging equipment have to be adjusted.
The term Maintenance Free generally
refers to wet, sealed lead-acid (AGM) and deep-cycle batteries with calcium
added to the positive and negative plates. In hot climates, the water is lost
due to evaporation caused by high temperatures and normal charging. Water can
also be lost due to excessive charging voltage or charging currents. Using
non-sealed wet Low Maintenance (Sb/Ca) batteries (with filler caps) is
encouraged in hot climates so distilled water can be added when this occurs.
Make sure you
only use a charger designed for your cart
charging system that adapts to battery types.
Some battery chargers are designed to work with multiple brands and types of
batteries. Check the list of compatible batteries before charging your golf cart
with one of these chargers or buying a new charger.
Prolonging Battery Life
The strength of your
golf cart is determined by its batteries — the stronger the
batteries, the more power your golf cart will have.
maintenance regimen and proper battery usage is the only way to maximize battery
Be sure to develop and stick to a regular maintenance program. You can
dramatically shorten the life of your batteries without proper care and
maintenance, especially flooded/wet cell batteries.
One key aspect of proper usage is the cycling — a cycle is one complete
discharge and recharge of your cart's bank of batteries. You do not want to
drain your batteries beyond 20—30% of their overall capacity before charging;
for one thing, today’s smart chargers require a nominal voltage of around 20—30%
before they’ll kick on. Going below 20—30% before charging can damage your
Charging the batteries every time you use the cart,
matter how much or little it is used, actually does more harm than good as
compared to cycling the batteries until they are nearly drained. This is because
lead dioxide can build up on the positive plates in clumps rather than in an
even film at very short cycles. Try to stick to 50% usage (about 4 hours of use)
to avoid over-charging, short cycling, and causing low-voltage damage. Let your
cart's battery charge meter be your guide as to when to charge the batteries.
Hitting the 30% mark on occasion, or charging when you’ve only cycled 10%
because you need the capacity for tomorrow, isn’t necessarily a big deal, but
try to avoid it if you can.
To lengthen the lifespan of batteries, make sure your batteries are fully
charged, then check the water level in each battery cell, especially older
batteries, refilling with pure distilled water as necessary. If you fill the
battery cells before charging the batteries, the heat generated by charging can
cause the acid mixture to expand and overflow. Fill only to the plate level;
water levels that are too high cause the acid mixture to overflow and corrode
upon the battery type or manufacturer, check the
battery water levels at least once a month
to ensure that the leaded plates in the battery are submerged in liquid.
Here in Florida, especially during a hot spell (relatively speaking) where
evaporation is high, you may need to check the water level twice a month or even
once a week.
Add just enough water to cover the plates. Only fill when your
cart has been fully charged, when needed, and do not over fill. If levels are
low or empty, the battery plates will dry out and batteries will no longer take
a full charge.
Maintaining Your Cart's Electrical System
Battery maintenance is critical and an overheated lead-acid battery can
actually explode. It is essential to check your golf cart batteries on a regular
- Work in a well-ventilated area, and do not smoke in the vicinity or use
solvents or spray cleaners.
- Inspect the batteries for leaks, cracks in the container and other
damage, The smell of rotten eggs is a sign of leakage. Charging a leaking
battery can be very dangerous.
- Inspect and clean all battery cables, clamps and posts. Remove jewelry
before working with the batteries.
- There shouldn't be any corrosive phosphorus buildup growing around
the terminals. Corrosion buildup makes it harder for the cart to connect
strongly with the batteries and may eventually keep the cart from
starting. Make sure the cart is turned off. Remove the battery clamps,
and clean them and the insides of the clamps with a baking soda solution
(1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of water) using a brush (an old
toothbrush will do). Rinse away any residue and dry with a clean cloth.
- While the clamps are off, clean the top of the battery and posts
with the baking soda and water solution. Don't allow foreign matter to
get inside the battery. Keep the area around the battery clean and dry.
- Replace any frayed or broken cables.
- Reconnect the cables and clamps.
- Coat terminals with a thin layer of petroleum jelly or battery
terminal anti-corrosion gel.
- Plug the batteries into the charger and fully charge the batteries,
making sure the charger's amp gauge needle switches on; the gauge will
register 0 when batteries are fully charged. An 80% percent recharge
can be done in 2 hours, but the last 20% can take 6 or more hours. If your
device has a manual timer, charge the cart for two to three times longer
than you drove it. For an automatic device, charge overnight for best
results. If an automatic charger won't turn off, one of the batteries may
not be able to hold a charge any more.
- When not in use, leave the vehicle in neutral, remove
the key from the ignition, and engage the parking brake.
If Batteries Aren't
Taking a Full Charge
There are two reasons this may be happening:
If you don't know anyone at a golf cart service shop or you don't have the
number of a mobile service guy, start shopping for one now. Many will work with
you to assist you in arriving at a correct diagnosis for a problem, or can help
you get replacement batteries or other parts for your cart. When it comes to
used parts, those who are "in the business" are the best source.
Can I replace just the bad
You can, but
manufacturers don't recommend it. As a result of charging and
discharging, the older battery's ability to hold a solid charge is not there.
The charger treats the pack as one system and it may boil the new
battery while it tries to bring the others up to full charge, which can
eventually ruin the new battery.
Putting a new
battery in a golf cart leads to a meltdown of battery connections, cables, and
even exploding a battery. The system
is only as strong as its weakest battery. The current traveling through
the cables and batteries will find the weakest spot and meltdowns occur because
it gets hot in that area. The new battery that was installed will become the
same as the old batteries due to the heavy draw from the old batteries.
Old batteries do not become refreshed by
putting new batteries in the cart. The old batteries will draw off the new
batteries until they become equal with the old, its that simple.
The life expectancy of golf cart batteries
is generally 5 years. Some brands claim that their batteries can last
up to 7 years, but 5 years or less seems to be the norm for all batteries, especially
on golf courses and in golf cart communities where the batteries are run through
the gauntlet of charge and discharge cycles.
Storage Over Extended Periods of Time
on the type of battery and temperature, batteries have a natural internal
self-discharge (electrochemical "leakage") at a rate of 1% to 60% per month.
Over time the battery will become sulfated and fully discharged and higher
temperatures will significantly accelerate the self-discharge process. A battery
stored at 95° F will self-discharge twice as fast than one stored at 75° F.
Also, a dirty acid-covered battery will self-discharge at a faster rate than a
- Clean the batteries. Make sure all the cell caps are fastened
tightly, then unplug the charger and clean the battery area. Spray battery
neutralizer (baking soda and water) on the top and between the batteries.
Also clean the inside walls of the body panels. Use a paint or old
toothbrush to clean and scrub smaller areas of the battery compartment.
Make sure all the cable connections are tight and secure. Carefully
wiggle the cables back and forth; they should not be too close. If
there is any corrosion, clean it off.
Check the water levels in all the battery cells. Use distilled water
to fill the cells past the plates.
- Charge the batteries, but do not overcharge them. Don't leave cart
plugged into the charger for extended periods of time. Once the charge is
finished, unplug the charger from the wall and from the cart.
you have a friend who can look after your cart for you, ask them to plug the
charger in for a few hours once a month so the cart maintains a full charge.
The charger should be unplugged from the car and the wall after charging.
If you have a Battery Life Saver, it must be
disconnected when the cart won't be used for awhile. If it is not
disconnected, it will discharge the batteries.
- If you have a ‘ReGen’ model electric (1995 and newer), be
sure to turn the switch under the seat from the RUN position to the Tow or
Tow/Maintenance position. If left in RUN mode, the
controller capacitors stay energized by drawing off the limited battery
juice. This can run the battery voltage below the critical charger 'cut-on'
voltage, which can lead to excessive lead sulfate buildup on the plates and
diminish battery capacity.
- Leave the cart in Neutral and turn the key off.
- Secure the wheels to prevent the cart from rolling so you can leave the
hill brake released. This prevents strain on the cables and the brake shoes
can't lock to the drums.
- Check the tire pressures and inflate to 20—25 psi, then roll down the
rain curtains and zip them part way down.
Viola, you're good to go.
When you return,
the batteries are fully charged, you can run the cart.
- If not, put the car on charge and allow the charger to
run its full course. It will take 10 or so charge/discharge cycles to bring
the batteries up to full capacity after a long layover.
you have a ‘ReGen’ model electric (1995 and newer), be sure to turn the switch
under the seat from Tow or Tow/Maintenance back to the RUN position. This
electrically reactivates the cart for use after storage. If left in Tow or Tow
Maintenance mode, the electronic speed controller stays dormant and won't permit
the car to move.
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