Sunday, November 26, 2006

VW - Battery Notes

My wife and I are amateur astronomers. In 1991 we journeyed to the tip of Baja California to spend seven minutes and forty-two seconds standing in the shadow of the moon. As total solars go, this was the E-Ticket ride of the century but what made it even more unique was the ability to drive to the location of maximum totality. Our planet is mostly water and the majority of long-duration total solar eclipses are only visible from a boat, too expensive for us amateurs. Most folks guessed there would be at least a hundred thousand people willing to drive down to Baja to experience such an event. Some estimated as high as a million since it's such an easy trip, which is why we decided to leave early.

Seeing as we expected to be away for a full month and in the middle of summer below the Tropic of Cancer, we took the camper I'd built onto my old Datsun pickup. It has a toilet, shower, swamp cooler and all the stuff girls consider necessary for roughing it.

We had a good time. Saw a couple of painted caves that aren't on the maps, did a lot of fishing, beachcombing, surfing and so on. Then came the eclipse. Too spectacular for words; you really had to be there. But a bit of an embarrassment, interest-wise. Best estimate is that less than 5,000 people showed up and the majority of those were from Europe, Asia and Canada.

When we got home, my bus was dead. Or rather, it's battery was. So I bought a new one. I usually don't. Usually, I hit the junk yards and buy a battery out of a wrecked new car. Usta cost five or ten dollars. More now, of course. But when I went looking I couldn't find any big batteries. And I mean big, like you find in an air conditioned Coupe de Ville. Lotsa little batteries but I wanted a Type 27. Couldn't find one at the junkies so I had to buy one. Delco ‘Voyager' 105 A/hr deep-cycle, marine battery, yada yada yada. Cost the earth.

I run two batteries in the bus, one for the engine and an auxiliary for everything else. I had an old Exide Type 27 as the auxiliary but it was more than ten years old and I figured it wouldn't do for the engine. So I bought the big Delco and installed it in August of ‘91. (The Exide crapped out in 1998 and was replaced with a Type 24 from the junk yard.)

The Delco finally gave up the ghost.

The Delco was one of those low-maintenance types, the kind you have to chisel off the caps to re-fill with water, which I did every couple of years. But last week it wouldn't start the bus. Checking it out, I found a shorted cell. And only eleven years old, too.

I transferred the auxiliary into the engine compartment to get the thing running. Last week I visited the junkies but as before, all I found were little batteries. Finally said to hell with it and bought one. Couldn't find a good one. Wal-Mart and Price Club appear to have driven the local battery shops out of business. Ended up buying one from Costco.

A Type 27 won't fit in the battery space of a 1965 VW bus. It hits the tail light. ‘Way back when, I built a new battery tray that raised the battery about four inches. The forward part of the tray is the after part of the rear wheel well and raising it up allows the battery to sit farther forward. The auxiliary battery is just forward of the same wheel well but inside the cargo bay. It's in a box and most folks never even notice it but when you camp, that's what's powering the lights and computers and radios and stuff. I use a pair of relays to isolate the batteries. (If you're using one of those diode isolators, don't. The voltage drop across the diodes guarantees the batteries will never be fully charged and with a lead-acid battery, 50% of the charge is in the top couple of volts. Use locally available relays to duplicate the circuit used in Westys and the better RV's.)

Raising the battery up in that manner, which is only possible on a bus, makes it inconvenient to service since you have to remove the battery to check the water and you have to remove the air filter before you can remove the battery. Since I pull the engine every couple of years, it isn't that big a deal, plus it makes for a neat installation; there's never any corrosion to worry about and the space under the battery tray is large enough to hold two spare quarts of oil without them rattling around.

I wish I could have found a name-brand battery. I've found they last eight to ten years if you take care of them. Although house-brands are usually built by the same companies their quality tends to be lower because they cut a lot of corners in to keep the price down, which you can discover for yourself by simply taking a few batteries apart. (I recycle the acid then neutralize the plates and melt them down for the lead, which I mold into bullets.)

So howz your battery doing?

-Bob Hoover
-Dec 16 2002

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