This LRO reader emailed LRO.firstname.lastname@example.org to ask our experts about causes for a Land Rover Series I battery struggling with use.
My 1950 80-inch has the later 2.0-litre engine from a 1956 Series I. It struggles to turn the starter more than a few times. I was hoping to keep the old battery, since it looks old, like the Land Rover – but is the 2.0-litre incompatible with the earlier electrics? Is there a way to prove definitely it’s the battery at fault? It still seems to charge up quite fast.
R Storey, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
The fact that your battery is charging up quickly isn’t a good sign. Wearing safety glasses, look in the cells while charging – bubbling indicates a healthy chemical process. Check for battery drain by charging it and trying a start-up straight away.
Sometimes the earth strap’s wire strands are fractured, resulting in poor conductivity – make sure its chassis fixing point is clean and tight. Also, check that the thick leads from the battery to the starter button and from the button to the starter have clean and tight connections. Running battery jump leads between points will determine if the cables are faulty.
If the battery and the leads are okay, the starter is the next thing to check. The battery is easier to check than the starter, so that’s what I’d do. Turn the headlights on and operate the starter – do the lights go dim? If yes, there’s not much power in the battery.
So if you just charged it, that’s a death sentence.
If you’ve got a test meter, set it to 20 volts continuous current: red lead to positive, black lead to negative. A healthy battery can be 13.5 volts or more. If the battery is charged up, you don’t want to see readings of 12 volts; much lower readings probably indicate a dead cell. About 12.5 volts from a good battery that’s been standing for a little while is fi ne in principle, though sometimes a specific-gravity tester (less than £10 from machinemart.co.uk) will give a more realistic idea of battery health. But voltage is onlya partial indicator. You need to test amps, and the simplest way to do that is to lug it along to Halfords. I took a more-or-less dead battery along and had it tested – the printout from the Yuasa tester told me it was more-or-less dead. Time for a new battery.
Or is it? I got hold of some Bat-aid tablets (granvilleoil.com), 01709 890099. The usual problem with old batteries is that accumulated lead sulfate on the plates hardens (because the battery hasn’t been charged regularly). Bat-aid tablets discourage these deposits, so there’s an efficient chemical reaction and the battery works well. Not a miracle cure, but it can help. I tried them on my more-or-less dead battery. Now, that battery is really shot; nothing is going to make it like new again, and Bat-aid makes clear its tablets work only on partly deteriorated batteries, not batteries that are more-or-less dead. Even so, I could tell a difference after the Bat-aid treatment – several sluggish turns on the starter, where I’d be lucky to get one before. Give them a go.
You’ll need three tubes – two for the initial dose and another for later top-ups.
There’s always Plan C
You can get another battery that looks oldstyle (lincon.co.uk). Lincon batteries seem to last for donkey’s years if they’re looked after. And that leads us nicely on to battery conservation. The worst thing you can do is leave the battery discharged in winter – for chemical reasons I won’t get into, the battery can freeze (and thus expand and leak …). But it should be kept charged anyway, even when it’s out of use.
You should put the battery on a charger every couple of weeks. But if you don’t want the hassle of trying to remember, use one of those intelligent trickle-chargers that monitor the battery status and supply top-up charging only when it’s required. I had my battery on one for years, but last winter it failed and I didn’t find out for ages (that’s how come I have a dead battery).
And there’s something else: topping-up charging is okay, but it doesn’t activate the battery in the same way regular use would. So, it’s better to discharge the battery by connecting it up to a bulb, and then charge it – this gives the chemicals a good work-out. Again, that’s tedious, but there are special chargers that simulate the process, letting the battery run down and then supplying a burst of charging. I’ve bought one (frost.co.uk).
This workshop advice appeared in the Feb 2015 issue of LRO. Back issues are available to download on digital devices here.