STORAGE BATTERY TROUBLES
The Storage Battery is a most faithful servant, and if given even a fighting chance, will respond instantly to the demands made upon it. Given reasonable care and consideration, it performs its duties faithfully for many months. When such care is lacking, however, it is soon discovered that the battery is subject to a number of diseases, most of which are "preventable," and all of which, if they do not kill the battery, at least, greatly impair its efficiency.
In discussing these diseases, we may consider the various parts of which a battery is composed, and describe the troubles to which they are subject. Every battery used on an automobile is composed of :
- Jars in which Plates, Separators, and Electrolyte are placed
- Wooden case
- Cell Connectors, and Terminals
Most battery diseases are contagious, and if one part fails, some of the other parts are Affected. These diseases may best be considered in the order in which the parts are given in the foregoing list.
Plates are the "vitals" of a battery, and their troubles affect -the life of the battery more seriously than those of the other parts. It is often difficult to diagnose their troubles, and the following descriptions are given to aid in the diagnosis.
1. Over discharge. Some battery men say that a battery is suflphated whenever anything is wrong with it. Sulphation is the formation of lead sulphate on the plates. As a battery of the lead acid type discharges, lead sulphate must form. There can be no discharge of such a battery without the formation of lead sulphate, which is the natural product of the chemical reactions by virtue of which current may be drawn from the battery. This sulphate gradually replaces the lead peroxide of the positive plate, and the spongy lead of the negative plate. When a battery has been discharged until the voltage per cell has fallen to the voltage limits, considerable portions of the lead peroxide and spongy lead remain on the plates. The sulphate which is then present is in a finely divided, porous condition, and can readily be changed back to lead peroxide and spongy lead by charging the battery.
If the discharge is continued after the voltage has fallen to the voltage limits, an excessive amount of sulphate forms. It fills up the pores in the active materials, and covers up much of the active material which remains, so that it is difficult to change the sulphate back to active material. Moreover, the expansion of active material which takes place as the sulphate forms is then so great that it causes the active material to break off from the plate and drop to the bottom of the jar.
2. Allowing a Battery to Stand Idle. When lead sulphate is first formed, it is in a finely divided, porous condition, and the electrolyte soaks through it readily. If a battery which has been discharged is allowed to stand idle without being charged, the lead sulphate crystals grow by the combination of the crystals to form larger crystals. The sulphate, instead of having a very large surface area, upon which the electrolyte may act in changing the sulphate to active material, as it does when it is first formed, now presents only a very small surface to the electrolyte, and it is therefore only with great difficulty that the large crystals of sulphate are changed to active material. The sulphate is a poor conductor, and furthermore, it covers up much of the remaining active material so that the electrolyte cannot reach it.
A charged battery will also become sulphated if allowed to stand idle, because it gradually becomes discharged, even though no wires of any kind are attached to the battery terminals. How this takes place is explained later. The discharge and formation of sulphate continue until the battery is completely discharged. The sulphate then gradually forms larger crystals as explained in the preceding paragraph, until all of the active material is either changed to sulphate, or is covered over by the sulphate so that the electrolyte cannot reach it. The sulphate thus forms a high resistance coating which hinders the passage of charging current through the battery and causes heating on charge. It is for this reason that sulphated plates should be charged at a low rate. The chemical actions which are necessary to change the sulphate to active material can take place but very slowly, and thus only a small current can be absorbed. Forcing a large current through a sulphated battery causes heating since the sulphate does not form uniformly throughout the plate, and the parts which are the least sulphated will carry the charging current, causing them to become heated. The heating damages the plates and separators, and causes buckling, as explained later.
If batteries which have been discharged to the voltage limits are allowed to stand idle without being charged, they will, of course, continue to discharge themselves just as fully charged batteries do when allowed to stand idle.
3. Starvation. If a battery is charged and discharged intermittently, and the discharge is greater than the charge, the battery will never be fully charged, and lead sulphate will always be present. Gradually this sulphate forms the large tough crystals that cover the active material and remove it from action. This action continues until all parts of the plate are covered with the crystalline sulphate and we have the same condition that results when a battery is allowed to stand idle without any charge.
4. Allowing Electrolyte to Fall Below Tops of Plates. If the electrolyte is allowed to fall below the tops of the plates, so that the active materials are exposed to the air, the parts thus exposed will gradually become sulphated. The spongy lead of the negative plate, being in a very finely divided state, offers a very large surface to the oxygen of the air, and is rapidly oxidized, the chemical action causing the active material to become hot. The charging current, in passing through the parts of the plates not covered by the electrolyte also heats the active materials. The electrolyte which occasionally splashes over the exposed parts of the plates and which rises in the pores of the separators, is heated also, and since hot acid attacks the active materials readily, sulphation takes place quickly. The parts above the electrolyte, of course, cannot be charged and sulphate continues to form. Soon the whole exposed parts are sulphated as shown in Fig. 209.
As the level of the electrolyte drops, the electrolyte becomes stronger, because it is only the water which evaporates, the acid remaining and becoming more and more concentrated. The remaining electrolyte and the parts of the plates covered by it become heated by the current, because there is a smaller plate area to carry the current, and because the resistance of the electrolyte increases as it grows more concentrated. Since hot acid attacks the active materials, sulphation also takes place in the parts of the plates still covered by the electrolyte.
The separators in a battery having the electrolyte below the tops of the plates suffer also, as will be explained later. See page 346.
6. Adding Acid Instead of Water. The sulphuric acid in the electrolyte is a heavy, oily liquid that does not evaporate. It is only the water in the electrolyte which evaporates. Therefore, when the level of the electrolyte falls, only water should be added to bring the electrolyte to the correct height. There are, however, many car owners who still believe that a battery may be charged by adding acid when the level of the electrolyte falls. Batteries in which this is done then contain too much acid. This leads to two troubles. The first is that the readings taken with a hydrometer will then be misleading. A specific gravity of 1.150 is always taken to indicate that a battery is discharged, and a specific gravity of 1.280 that a battery is charged. These two values of specific gravity indicate a discharged and charged condition of the battery ONLY WHEN THE PROPORTION OF ACID IN THE ELECTROLYTE IS CORRECT. It is the condition of the plates, and not the specific gravity of the electrolyte which determines when a battery is either charged or discharged. With the correct proportion of acid in the electrolyte, the specific gravity of the electrolyte is 1.150 when the plates are discharged and 1.280 when the plates are charged, and that is why specific gravity readings are generally used as an' indication of the condition of the battery.
If there is too much acid in the electrolyte, the plates will be in a discharged condition before the specific gravity of the electrolyte drops to 1.150, and will not be in a charged condition until after the specific gravity has risen beyond the usual value. As a result of these facts a battery may be over-discharged, and never fully charged, this resulting in the formation of sulphate.
The second trouble caused by adding acid to the electrolyte is that the acid will then be too concentrated and attacks both plates and separators. This will cause the plates to become sulphated, and the separators rotted.
Buckling is the bending or twisting of plates due to unequal expansion of the different parts of the plate, Figs. 207 and 208. It is natural and unavoidable for plates to expand. As a battery discharges, lead sulphate forms. This sulphate occupies more space than the lead peroxide and spongy lead, and the active materials expand. Heat expands both active materials and grids. As long as all parts of a plate expand equally, no buckling will occur. Unequal expansion, however, causes buckling.
2. Continued Operation with Battery in a Discharged Condition. When a considerable amount of lead sulphate has, formed, and current is still drawn from the battery, those portions of the plate which have the least amount of sulphate will carry most of the current, and will therefore become heated and expand. The parts covered with sulphate will not expand, and the result is that the parts that do expand will twist the plate out of shape. A normal rate of discharge may be sufficient to cause buckling in a sulphated plate.
3. Charging at High Rates. If the charging rate is excessive, the temperature will rise so high that excessive expansion will take place. This is usually unequal in the different parts of the plate, and buckling results. With a battery that has been over discharged, the charging current will be carried by those parts of the plates which are the least sulphated. These parts will therefore expand while others will not, and buckling results.
4. Non-Uniform Distribution of Current Over the Plates. Buckling may occur in a battery which has not been over-discharged, if the current carried by the various parts of the plate is not uniform on account of faulty design, or careless application of the paste. This is a fault of the manufacturers, and not the operating conditions.
5. Defective Grid Alloy. If the metals of which the grids are composed are not uniformly mixed throughout the plate, areas of pure lead may be left here and there, with air holes at various points. The electrolyte enters the air holes, attacks the lead and converts the grid partly into active material. This causes expansion and consequent distortion and buckling.
Buckling will not necessarily cause trouble, and batteries with buckled plates may operate satisfactorily for a long time. If, however, the expansion and twisting has caused much of the active material to break away from the grid, or has loosened the active material from the grids, much of the battery capacity is lost. Another danger is that the lower edges of a plate may press against the separator with sufficient force to cut through it, touch the next plate, and cause a short-circuit.
The result of shedding, provided no other troubles occur, is simply to reduce the capacity of the plates. The positives, of course, suffer more from shedding than the negatives do, shedding being one of the chief weaknesses of the positives. There is no remedy for this condition. When the shedding has taken place to such an extent that the capacity of the battery has fallen very low, new plates should be installed. After a time, the sediment space in the bottom of the jar becomes filled with sediment, which touches the plates. This short-circuits the cell, of course, and new plates must be installed, and the jars washed out thoroughly.
1. Normal Shedding. It is natural and unavoidable for the positives to shed. Lead Peroxide is a powder-like substance, the particles of which do not hold together. A small amount of sulphate will cement the particles together to a considerable extent. At the surface of the plate, however, this sulphate is soon changed to active material, and the peroxide loses its coherence. Particles of peroxide drop from the plates and fall, into the space in the bottom of the jar provided for this purpose.
Bubbles of gas which occur at the end of a charge blow some of the peroxide particles from the plate. The electrolyte moving about as the battery is jolted by the motion of the car washes particles of peroxide from the positive plates. Any slight motion between positive plates and separators rubs some peroxide from the plates. It is therefore entirely natural for shedding to occur, especially at the positives. The spongy lead of the negatives is much more elastic than the peroxide, and hence very little shed. ding occurs at the negative plates. The shedding at the positives explains why the grooved side of the separator is always placed against the positive plate. The grooves, being vertical, allow the peroxide to fall to the bottom of the jar, where it accumulates as sediment, or "mud."
2. Excessive Charging Rate, or Overcharging. If a battery is charged at too high a rate, only part of the current is used to produce the chemical actions by which the battery is charged. The balance of the current decomposes the water of the electrolyte into hydrogen and oxygen, causing gassing. As the bubbles of gas force their way out of the plates, they blow off particles of the active material.
When a battery is overcharged, the long continued gassing has the same effect as described in the preceding paragraph.
3. Charging Sulphated Plates at too High a Rate. In sulphated plates, the chemical actions which take place as a battery is charged can proceed but very slowly, because the sulphate, besides being a poor conductor, has formed larger crystals which present only a small surface for the electrolyte to act upon, and has also covered up much of the remaining active material. Since the chemical actions take place slowly, the charging current must be kept at a low value. If too heavy a charging current is used, the battery will be overheated, and some of the current will simply cause gassing as explained in No. 2 above. The gas bubbles will break off pieces of the sulphate, which then fall to the bottom of the jars as "mud."
4. Charging Only a Part of the Plate. If the electrolyte falls below the tops of the plates, and the usual charging current is sent into the battery, the current will be too great for the plate area through which it passes, and hence gassing and shedding will result as already explained.
The same condition exists in a battery in which one or more plates have been broken from the strap, either because of mechanical vibration or because of impurities such as acetic acid in improperly treated separators. The remaining plates are called upon to do more work, and carry the entire charging current. Gassing and shedding will result.
5. Freezing. If a battery is given any care whatever, there is little danger of freezing. The electrolyte of a fully charged battery with a specific gravity of 1.280 freezes at about 92° below zero. With a specific gravity of 1.150, the electrolyte freezes at about 5° above zero. A frozen battery therefore indicates gross neglect.
As the electrolyte freezes, the water of the electrolyte expands. Since there is electrolyte in all the inner parts of the plate, the expansion as the water in the paste freezes forces the pastes out of the grids. The expansion also cracks the rubber jars, and sometimes bulges out the ends of the battery case
This refers to a condition in which the active materials are no longer in contact with the grid. Corrosion, or sulphation, of the grids themselves is generally present at the same time, since the chemical actions are shifted from the active material to the grids themselves.
1. Over discharge. As a battery discharges, the lead sulphate which forms causes an expansion of the active material. If a battery is repeatedly over-discharged, this results in the positives shedding. In the negatives, the spongy lead is puffed out, resulting in the condition known as "bulged negatives" as illustrated in Fig 122.
2. Buckling. As a plate grid is bent out of shape, the active material, especially the peroxide, breaks loose from the grid, since the peroxide cannot bend as much as the grids. This occurs in the negatives also, though not to such an extent as in the positives.
If the plates are buckled to such an extent that the element will not go back into the jar, the positives should be discarded. If the positives are buckled, the negatives will be also, but not to the extent that the positives are.
In the case of the positives, there is no remedy, and the plates should be discarded. The negatives, however, may be fully charged, and then straightened, and the active material forced back flush with the grids by pressings, as described in Chapter 15.
Impurities may be divided into two general classes. The first class includes those which do not attack the separators or grids, but merely cause internal self-discharge. The second class includes those which attack the grids or separators.
1. Impurities Which Merely Cause Self-discharge. This includes metals other than lead. If these metals are in solution in the electrolyte, they deposit on the negative plate, during charge, in their ordinary metallic state, and form small cells with the spongy lead. These small cells discharge as soon as the charging circuit is opened, and some of the lead is changed to lead sulphate. This, of course, causes a loss in capacity. Free hydrogen is given off by this local discharge, and so much of it is at times given off that the hydrogen bubbles give the electrolyte a milky appearance.
Silver, gold, and platinum are the most active in forming small local cells. These metals form local cells which have comparatively high voltages, and which take away a considerable portion of the energy of a cell. Platinum is especially active, and a small amount of platinum will prevent a negative plate from taking a charge. Gradually, however, the spongy lead covers up the foreign metal and prevents it from forming local cells.
Iron also forms local cells which rob the cell of a considerable portion of its capacity. This may be brought into the cell by impure acid or water. Iron remains in solution in the electrolyte, and is not precipitated as metallic iron. The iron in solution travels from the positive to the negative plate, and back again, causing a local discharge at each plate. It is, moreover, very difficult to remove the iron, except by pouring out all of the electrolyte. Manganese acts the same as the iron.
2. Impurities Which Attack the Plates. In general, this class includes acids other than sulphuric acid, compounds formed from such acids, or substances which will readily form acids by chemical action in the cell. Nitric acid, hydrochloric or muriatic acid, and acetic acid belong in this class of impurities. Organic matter in a state of decomposition attacks the lead grids readily.
Impurities in the second class dissolve the lead grids, and the plate disintegrates and falls to pieces, since its backbone is destroyed. When a battery which contains these impurities is opened, it will be found that the plates crumble and fall apart at the slightest touch. See Fig. 210.
Separators which have not been treated properly introduce acetic acid into a cell. The acetic acid attacks and rots the lead, especially the lugs projecting above the electrolyte, and the plate connecting straps. The plates will generally be found broken from the connecting strap, with the plate lugs broken and crumbled.
As for remedies, there is not much to be done. Impurities in the first class merely decrease the capacity of the battery. If the battery is fully charged, and the negatives then washed thoroughly, some of the impurities may be removed. Impurities of the second class have generally damaged the plates beyond repairs by the time their presence is suspected.
The best thing to do is to keep impurities out of the battery. This means that only distilled water, which is known to be absolutely free from impurities should be used.
Impurities which exist in the separators or acid cannot be detected readily, but in repairing a battery, separators furnished by one of the reliable battery makers should be used. Pure acid should also be used. This means that only chemically pure, or "C. P." acid, also known as battery acid should be used. In handling the acid in the shop, it should always be kept in its glass bottle, and should be poured only into a glass, porcelain, earthenware, lead, or rubber vessel. Never use a vessel made of any other material.
When the grids of a plate are attacked chemically, they become thin and weak, and may be spoken of as being corroded.
1. Impurities. Those impurities which attack the lead grids, such as acids other than sulphuric acid, compounds formed from these acids, or substances which will readily form acids dissolve some of the lead which composes the grids. The grids gradually become weakened. The decrease in the amount of metal in the grids increases the internal resistance of the cell and give a tendency for temperatures to be higher in the cell. The contact between grids and active material is in time made poor. If the action of the impurities continues for any length of time, the plate becomes very weak, and breaks at the slightest touch.
2. High Temperatures. Anything that raises the temperature of the electrolyte, such as too high a charging rate, causes the acid to attack the grids and form a layer of sulphate on them. The sulphate is changed to active material on charge, and the grids are thereby weakened.
3. Age. Grids gradually become weak and brittle as a battery remains in service. The acid in the electrolyte, even though the electrolyte has the correct gravity and temperature, has some effect upon the grids, and in time this weakens them. During the life of a battery it is at times subjected to high temperatures, impurities, sulphation, etc., the combined effects of which result in a gradual weakening of the grids.
1. Age. The spongy lead of the negative plate gradually assumes a "grainy" or "granulated" appearance. The lead then seems to be made up of small grains, like grains of sand, instead of being a smooth paste. This action is a natural one, and is due to the gradual increase in the size of the particles of the lead. The plate loses its porosity, the particles cementing together and closing the pores in the lead. The increase in the size of the particles of the spongy lead decreases the amount of surface exposed to the action of the electrolyte, and the plate loses capacity. Such plates should be thrown away, as charging and discharging will not bring the paste back to its original state.
2. Heat will also cause the paste to become granulated, and its surface to become rough or even blistered.
When charged negatives are exposed to the air, there is a decided increase in their temperature. Spongy lead is in an extremely finely divided state, the particles of lead being very minute, and forming a very porous mass. When the plate is exposed to the air, rapid oxidation takes place because the oxygen of the air has a very large surface to act upon. The oxidation causes the lead to become heated. The heating, of course, raises the temperature of the electrolyte, and the hot acid attacks both grids and lead.
Fully charged negatives should therefore be watched carefully when removed from a battery. When they become heated and begin to steam, they should be dipped in water until they have cooled. They may then be removed from the water, but should be dipped whenever they begin to steam. After they no longer heat, they may be left exposed to the air.
This method of dipping the negatives to prevent overheating has always been followed. However, the Electric Storage Battery Company, which makes the Exide batteries, does not take any steps to prevent the heating of the negatives when exposed to the air, stating that their plates are not injured by the heating which takes place.
This is the characteristic condition of badly sulphated negatives. The active material may be as hard as a stone. The best method of treating such negatives is to charge them in distilled water. See Chapter 15.
This is a characteristic of a repeatedly over-discharged negative. The lead sulphate which forms as a battery discharges is bulkier than the spongy lead, and the lead expands and bulges out between the ribs of the grid.
1. High Gravity. Gravity above 1.300 causes the acid to act upon the spongy lead and soften it.
2. Heat will soften the spongy lead also. The softened spongy lead is loosened and falls from the grids, as shown in Fig. 211. Little can be done for such 'negatives.
This is caused by slight overheating, and is not a serious condition.
A battery which is allowed to stand in a cold place while completely discharged will freeze. The water in the electrolyte expands as it freezes, cracking the rubber jars and bulging out the end of the wooden case. As the electrolyte which fills the pores of the positive plates freezes and expands, it breaks the active material loose from the grids. When the battery thaws, the active material does not go back into the grids. When such a battery is opened, and the groups separated, the positive active material sticks to the separators in large pieces, Fig. 112, and that remaining in the grids falls out very easily. The active material has a pinkish color and is badly shrunken.
1. Impurities. This has already been discussed. See page 76.
2. Overheating. The hot electrolyte dissolves the lead of the grids and that which is dissolved is never converted back to lead. Continued overheating wears out the grids, and the active material also, and the plate falls to pieces at the slightest pressure.
Positives which are rotted and disintegrated are, of course, hopeless, and must be junked.
As previously described, buckling is caused by unequal expansion. If the buckling is only slight, the plates may be used as they are. If the plates are badly buckled, the active material will be found to be loose, and the plates cannot be straightened. Such positives should be discarded.
This is the result of continued shedding, the causes of which have already been given. If the shedding is only slight, and the plate is good otherwise, it may be used again. If such active material has been lost, the plates must be discarded.
Continued operation at high temperatures, will soften the peroxide, and make the plates unfit for further use. Old positives are soft, clue to the natural deterioration of the paste with age.
This condition is found in batteries that have been charged with the acid below the tops of the plates. The part of the plate above the acid is continually being heated by the charging current. It becomes hard and shiny, and has cracks running through it. The peroxide becomes orange or brick colored, and the grid deteriorates. The part of the plate below the electrolyte suffers also, as explained more fully on page 71. Such plates should be discarded if any considerable portion of the plates is affected. Plates in which 1/2 to 1 inch of the upper parts are affected may be used again if otherwise in good condition.
Such plates have been partly reversed, so that there is lead peroxide and spongy lead on both positive and negative plates, and such plates are generally worthless. If the active materials have not become loosened from the grids, and the grids have not been disintegrated and broken, the plates may sometimes be reversed by a long charge at a low rate in the right direction. If this does not restore the plates, discard them.
Separators form the weakest part of a battery, but at the same time perform a very important duty. New separators should therefore be installed whenever a battery is opened for repairs. Repairs should never be attempted on separators.
1. Not Properly Expanded Before Installation. Separators in stock must be kept moist. This not only prevents them from becoming dry and brittle, but keeps them fully expanded. If separators which have been kept dry in stock are installed in a battery, they do their expanding inside the battery. This causes them to project beyond the edges of the plates. The crowding to which they are subjected causes them to crack. Cracked separators permit "treeing" between plates, with a consequent short circuit.
2. Not Properly Treated. Separators which have not been given the proper chemical treatment are likely to develop Acetic acid after they are in the battery. Acetic acid dissolves the lead grids, the plate lugs, and the plate connecting straps rapidly. If the plate lugs are found broken, and crumble easily, acetic acid is very likely present, especially if an odor like that of vinegar is noticeable. Improperly treated separators will cause a battery to show low voltage at high rates of discharge, particularly in cold weather, and will also cause the negatives to give poor cadmium readings, which may lead the repairman to conclude that tile negatives are defective. The separators of batteries which have been shipped completely assembled without electrolyte and with moistened plates and separators will sometimes have the same effect.
3. Cracked. Separators should be carefully "candled" -- placed in front of a light and looked through. Cracks, resinous streaks, etc., mean that the separator should not be used, as it will breed trouble.
4. Rotted and Carbonized. This may be the result of old age, overheating, or high gravity electrolyte.
5. Pores Clogged. Impurities, dirt from impure water, and lead sulphate fill the pores of a separator and prevent the proper circulation of the electrolyte. The active material of frozen positives also fills up the pores of a separator.
6. Edges Chiseled Off. A buckling plate will cut through the lower edge of a separator and short circuit the cell. Holes will be cut through any part of a separator by a buckling plate, or a negative with bulged active material.
Battery jars are made of hard rubber, and are easily broken. They are not acted upon by the electrolyte, or any of the impurities which may be found in the jar. Their troubles are all mechanical, and consist of being cracked, or having small holes through the walls. Jars are softened by high temperatures, but this does no particular harm unless they are actually burned by an open flame or red hot metal. The causes of jar troubles are as follows:
1. Rough Handling. By far the most common cause of jar breakage is rough handling by careless or inexperienced persons. If one end of a battery rests on the floor, and the other is allowed to drop several inches, broken jars will probably result from the severe impact of the heavy lead plates. Storage batteries should be handled as if made of glass. When installed on a car, the springs protect the battery from shock to a considerable extent, but rough roads or exceptionally severe jolts may break jars.
3. Any Weight Placed on Top of the Battery is transmitted from the links to the plates, and by them to the bottom of the jars. Batteries should always be stored in racks, and not one on top of another. The practice of putting any weight whatever on top of a battery should be promptly discouraged.
5. Groups Not Properly Trimmed. The outside negative plates in a cell come just inside the jar, and the strap ends must be carefully trimmed off flush with the plates, to prevent them from breaking the top of the jars. Jars have slightly rounded corners, and are somewhat narrower at the extreme ends than nearer the center. A group may therefore go into a jar quite readily when moved toward the other end of the jar to that into which the post strap must go when in proper position for the cover. When the group is forced back into its proper position the strap may break the jar. It is a good plan not only to trim the ends of the negative straps perfectly flush, but to round the strap corners where they go into the jar corners.
6. Defective Jars. (a) A jar not properly vulcanized may come apart at the scam. (b) A small impurity in the rubber may dissolve in the acid and leave a minute pinhole. All jars are carefully tested at the factory and the likelihood of trouble from defective jars is extremely small.
7. Explosion in Cell. (a) Hydrogen and oxygen gases evolved during charging make a very explosive mixture. An open flame brought near a battery on charge or freshly charged, will probably produce an explosion resulting in broken jars and jar covers. (b) An open circuit produced inside a cell on charge in the manner described on page 86 under the heading "Open Circuits," will cause a spark at the instant the circuit is broken, with the same result as bringing a flame near the battery. (c) The small holes in the vents must be kept free for the escape of the gases. These holes are usually sealed in batteries shipped with moistened plates and separators, to keep air out of the cells. The seals must be removed when the battery is prepared for service. If the vents remain plugged, the pressure of the gases formed during charge will finally burst the covers of jars.
1. Ends Bulged Out. This may be due to a battery having been frozen or to hold-downs being screwed down too tight, or some similar cause. Whether the case can be repaired depends on the extent of the bulging. This can best be determined by the repairman.
2. Rotted. If the case is rotted around the top, it is evidence that: (a) Too much water was added, with subsequent overflowing when electrolyte warmed up during charge. (b) The tops were poorly sealed, resulting in leaks between the covers and the, jars. (c) Battery has not been fastened down properly, and acid has been thrown out of the jars by the jolting of the car on the road. (d) The vent plugs have not been turned down tightly. (e) Electrolyte has been spilled in measuring specific gravity.
If the case is rotted around the lower part it indicates that the jars are cracked or contain holes. Instructions for making repairs on battery cases are given on page 360.
1. Corroded. This is a very common trouble, and one which should be guarded against very carefully. Corrosion is indicated by the presence of a grayish or greenish substance on the battery terminals, especially the positive. It is due to several causes:
(a) Too much water added to cells. The electrolyte expands on charge and flows out on the top of the battery.
(b) Battery not fastened firmly. The jolting caused by the motion of the car on the road will cause electrolyte to be thrown out of the vent caps.
(c) Battery poorly sealed. The electrolyte will be thrown out on the cover by the motion of the car through the leaks which result from poor sealing.
(d) Vent caps loose. This also allows electrolyte to be thrown out on the battery top.
(e) Electrolyte spilled on top of battery in measuring specific gravity.
(f) Battery cables damaged, or loose. The cables attached to the battery terminals are connected to lugs which are heavily coated with lead. The cables are insulated with rubber, upon which sulphuric acid has no effect. Care should be taken that the lead coating is not worn off, and that the rubber insulation is not broken or cut so as to allow electrolyte, which is spilled on the battery top as explained in (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e), to reach the bare copper conductors of the cable. The terminal parts are always so made that when the connections are kept tight no acid can come into contact with anything but lead and rubber, neither of which is attacked by sulphuric acid.
(g) Attaching wires directly to battery terminals. There should be no exposed metal except lead at the battery terminals. No wires of any other metal should be attached to the battery terminals. Such wires should be connected to the rubber covered cables which are attached to battery, and the connections should be made far enough away from the battery to prevent electrolyte from coming in contact with the wire. Car manufacturers generally observe this rule, but the car owner may, through ignorance, attach copper wires directly to the battery terminals. The positive terminal is especially subject to corrosion, and should be watched carefully. To avoid corrosion it is necessary simply to keep the top of the battery dry, keep the terminal connections tight, and coat the terminals with vaseline. The rule about connecting wires directly to the battery terminals must of course be observed also.
2. Loose. Loose terminal connections cause a loss of energy due to their resistance, and all such connections must be well made. If the inter-cell connectors are loose, it is due to a poor job of lead burning. This is also true of burned on terminals, and in either case, the connections should be drilled off, cleaned and re-burned.
Terminals sometimes become so badly corroded that it is impossible to disconnect the cables front the battery. Stitch terminals should be drilled off and soaked in boiling soda water.
(1) Low Gravity. See page 321.
(2) High Gravity. See page 323.
(3) Low Level. See page 323.
(4) High Level. This condition is due to the addition of too much water. It leads to corrosion as already explained. It also causes a loss of acid. The Electrolyte which overflows is lost, this of course, causing a loss of acid. The condition of Low Gravity then arises, as described on page 321.
(5) Specific gravity will not rise during charge. See page 204.(a) Lead Sulphate in Battery Acid. It sometimes happens that sulphuric acid contains some lead sulphate in solution. This sulphate is precipitated when water is added to the acid in mixing electrolyte, and gives the electrolyte a milky appearance. This sulphate settles if the electrolyte is allowed to stand.
(b) Gassing. The most common cause of the milky appearance, however, is the presence of minute gas bubbles in large quantities. These may be the result of local action caused by the presence of metallic impurities in the battery. The local action will stop when the battery is put on charge, but will begin as soon as the battery is taken off charge. The impurities are gradually covered by lead or lead sulphate, and the local action is thus stopped.
Excessive gassing in a cell which contains no impurities may also cause the electrolyte to have a milky appearance. The gas bubbles are very numerous and make the electrolyte look milky white.
(c) Impurities in the electrolyte will also give it a milky appearance.
1. Poor Burning of Connectors to Posts. Unless a good burned connection is made between each connector and post, the joint may melt under high discharge rates, or it may offer so much resistance to the passage of current that the starting motor cannot operate. Sometimes the post is not burned to the connector at all, although the latter is well finished off on top. Under such conditions the battery may operate for a time, due to frictional contact between the post and connector, but the parts may become oxidized or sulphated, or vibration may break the connection, preventing the flow of current. Frequently, however, the circuit is not completely open, and the poor connection acts simply as a high resistance. Under such a condition the constant current generator automatically increases its voltage, and forces charging current through the battery, although the latter, having only a low fixed voltage, cannot force out the heavy current required for starting the engine.
2. Terminals Broken Off. Inexperienced workmen frequently pound on the terminals to loosen the cable lugs, or pry on them sufficiently to break off the battery terminals. If the terminals and lugs are kept properly greased, they will come apart easily. A pair of terminal tongs is a very convenient tool. These exert a pressure between the terminal and the head of the terminal screw, which is first unscrewed a few turns.
3. Acid on Soldered Joints. Amateurs sometimes attempt to make connections by the use of a soldering iron and solder. Solder is readily dissolved by acid, not only spoiling the joint, but endangering the plates if any gets into the cells. Solder must never be used on a battery except for sweating the cables into the cable lugs, and the joint even here must be well protected by rubber tape.
4. Defective Posts. Posts withdrawn from the post mould before they are cool enough may develop cracks. Bubbles sometimes occur in the posts. Either trouble may reduce the current carrying capacity or mechanical strength of the post and result in a broken or burned-out spot.
5. Plates Improperly Burned. As previously explained, this is not likely to cause immediate trouble, but by imposing extra work on the balance of the plates, causes them to wear out quickly.
1. Due to excessive use of starting motor and lamps.
2. Failure of generator.
3. Defective switches, which by being grounded, or failing to open allow battery to discharge.
4. Defective cutout, allowing battery to discharge into generator.
5. Addition of accessories, or use of too large lamps.
6. Defective wiring, causing grounds or short-circuits.
7. Insufficient charging rate.
8. Battery allowed to remain idle.
1. Worn out Separators. The duties of separators are to prevent the plates from touching each other, and to prevent "treeing," or growth of active material from the negative to the positive plates. If they fail to perform these duties, the battery will become short-circuited internally. The separator troubles described on page 81 eventually lead to short-circuited cells.
2. Foreign Material. If a piece of lead falls between plates so as to later punch a hole through a separator, a short circuit will result. Great care should be taken in burning plates on the straps to prevent lead from running down between plates, as this lead will cause a short circuit by punching through the separator.
3. Accumulation of Sediment. The active material which drops from the plates accumulates in the "mud" space in the bottom of the jar. If this rises until it touches the bottom of the plates, a short-circuit results. Usually it is advisable to renew the positives in a battery which has become short-circuited by sediment, since the sediment comes largely from the positives, and if they have lost enough active material to completely fill the sediment space, they are no longer fit for use.
4. Badly sulphated plates and separators, impurities which attack the plates.
A battery loses capacity due to a number of causes. Some of them have already been considered.
1. Impurities in the Electrolyte. These have already been discussed.
2. Sulphation. This also has been described.
3. Loose Active Material, as already described. The active materials which are not in contact with the grids cannot do their work.
4. Incorrect Proportions of Acid and Water in the Electrolyte. In order that all the active material in the plates may be utilized, there must be enough acid in the electrolyte, and also enough water. If there is not enough acid, the battery will lack capacity. If there is too much acid, the acid when the battery is fully charged will be strong enough to attack and seriously damage the plates and separators. Insufficient amount of acid may be due to replacing, with water, electrolyte which has been spilled or which has leaked out. Too much acid results from an incorrect proportion of acid and water in the electrolyte, or from adding acid instead of water to bring the electrolyte above the plate tops, and causes sulphation, corroded plates, and carbonized separators.
The remedy for incorrect proportions of acid and water in the electrolyte is to give the battery a full charge and adjust the gravity by drawing off some of the electrolyte and replacing it with water, or 1.400 specific gravity electrolyte, as the case may require.
6. Shedding. The capacity of a battery naturally decreases as the active material falls from the plates, since the amount of active material which can take part in the chemical actions that enable us to draw current from the battery decreases.
7. Low Level of Electrolyte. Aside from the loss of capacity which results from the sulphation caused by low electrolyte, there is a loss of capacity caused by the decrease in the useful plate area when the electrolyte is below the tops of the plates. Only that part of the plate surface which is below the electrolyte does any work, and the area of this part gradually decreases as the electrolyte falls.
8. Reversal of Plates. If one cell of a battery has an internal short circuit, or some other defect which causes it to lose its charge, the cell will be discharged before the others which are in series with it, and when this cell is completely discharged, the other cells will send a current through it in a discharge direction, and the negative plates will have a coating of lead peroxide formed on them, and will assume the characteristics of positive plates. The positives will be reversed also.
This reversal may also be the result of charging a battery in the wrong direction, on account of reversed charging connections. The remedy for reversed plates, provided they have not become disintegrated, is to give them a long charge in the right direction at a low rate.
9. Effect of Age. A battery gradually loses capacity due to its age. This effect is independent of the loss of capacity due to the other causes. In the negatives, the size of the grain increases its size, giving the plates a granulated appearance. Stitch plates are called "granulated" negatives. The spongy lead cements together and loses porosity.
It has been found that if a charged battery is allowed to stand idle, and is not charged, and no current is drawn from it, the battery will gradually become completely discharged and must be given an occasional "freshening" charge.
Now, as we have learned, when a battery discharges lead sulphate forms on each plate, and acid is taken from the electrolyte as the sulphate forms. In our idle battery, therefore, such actions must be taking place. The only difference in this case is that the sulphate forms without any current passing through the battery.
At the lead peroxide plate we have lead peroxide paste, lead grid, and sulphuric acid. These are all the element-, needed to produce a storage battery, and as the lead peroxide and the lead are touching each other, each lead peroxide plate really forms a short circuited cell. Why does this plate not discharge itself completely? A certain. amount of discharge does take place, and results in a layer of lead sulphate forming between the lead peroxide and the grid. The sulphate, having high resistance then protects the lead grid and prevents any further action. This discharge action therefore does not continue, but causes a loss of a certain part of the charge.
At the negative plate, we have pure spongy lead, and the grid. This grid is not composed entirely of lead, but contains a percentage of antimony, a metal which makes the grid harder and stronger. There is but very little difference of potential between the spongy lead and the grid. A small amount of lead sulphate does form, however, on the surface of the negative plate. This is due to the action between the spongy lead and the electrolyte.
Some of the lead combines with the acid to form lead sulphate, but after a small amount has been formed the action is stopped because a balanced chemical condition is soon obtained.
Thus only a small amount of lead sulphate is formed at each plate, and the cell thereby loses only a small part of its charge. In a perfectly constructed battery the discharge would then stop. The only further action which would take place would be the slow evaporation of the water of the electrolyte. The loss of charge which actually occurs in an idle charged battery is greater than that due to the formation of the small amounts of sulphate on the plates, and the evaporation of the water from the electrolyte.
Does an idle cell discharge itself by decomposing its electrolyte? We have a difference of potential of about two volts between the lead and lead peroxide plate. Why is the electrolyte not decomposed by this difference? At first it might seem that the water and acid should be separated into its parts, and hydrogen liberated at the negative plate. As a matter of fact, very little hydrogen gas is set free in an idle charged cell because to do so would require a voltage of about 2.5. At two volts, so little gas is formed that the loss of charge due to it may be neglected entirely.
The greatest loss of charge in an idle battery results from conditions arising from the processes of manufacture, internal troubles, and leakage between terminals. The grids of a cell are an alloy of lead and antimony. These are mixed while in a molten condition, and are then allowed to cool. If the cooling is not done properly, or if a poor grade of antimony is used, the resulting grid is not a uniform mixture of antimony and lead. There will be areas of pure lead, with an air hole here and there. The lack of uniformity in the grid material results in a local discharge in the grid. This causes some loss of charge.
If the active material completely fills the spaces between- the grids, the acid formed as the cell is charged may not be able to diffuse into the main body of the electrolyte, but forms a small pocket of acid in the plate. This acid will cause a discharge between paste and grid and a coating of lead sulphate forms on the arid, resulting in a certain loss of charge.
In general any metallic impurity in a cell will cause a loss at the lead plate. When a cell is charged, the current causes the metals to deposit on the lead plate. Local cells are formed by the metallic impurity, the lead plate, and the acid, and these tiny cells will discharge completely, causing a loss of charge. This has already been described on page 76.
Another cause of loss of charge in an idle cell is leakage of current between the terminals on the outside of the battery. During charge, the bubbles of gas which escape from the electrolyte carry with them minute quantities of acid which may deposit on the top of the battery and gradually form a thin conducting layer of electrolyte through which a current will flow from the positive to the negative terminals. This danger may be avoided by carefully wiping any moisture from the battery. Condensation of moisture from the air, on the top or sides and bottom of a battery will cause the same condition. This will be especially noticeable if a battery is kept in a damp place.
The tendency for crystals of lead to "tree" over from the negative to the positive plates is well known. An idle battery is one in which this action tends to take place. Treeing will occur through the pores of the separators and as there is no flow of electrolyte in or out of the plates, the lead "trees" are not disturbed in their growth. A freshening charge causes this flow to take place, and break up the "trees" which would otherwise gradually short circuit the cells.