Charge It: Best Battery Tenders
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Sauntering out to one’s vehicle and twisting the key (or jabbing the start button) only to come up with a whole handful of nothing is one of the automotive world’s most frustrating experiences. Dead batteries are the bane of a gearhead’s existence. Thankfully, most cars turn off their headlights or dome lights automatically these days. They emphatically did not when your author was a kid.
Storing a car (or recreation vehicle) over the winter months can also wreck a battery. That’s why battery tenders – not chicken tenders – were invented. They are designed to facilitate a gentle flow of juice to a battery so it is not flatter than a Midwest cornfield come summer. Maintaining that level of charge is also important.
(Editor’s note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘
90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)
We’ll lead off this post about battery tenders with a product from, erm, Battery Tender. One of the better-known brands dealing in this type of tool, the specific product you see here is on the more expensive side of their ledger – but there’s a reason.
The ‘Plus’ version is a 1.25A battery charger designed to fully charge a battery and maintain it at proper storage voltage without the damaging effects caused by traditional trickle chargers that feed power into a battery whether it’s needed or not. Reverse polarity protection saves the dolts amongst us, while the quick-connect harness helps in hard-to-reach areas.
Pros: Great ratings from recent customers, automatic maintenance mode, quick connects
Cons: Power cords could be longer
The product is advertised as combining a micro-processor controlled battery charger with an integrated battery and alternator testing function. Apparently, the charger has a special reconditioning function that will revive and restore deeply discharged and stratified batteries.
Declarations like ‘But wait, there’s more’ always raise the suspicions of this jaded author but comments left by customers seem to bear out the claims. Being able to recondition a battery that’s gone flat is worth the cash. Its float/pulse maintenance mode also makes the charger a good fit for long-term maintenance of your vehicle’s battery.
Pros: Compact size, big power
This option from a company with an inscrutable name (and a color scheme suspiciously like that of the established Battery Tender brand) is one of the most basic and straightforward battery tending units available. It’s essentially a household wall adapter and some leads.
Don’t knock it for that, though. One would imagine this could be the perfect solution for those of us parking our rigs in a very small space. There is a quick disconnect harness so owners don’t have to mess with unhooking the charger when repositioning the vehicle that’s being tended. It is listed as having overcharging protection for the battery to which it is supplying juice.
Pros: Very affordable, very easy to use
Cons: Two-foot leads are insufficient for most people
This solar-powered battery tender is definitely Greta-friendly, though it would be of little use in your author’s hometown where three feet of snow just fell in the span of about two days. But if you live in Phoenix, listen up.
Not everyone parks their vehicle close to a power source, so harnessing the power of the sun (that sounds like a cartoon villain’s M.O.) to charge and tend a battery is an inspired idea. Available in several different wattages, the unit is said to have a premium strong solar glass to withstand high loads plus a durable ABS frame to avoid impact damage.
Pros: Free power from that big orange thing in the sky
Cons: Won’t work in miserable climates
This long-running brand is in the battery tender game with this rugged-looking but compact unit. It charges and maintains 12-volt or 6-volt batteries with easy connect battery clips and O-ring terminals. It’ll cease charging automatically when the battery is fully charged or topped off, switching to float mode monitoring.
Weighing 1.3 pounds, this battery tender is less than a foot long, meaning it should store easily in a cubby or down in the spare tire wheel well. Over 4,500 reviewers have given this thing a 4.1 star rating, with the majority of them praising its ability to keep the battery of their ATV or motorcycle in good nick.
Pros: Sensible price, typical polarity and overcharging features
Cons: Might be best for smaller batteries
Insofar as we can tell, the brand name on this battery tender has nothing to do with a certain seven-time F1 World Champion. Its auto voltage detection automatically determines if it is talking to a 6V or 12V battery. Both clamp and ring harnesses are included.
The seller asserts it is great for motorcycle, power sport, and boat batteries. This means one should shop around if you’re looking for a unit to tend to the power needs of your Power Wagon or F-450 pickup truck. A float mode automatically maintains optimum battery charge once it is at the proper levels.
Pros: Light, compact, affordable
Cons: Not recommended for big vehicles
Here’s another in-line style battery tender, shipped with quick disconnects and an assortment of alligator clips and o-ring connectors. Measuring only 3.9 inches in length, it’s easy to fling this in the glovebox of your car until it’s needed. Also, we’re pretty sure Foval was a villain on one of the Star Trek series.
According to the ad, this tender plays nicely with all lead-acid, flooded or sealed maintenance-free batteries. Like a good Hollywood rehab center it follows a 4-step program, working its way through initialization, bulk charge, absorption mode, and finally float mode. The paparazzo isn’t interested in what Foval had for lunch, however.
Pros: Very small size
Cons: Intended for recreation vehicles
We’ll end our post with this stouter-than-others unit from NoCo, a brand which popped up as recommended by shoppers who were carping about other tenders they felt didn’t work properly. Said to detect sulfation and acid stratification, this thing should rejuvenate a weak battery in addition to maintaining a strong one.
Plenty of customer feedback and real-world photos show some people semi-permanently installing this unit in a safe place under the hoods of their cars, occasionally plugging it into an electric source when parked in order to keep a 12V battery in good shape. Compliments abound about the product construction, including a design which does not allow the intrusion of water.
Pros: Enthusiastically positive reviews, great for a full-sized car
Cons: On the expensive side
[Images by the manufacturer; Main photo credit: kurhan / ShutterStock.com]