By on March 21, 2008

01_battery_lg.jpgOur ’06 Volvo V50’s battery crapped-out three days ago. I jumped it, got 100 yards down the driveway… The dash panel turned into a Christmas tree. POWER SYSTEM FAILURE! SERVICE IMMEDIATELY! The engine, brakes and steering died; the car had to be flat-bedded to the dealer. And then the 2004 Porsche Boxster’s battery lunched. It exhibited so many odd symptoms— power windows flopping up and down, radio mysteriously turning on, baffling warning lights— that I never thought instant battery failure. Independent techs who work on Eurolux cars tell me that Audi and Porsche and Volvo (and the like) batteries are so under-sized (in the interest of economy) and overstressed (thanks to electronic-toys overload) that they’re failing prematurely. If this is the state of the 19th century lead-acid art, what are we to expect when millions of cars are powered by batteries? 

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18 Comments on “Wilkinson: Will Tomorrow’s EV Batteries Cope?...”

  • avatar

    Yup, noticed the same things here. They don’t last much longer than 3 years in most EFI-motivated vehicles, especially in hotter climates where heat does a number on lead-acid batteries.

  • avatar

    I don’t think this story says as much about battery technology as it does about engineering choices at Porsche, Audi and Volvo.

    update – I see Sajeev’s note after I submit…

    We’re getting 6 and 7 years on 5 and 6 year batteries in the Frost Belt. It’s not the batteries.

    Well, let me amend that, with the exception of a Wal*Mart battery, it’s not the batteries.

  • avatar

    Yup, its the climate and (in many cases) OEM sizing choices.

    And I still think DRLs play a factor in battery and alternator life, but never found any proof to back that up.

  • avatar

    Changed the original battery on a 2001 Protege this January, after 78 months of use. Yes, I went to the dealer and got the same Mazda battery to last me another 6+ years.

    The Eurolux brands do have lots of electronics gizmos (electrical handbrake anyone?), but I doubt that’s what causing them the failures.

  • avatar

    In regards to DRLs, I’ve found the headlights on my cars last longer when they’re on all the time, than on my parents’ cars, when they aren’t. It’s certainly not a scientific comparison, but still. The original headlights are in still in my 01 Impala, and I use my headlights all the time. The headlights in my dad’s 99 Sonata have been replaced twice now, and he never turns on his headlights during the day.

    As for battery size, I’d use the biggest, most powerful battery I can find… assuming I’d have to replace mine – again, original in an 01 Impala. Knock on wood.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I’m in the frost belt–Upstate New York–and it’s still winter here. Nor are these Wal-Mart batteries. One is branded “Porsche,” though I don’t know who actually makes it, and the other is a two-year-old Volvo OEM battery.

    I agree that it says far less about battery technology than it does about engineering choices, but that’s the point: will GM be saying, “We’re gonna be putting the finest, most expensive, most reliable batteries we can find into the Volt…”?

    It’s like the astronauts used to say: they were always aware that they were sitting atop a collection of devices supplied by the lowest bidders.

  • avatar

    Smaller batteries and alternators, in the interest of fuel economy, are now the norm. Car batteries lose much of their capacity each time they are allowed to run down. Car batteries are only good for perhaps three deep discharges before they are toast. Deep cycle batteries are typically good for 50 to 200 deep discharges. Does the alternator on these Euro vehicles have enough capacity at idle speeds to fully run the electronics and maintain the battery charge? If not, this would explain the premature failure, especially if you are doing a lot of stop and go driving.

  • avatar

    lprocter1982: since you mentioned it, you should replace your Impala’s bulbs. They dim very slowly, so you’ll be shocked at the improvement with a set of new replacements.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Wilkinson: Shut up and eat your spinach. When our elders and betters want your advice they will ask you for it. Did you send in your check for your Volt yet?

  • avatar

    It appears the Euro batteries are toast. They must be getting them from Lucas. Go DELCO

  • avatar

    I think the headlights on my old Saturn SL2 lasted 10 years–~125k. The original battery lasted around 6. I used to have to change the headlights on my ’77 Corolla annually.

    Regarding the issue at hand, I hope you can’t extrapolate about the batteries on EVs from those on ICEs. Scrimping on batteries in an EV or a PHEV would be like scrimping on all the bearings in an ICE.

  • avatar

    I would note that inferring anything about EV batteries from the Wilkinson’s troubles with 12V lead-acid batteries is a stretch.

    Whatever battery technology EVs ultimately use (NiMH, Li-Ion, Li-polymer, whatever), it almost certainly will NOT be lead-acid.

    Also, the operating condition of EV/hybrid battery packs are much more carefully controlled than a typical car 12V battery/charging system.

    I’m not foolish enough to assert that Tesla/Volt/ won’t have problems, but I don’t think Wilkinson’s troubles give us much insight on what they will be.

  • avatar

    Eric_Stepans : Whatever battery technology EVs ultimately use (NiMH, Li-Ion, Li-polymer, whatever), it almost certainly will NOT be lead-acid.

    +1 on that.

    I’d like to think modern battery technology (a la Prius) has eclipsed the likes of the GM EV1 and the Ranger EV. (and every goofy 1980s EV conversion you see on eBay these days)

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Of course it won’t be lead-acid, I know that. What I’m saying is that I’m suspicious of potential cost-cutting if supposed luxury-car manufacturers can’t even put usable lead-acid batteries into their cars.

    A poster above said that cutting costs on an
    EV’s batteries would be like cutting costs on an ICE’s bearings. Not exactly. Bearing material would be, let’s guess, a thousandth of the cost of an ICE. Batteries would be a tenth the cost of an EV’s powerplant–or more. Where would a manufacturer be more likely to cut corners?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Good post — my last WRX — which went 105,000 glorious, violent miles before succumbing to a drunk 19-year-old in a Volvo — failed to start exactly once.

    Dead battery at 70,000 miles. About 3-years-in, as a matter of fact.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    SW, do you drive on bad roads? Smaller, lighter batteries have thin plates and smaller suspension hardware. This makes them susceptable to vibration. If a plate gets loose and touches another plate, they short and wipe out the cell. Bad cell = junk battery.

  • avatar

    The old man’s ’05 911 Carrera S recently had trouble starting, then needed to be jumped to get going. After 3 years and 15,000 miles.

    Dealer wanted $180 plus install for the same POS battery! It had like 300 CCA! I think our riding mower battery can do that!

    Autozone had a battery for $120 (part of thier top of the line range), and it had twice the CCA, and twice the reserve… Really, Porsche? how muvh can this possibly be saving you? On a car that stickered for $95k? For shame.

  • avatar

    It’s not undersized. It’s the aliens.

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