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Batteries

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Everything from your car, laptop, cell phone, flashlight and CD player takes battery power to operate. The question is, are name brands really any better than their generic counterparts? And why does it seem like some batteries outlive others? Is there any way to make them last longer? We find out.

   BUYING TIPS

The Basics

  • Essentially, all batteries store current or energy for later use. Using a flow of electrons, different kinds of batteries use different metals and chemicals to create the energy flow.

  • Rechargeable batteries are unique in that electrons can flow forward and backward. But they will lose their steam eventually.

  • Batteries come in a variety of sizes, including AAA, AA, C, D, 9-volt and button, just to name a few.

  • There are a variety of battery types. Some can be used in numerous items, and others, like a car battery are product-specific.

  • There are two main types of batteries:

    • Primary batteries are non-rechargeable but do give you a longer run time. They include:

      • Alkaline, the most commonly used type. They’re more expensive than zinc-carbon and have a 5-year shelf-life and fail quickly at the end of their power. They are good for items that aren’t used often, like flashlights.

      • Heavy duty batteries, also known as zinc-chloride, are similar to zinc-carbon but are more powerful and have a shelf-life of 2-3 years. They’re good for low-drain devices.

      • Lithium batteries are powerful and recover quickly between each use. Good for cameras and even pacemakers. They are expensive, however, but have a long shelf life.

      • Sealed lead-acid batteries are continually charging and therefore good for emergency situations like security or lighting, or for use in computers and camcorders. The lead is toxic though and should be disposed of properly.

      • Silver oxide batteries are typically the button-type used in calculators and watches. They don’t last as long as lithium.

      • Zinc carbon are cheap but short on performance and weaken gradually over time. They’re not a good choice for high-drain devices.

    • Rechargeable batteries (aka secondary batteries) can be used repeatedly but discharge faster than primary batteries. They typically have a high initial investment, but are cost effective over time, and environmentally friendlier.

      • Alkaline rechargeables can be used about 25 times and have a shelf life of about 5 years. They also don’t need to be fully discharged before recharging.

      • Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad) batteries are the cheapest rechargeable and last about 300-500 recharges. They maintain a good constant charge and output only drops right before the battery dies. They do have some memory effect so it’s best to let these drain fully before recharging.

      • Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) last about 300-500 charges and have a higher performance than NiCad but are more sensitive to heat.

      • Lithium-ion are the most superior rechargeables. They’re light and less bulky and are good for use in cell phones, camcorders, ipods, cameras. The charge lasts a long time and is rechargeable hundreds to thousands of times.

  • How long a battery’s charge lasts all depends on what you’re using it for:

    • Low draining devices include remote controls, small radios, wall clocks, calculators, watches, and flashlights.

    • Medium draining devices include stereos, boom boxes, electronic games, and cd or mp3 players.

    • High draining devices are typically anything with moving or mechanical parts, including cameras, some toys, and PDAs

Other Considerations

  • Storing batteries in the fridge or freezer doesn’t actually prolong their life. However, storing them in a hot place (near a stove or in the sun) can shorten their life, and can also be dangerous (they may explode if heated). 

  • To keep your batteries lasting longer:

    • Keep battery contacts clean. You can try cleaning them with a pencil eraser or cloth.

    • Remove batteries from equipment that is sitting unused.

    • Don’t leave batteries in a device that is being powered by household electricity.

    • Store batteries in a dry, cool place. Temperatures of over 85 degrees shorten battery life.

    • Don’t mix old and new batteries or different battery types. This can effect performance and lead to leakage.

  • If a battery isn’t working in a medium or high draining device, try putting it in a low draining device like a clock or remote control. You may find it still has enough power to operate in this new environment.

  • Dispose your old batteries through recycling programs, either in your municipality or at electronics stores that have recycling programs.

  • Be sure to check out the stale date. An alkaline battery has a shelf life of about five years. Pick one with the furthest date.

Be Aware

  • Never allow batteries to heat up. They could explode.

  • Don’t keep rechargeables in the recharger for too long or they can overheat, and overcharging them can reduce battery life.

  • Remove old batteries promptly to avoid leakage.

  • Do not throw your batteries in the garbage. Find somewhere in your municipality that will recycle them.

  • Beware of batteries on sale: it could mean that their stale date is drawing near so be sure to check.

   TEST CRITERIA

We tested a variety of AAA 1.5 volt alkaline batteries to find out if one brand lasts longer than others. We tested:

  • Sanyo: $1.50/battery
  • Duracell: $2.50/battery
  • Life: $1.50/battery
  • Energizer: $2.00/battery
  • Drug Store Brand (London Drugs): $1.10/battery

Longevity Test

We put our test batteries in five of the same high-draining toy and turned them on to see which lasted longest:

  • Drug store brand: 2 hrs 11 min
  • Duracell: 2 hrs 18 min
  • Sanyo: 2 hrs 11 min
  • Life: 2 hrs 26 min
  • Energizer: 3 hrs

While it looks like the Energizer battery is the best because it lasted longest, don’t be fooled. When we calculate the cost per minute, the Drug Store Brand performed the best.

   OUR TOP PICK

When you calculate the cost per minute, we and our experts agree: buy alkaline batteries by price, not brand. In our test, the inexpensive Drug Store Brand is the best pick.

 

 

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