My driver called me and advised that the truck’s battery was badly burnt. He sent photos and I couldn’t understand how a battery could be so badly damaged that the casing and cables had all melted. In my anger of course I said, “You had better have been braaiing some good steak!”
Seriously, though, it’s important for customers to be aware that looking after the battery is a critical responsibility which falls to them. In this article I would like to point out a few things that can help customers avoid similar occurrences, albeit not as disastrous as ‘braaiing the battery’.
Imagine a truck driver who has gone to collect a load at a mine, a significant distance away from everything. The driver may stop for a rest period and light a fire before retiring for the night. There is always a chance that the fire is close enough to transfer enough heat to melt the plastic casings and cables. Seldom will your driver admit to having lit a fire and will always blame the battery.
Most trucks have their batteries exposed on the sides and are not covered. Drivers must avoid parking close to the veld where there is a fire risk. There should a significant amount of gravel around the truck to prevent flames from reaching it and any workshop or warehouse in which batteries are stored should be fireproofed.
When using grinding or cutting discs in workshops, batteries should be stored safely away from flying sparks which could land on the battery and ignite the highly-flammable polypropylene.
A battery in good condition normally breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen gas but exists in equilibrium to allow a recombination reversible reaction to occur, forming water again. A faulty battery, however, is continuously releasing hydrogen gas and oxygen through the vents of the battery. If for any reason flames comes into contact with the hydrogen gas that is released, an explosion of the battery could potentially occur, and the customer can lose the battery completely.
Increased resistance in a battery which could be caused by low levels of acid coupled with increased concentration and viscosity of the electrolyte may also generate heat in a battery. It is imperative for those batteries that are not maintenance free, the correct acid levels are checked and maintained, and the specific gravity of the electrolyte is in line with that of a normal-functioning and charged battery (refer to supplier specifications).
A very unfortunate incident would be to throw a lit cigarette on the battery by mistake which could end up lighting the cables and the battery.
The secret to long battery life is education. The bottom line is batteries that are burnt due to customer negligence will not be covered by the supplier warranty policy. So, remember, due care saves a dollar.