Can these little black boxes really help your batteries live longer?
Several years ago, we started experimenting with products that supposedly kept batteries alive longer by inducing high-frequency pulses into them. Initially we viewed this technology as similar to putting little propellers in the intake tract or installing magnets on the fuel line, but after a decade of playing around with various versions of the electronic desulfation concept, we had to face the fact that it does indeed work. Also, that some of those products work really well.
One we're really impressed by is the Canadus line of High Frequency Battery Energizing (HFBE) units. Since we still run more-than-10-year-old batteries in five of our four-wheelers, and have several other vehicles operating on 7- to 9-year-old batteries (both regular "wet" ones and Optimas), there certainly seems to be something about this pulsing idea that works.
Alright then, if this stuff is so good, how come it's not used by the OE manufacturers in the first place? That's a question we've asked ourselves several times, and about numerous gizmos, but in this case, the product is actually available through a vehicle manufacturer. Paccar, the parent company of Kenworth and Peterbilt, has done extensive research on the virtues of the Canadus battery energizers and now offers them through its dealer network. It lends credibility to the Canadus devices and makes perfect sense, since trucks generally have four large (though not particularly expensive) batteries, and can't afford much downtime. Surely this technology will eventually filter down to our level, but for now, you'll have to visit your local truck dealership to find the Canadus products over the counter.
While financial concerns are what primarily drives the trucking industry to use desulfation add-ons, we four-wheelers should probably also take notice. At least if you value batteries that perform as well as possible, because if the battery isn't doing its best, neither is your starter, winch, lights, or anything else electrical on your vehicle. Even more deserving are our motorhomes and other RVs, tow vehicles, and any seldom-used vehicles.
Batteries develop crystalline lead sulfate on their plates as they charge and discharge, just doing what batteries do in a daily driver. Worse yet is a battery left in a state of partial discharge, as is often the case with our trail four-bys and tow vehicles that tend to sit around a lot between runs. Without getting too technical, the amorphous lead sulfate on the plates in a battery eventually turns into a crystalline form, a process called sulfation. As more of the battery's plate surfaces become covered with lead sulfate crystals, its performance goes down accordingly-much like a clogged air filter would affect an engine's performance. With the battery clogged, the charging gets less efficient as its internal resistance increases and the battery can't produce the same output numbers it used to, making everything from lights to winches less efficient. It's a vicious cycle that supposedly causes 80 percent of battery failures because, eventually, the sulfation can become severe enough to render the battery useless.
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According to Canadus' 10-year experience with High-Frequency Battery Energizing, four out of five used batteries will respond to desulfation, restoring performance by decomposing the crystalline lead sulfate that has formed on the plates. Ideally, we should use HFBE on new batteries from the day we get them since it's better and more effective to keep a battery from sulfating in the first place than it is to fix the problem after the fact. Canadus claims that reduced grid corrosion and plate warpage are among the advantages of weaning a battery on HFBE.
Installing a Canadus battery energizer couldn't be simpler-hook the red wire to positive and the black to negative on the battery, then attach the unit to something nearby, using screws or tie-wraps.
But how does this electrochemical wizardry in a box work? Basically, once the battery voltage exceeds 12.95 (which is practically all driving time, or whenever it's on a charger), the battery is fed a special 10 kHz pulse. This pulsing then apparently can stop or reverse sulfation, keeping a new battery clean, or decomposing the crystalline lead sulfate in a used battery, using just a few milliamps in the process.
According to Canadus' tests and testimonials after seven years of using the HFBE technology in the trucking industry, a clean battery has a positive trickle down effect. Canadus claims that you can expect a 25 percent improvement in starter longevity and 50 percent longer alternator life as a result of improved battery efficiency. As far as the batteries themselves go, tests indicate possible improvements in battery capacity by 24 percent. In one case, a fleet reported a drop of 9.3 percent in cold cranking amps (CCA) over a period of 69 days, compared to the Canadus-equipped vehicles, which sported a 12 percent improvement in CCA. Another test group reported a 3.6 percent increase in CCA with Canadus treatment, while the part without the device lost 20.1 percent in 95 days. Battery life could also increase from 50 percent to more than double. Apparently, Paccar's engineers also found the benefits of applying Canadus battery energizing worthwhile.
Ourselves, we have no scientific research or definite numbers to prove a darn thing, except that, as mentioned, our batteries sure seem to work well and last quite long since we started using this pulsing technology. Since we've seen resting voltages rise after applying HFBE and have so many old batteries still alive and functioning well, we believe it's due to applying a technology that does indeed work. Otherwise, with our luck, a battery probably wouldn't last a year.
Optima batteries aren't as susceptible to sulfation as regular wet ones, but we've had very good results using Canadus products on them too. Actually, to the point that after just a 300-mile trip, followed by several days of sitting in camp, our tow vehicle's batteries are noticeably perkier than if we didn't bother to hook up the Can-Pulse (an older version of the Canadus, which we've used temporarily on several vehicles). At first, we thought that maybe we imagined things, but a few times of checking with a voltmeter before departing indeed showed about a 0.2-volt difference, and the new versions appear to be more effective yet.
At this point, there are two models of the 12-volt Canadus battery energizer available: the SD-1200 and the HD-1200. At $295, the HD-1200 isn't cheap, but it's made for trucks and their multibattery setups. That also makes it perfect for motorhomes and anything else with more than two batteries. An SD-1200 is the obvious choice for our four-wheelers, daily drivers, and regular tow vehicles made to work on one battery-or two wired in parallel-and at $149, it's a much smaller investment.
Are the Canadus battery energizers really cost-effective? Certainly not if you're installing an SD-1200 and then selling it with the vehicle a few months later, but if you instead transfer it to your next vehicle and can make just a single Optima live twice as long as it otherwise would have, you'd pretty much break even on the cost of the battery alone. In dual-battery applications, the potential savings can grow accordingly, and when the HD-1200 is used in larger battery banks, the savings can be substantial, even after the outlay of the pricier unit. Either way, that's not taking the well-being of the other components of the electrical system into account, which may also add up to some noticeable savings-and less hassle.
What are the drawbacks of the HFBE? As far as we can tell, none. Except that the units are audible if you're right by the battery, after shutting the engine off and until the voltage drops below 12.95. There's no known interference with any other electrical functions, although we're told that it may not be good to combine the Canadus HFBE with battery chargers that have a built-in pulse function. Both units come with a five-year warranty, and if Canadus made something equally effective for keeping our ailing bodies working at higher efficiency, we'd buy one in a heartbeat, so to speak.