A regular battery is composed of flat lead plates and grids stacked in a bath of acid. While effective, over time the plates sulfate and internal resistance causes a battery to die. An Optima battery uses Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) technology, where a glass mat is wound like a toilet paper roll with the acid surrounding it and absorbed by it, with no free acid sloshing around. A gel cell is simply a regular lead acid battery with a thickening agent in the acid and is not the same as an Optima.
Dead batteries and flat tires are the two biggest service calls in the U.S. While a good battery charger won’t fix your flat, it can usually take care of a dead battery. The problem is that all batteries aren’t made the same, and some can benefit from special chargers. That’s why we like the new Optima Digital 1200 battery charger. It understands Optima batteries as well as conventional-style ones.
How does a charger understand a battery? The bottom line is that an Optima has lower internal resistance, and some chargers won’t even work on a discharged Optima because the charger can’t read the voltage, so the charger won’t charge the low battery. That’s one reason Optima came out with its own charger, as many people would complain about a dead Optima battery when in fact it was just not being charged correctly.
In our 4x4 world we often have deeply discharged batteries, either from heavy use or just sitting around a long time with a small drain on them. The Optima 1200 analyzes the state of charge and modifies the charging rate to bring batteries back to life. A slow or “soft” charge rate helps the somewhat dead ones, while the charger can also put out a full 12 amps in regular mode for moderately charged batteries. Also, a conditioning mode keeps the battery in top shape, while a float mode attends to the normal discharge while sitting around. Finally, a 30-day storage recondition mode keeps the battery from sulfating.
All of this is automatic. You just hook the beast up and walk away. Sadly, there is no 100-amp jumpstart mode, but that’s not what a smart charger needs to do; that’s what jumper cables are for.
We tested the Optima 1200 with a variety of standard and Optima batteries over a six-month period, and we love how it works. We have saved three Optima batteries that we presumed were dead, and that is a feat for any charger.
The Compact Maintainer and Charger
New to the Optima charger line is the Digital 400 maintainer. While it’s small size is deceiving it can still charge a battery like its big brother. However, the 400 is far more compact and perfect for leaving in the garage for maintaining rigs. Of course, we just move it from rig to rig in the fleet every other week to keep all the vehicles in top shape, since we can’t afford a dedicated charger for 20 4x4s. At 4 amps it will take a while to get a dead battery up to shape, but it works great if you have the time. Like the fullsize 1200, this maintainer features the same selection modes, displays, and charge and fault modes. At half the cost of the 1200 (around $99) it is a great deal.