Repair or Replace? Battery Decisions 101

Good maintenance and correct handling can help commercial batteries last for years on end. Lithium-ion batteries may offer a lifespan of 10 years or more, while more traditional lead-acid and nickel-metal batteries often need replacement after only five years or less. Of course, the actual design and use of the battery also determine how long you can rely on it before investing in a new unit. It’s possible to rejuvenate and restore some types of batteries as they age, getting a few more months or years of use from the power source for a forklift or an electric vehicle. But eventually, every commercial-grade battery will need replacement and recycling. Here’s how to know if a particular battery is reaching the end of its lifespan so you can make recycling arrangements before there’s an incident due to a worn-out unit.

Why Do Batteries Need Replacement?

While one-use batteries obviously lose their value after discharging, most commercial batteries are rechargeable in some way to increase their value and reduce wasted materials. Yet even with appropriate handling and careful maintenance over the years, even the most durable battery will eventually run down or become damaged. It’s sheer chemistry that causes the internal active material to slowly lose its ability to hold a charge. Depending on the combination of liquids or solids used in the core of the battery, this can happen in just a few years or over the course of a decade. Older batteries will hold a smaller charge or discharge faster, which both lead to issues keeping your equipment powered for a full workday. Charging time may increase as well, especially in lithium-ion batteries. Even designs with improved life eventually wear out.

Sometimes even brand new batteries need replacement rather than maintenance simply because they’re too damaged to keep using. Batteries aren’t safe to use if:

  • There is any noticeable bulging to the case or components
  • The battery is hotter than usual when charging or using
  • Fluids are leaking out of the case
  • The battery is making a hissing or whining noise
  • There is any other visible damage to the battery.

Minor signs of damage like corrosion may occur over time, no matter what, but they also indicate you’re getting closer to the need for a new battery. Repairing a battery is not an easy process. For the repaired unit to operate safely and correctly, it’ll need professional handling and re-calibration before charging. Unless the battery was relatively new, only has limited damage, and you have services available in the area, it’s likely a better choice to replace it entirely.

How Can You Make a Battery Last Longer?

While replacement is inevitable for practically every commercial battery, there are tricks to help a battery last longer before it’s time to send it away for recycling. Most batteries have a specific point at which they respond best to recharging. Recharging before reaching the minimum recommended discharging point can help maintain the energy-holding capacity of the battery. In most cases, you also want to avoid unnecessary overcharging whenever possible as well. Most modern charging stations for commercial-grade batteries include this as a standard feature, but it’s important to check on it rather than assuming your charging system isn’t overcharging each unit. The single biggest factor that determines the lifespan of modern lithium-ion batteries is exposure to ambient temperature. They prefer to be used in a standard temperature range of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Use in hot temperatures leads to damage to the material on the interior, while the battery can’t supply as much power when it’s used in cold ambient temperatures. Make sure batteries are stored in a partially discharged state when they won’t be used for more than a few weeks at a time to prevent a breakdown during storage as well.

Repair vs Replace: Commercial Battery Options

For commercial batteries, replacing a single unit can cost thousands of dollars. It’s no wonder that most business owners try to squeeze as much life as possible from these devices before giving in and replacing them. With the majority of commercial equipment, repair and renovation are generally available to keep it running smoothly without the high cost of replacement. However, this is necessarily the case with batteries. Even the largest batteries used in power systems eventually need replacement, which is a major undertaking. The options for repairing commercial batteries are generally limited to refreshing the fluids used in liquid-filled batteries, using programmed charging cycles to try and restore the capacity of the unit, and switching some battery cores into new cases after minor damage. Once a battery significantly loses its ability to hold power and provide a steady supply at the desired voltage, it’s time to replace it and recycle the old unit.

How to Handle the Batteries You’re Replacing

Unless you’re removing a battery temporarily for conditioning or another attempt at repair, you should recycle the unit that’s being replaced. Keeping it around even temporarily creates a fire risk, especially if the battery is damaged or leaking. The fluids that leak out of all commercial batteries used today all pose some kind of health and environmental risk. Moving the old and unwanted units to the recycling facility as quickly as possible prevents all sorts of issues, but it requires the help of professionals in many cases. Small handheld battery packs for power tools, barcode scanners, and other devices are easy enough to package up and set aside for pickup. But for larger batteries that are built into power systems and manufacturing facilities, there may be an extensive decommissioning process that must be undergone first. We can help give you the advice you need on battery removal as part of our commercial recycling services.

Choose Battery Recyclers of America for help whether you have 1 or 1,000 batteries in need of recycling. We’re the experts in dealing with all of the batteries relied on for commercial purposes today, so we can help regardless of what kind of replacement situation you’re facing.

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