GOLF CART BATTERY CHARGING
Golf cart batteries are heavy duty industrial batteries, usually 6 volt or 8 volt, assembled (series) in a string in quantities to add up to the golf cart operating voltage, be it 12 volt, 24 volt, 36 volt, 42 volt, 48 volt or 72 volt. Most are 36 or 48 volt. There are some golf carts that use or have been converted to multiple traditional 12 volt lead acid deep cycle marine batteries like Group 31 units.
Because of the construction of golf cart batteries, they have certain characteristics differing from regular (smaller) lead acid batteries. Lifespan of lead acid batteries is directly related to the thickness of the positive plates, the thicker the better for deep cycling life. This is why 6 volt golf cart batteries (thick plates) will last longer than the same amp hour pack made up of 12 volt batteries. Automotive battery plates are about .040 inch thick, while a golt cart battery will be about .070 to .100 inch thick. Forklift batteries ordinarily are .250 inch or thicker, and use lead-antimony for plate material. This material increases plate life, but increases water loss and gassing, so proper maintenance is mandatory for good battery life. Water levels should never be allowed to drop below the top of the plates. Rapid sulfation can occur, which decreases battery capacity and eventually life.
A lot of traditional lead acid batteries of 250 amp hours and under (deep cycle marine, etc.), are recommended to be charged at a level of .1C, which is 10% of battery amp hour capacity. Some batteries have this printed right on them. For example, .1C of a 100 amp hour battery is .1 x 100 = 10 amp charge rate. 6 volt golf cart batteries are typically 200 to 225 amp hours, and 8 volt batteries about 150 amp hours. It is important to know the ah rating of your battery, if you aren't replacing an existing charger, or to check if the existing charger is sized correctly. You can go a little larger in the charger sizing, but risk overcharging the battery and decreasing its life if you go too large. A 6 volt pack of wet cells can be charged up to 25 amps with no problem. You can undersize a little, but going too small risks undercharging the battery, and not stirring the battery chemistry sufficiently, not to mention working the charger harder than necessary.
Golf cart batteries have a life expectancy of 5 to 7 years with moderate use, meaning NOT deeply discharged routinely and frequently. Heavy use, such as a rental at a golf course can last 2 to 3 years, perhaps. A hot climate (Arizona) accelerates battery chemistry, and shortens life measureably. While some recommend waiting until a golf cart is discharged 80% before recharging, there are others who believe the less deep the discharge, the more cycles to be expected. We fall into this category, especially using a microprocessor controlled charger like these units we carry, charging at 50% or less when possible, and leaving the smart chargers plugged in when not using the the cart, even for an entire off season. An alternative, is running a charge cycle at least once a month during the off season. Basically, what you don't want to do is leave the cart unmaintained for extended periods, as lead acid batteries internally discharge slowly when not on a floating charger or not being charged.
Golf carts should never be completely discharged (basically the cart won't move). They should be charged while there still is 20% charge or higher left in the battery. Deep discharge can damage the battery and/or some cart electrical components including the motor. Most golf cart chargers look for a specific battery voltage before they initiate a charge cycle (to be sure they are hooked to a battery), and a deep discharge may drop battery voltage below this threshhold, so the charger won't work, requiring a service call, or alternate charging method. The battery may not take a full charge after this, and sulfate due to incomplete charge cycles.
Lead acid battery discharge is not a linear function, from nominal battery voltage (i.e. 36 volts) to zero. To put battery voltage versus charge state in perspective - a healthy, fully charged 12 volt lead acid battery will be 12.7 to 12.8 volts (high performance batteries even higher). At 11.9 volts, a 12 volt battery is effectively discharged. You can pull them lower than this (not much useable power), or if not charged they will continue to drop voltage, but this is where damage occurs. An 80% discharged battery (12 volt) measures about 12.0 volts. Multiply these numbers by 2, 3, or 4 for 24, 36 or 48 volt golf cart battery packs.