For some of us our classic cars are our only form of transport, our daily drivers, happily chugging along (hopefully) and ferrying us to and from work, the shops, on holiday and we don’t mind racking up the miles. For many though they are our pride and joy, something to be cherished and cared for on a level unprecedented for a daily work horse, taken out only when the weather is fair and kept snugly tucked up in the garage when not in use. It may be a particularly rare beast that we don’t want to add too many miles to, or a concours condition beauty that would be sacrilegious to take out in anything but perfect conditions. Whatever the case though, if you’re not using your classic car regularly then the battery will go flat. Fact. The alternator charges the battery, and driving the car runs the alternator and there in lies the problem, and why trickle chargers are essential.
We’ve all been there – it’s the summer, the weather is glorious and we can’t wait to jump in our car and go for a B-road blast, excited by the prospect of the year’s first drive. We slide the key into the ignition, eager to hear the engine fire up and… nothing. Nada. Zip. You can feel the abject disappointment as you read this can’t you, and this is exactly why you need a trickle charger if you’re going to be storing your car for an extended period of time or if you have a weaker, older battery powering your classic.
Unlike regular battery chargers that are used to quickly breath life into a dead battery, essentially emulating a jump start from another car using jumper cables, trickle chargers are low amp chargers designed to be left connected to the battery for long periods of time. They release small amounts of current to match the battery’s natural discharge rate to keep it topped up at its fully charged level, shutting off when the battery is fully charged to prevent any damage. Don’t forget, overcharging a battery will kill it just as quickly as leaving it uncharged.
It’s an indispensable bit of kit for anyone who stores their car or bike for long periods but there are a lot of options out there, spanning all budgets, and it can be difficult to sift through them all. Some charge at higher rates, while others have better safety features and charge indicators, for example. Some run on solar power too so if you keep your car outside or are environmentally conscious then these may be worth considering. Essentially though, all trickle chargers will have a box that houses the guts of the thing, a plug that goes into the wall for power and two crocodile clips for the positive and negative terminals of the battery.
You can pick up an extremely basic charger for a tenner but we would steer clear of these generic items as the quality isn’t great and they lack some of the more important features such as automatic shut off. Having said that a basic trickle charger still isn’t going t break the bank and you can pick a decent one up with all of the essential features for not a lot of money. This Einhell is an affordable, intelligent charger that includes all of the features you would need to keep your car’s (or motorcycle’s) battery in tip-top shape, whether it be 6V or 12V. It will bring the battery back to a full charge without overcharging and then float or maintain the battery. It is also protected from dust and water spray so is ideal for a working garage environment.
Moving up the quality scale somewhat the CTEK MXS 5.0 is a durable, flexible and fully automatic trickle charger that maintains battery life and can even recondition dead batteries. Suitable for outdoor use in any temperature the CTEK charger can also quickly charge and maintain larger battery sizes than the Eingell and is ideal for long-term battery maintenance. With crocodile clips and eyelet connectors it is suited to a large range of different batteries. Simple, rugged and effective it also comes with a 5 year warranty.
The pick of the bunch for us is this portable Röhr charger. It’s a lot more expensive than the Noco and CTEK at £130 but it does have some excellent additional features including pulse battery repair and a jump start mode for those emergency situations when you just need to get your car started. The Röhr will charge almost any battery and with all the inbuilt safety features you could want you’ll be worry free – just plug in and forget. The unit utilises heavy duty cables and also includes a timer mode so you can preset how long to charge a specific battery for.
Whichever of the myriad trickle chargers you decide to go for do make sure that you buy the correct one for your specific application and battery type and ensure you scrutinise the explicit specifications of each before handing over your hard-earned.