If you have to leave your vehicle – whether truck, car or motorcycle – off the road for an extended period of time then you should consider picking up a Trickle Charger.
These handy little gadgets are designed to deliver a very low but constant electrical charge to the battery. This prevents the battery going flat which can really help to prolong its lifespan and improve its long-term performance, as allowing a battery to fully discharge can cause serious damage.
It’s one of the simpler tools you can invest in, but by selecting the right model (and using it properly) it can really save you a lot of time and money in the long run. So we’ve put together this handy guide of the best trickle chargers from across the price range, as we all as a buying guide and FAQ section.
So let’s get loose in the juice and find out how to keep your battery fed and happy.
The Best Trickle Charger:
This product from Battery Tender is so smart that we might invite it to be part of the Car Bible quiz time on our next office outing. Provided most of the questions are about charging car and motorcycle batteries, we’ll blow away the competition.
This product is, as it claims, Smart and that sets its apart from some of the other products on this list. One cool feature is that it automatically adjusts the voltage to compensate for temperature. To understand why that’s a cool design feature you need to know about the acid mixture in a traditional acid battery and how it interacts with the battery composition and oh-my-God it’s boring, so just trust us that the fact it adapts to temperature is a really cool – and very useful – feature that will ensure an even charge.
It also self monitors which is another great thing to see. Basically, you attach it to the battery and it will go into full charge mode. Once the battery is fully charged, it switches to a trickle mode to just replace the electrical charge that is naturally lost over time.
But you don’t need to worry about any of that. Just plug it in, walk away and come back whenever you like to a topped up battery that’s ready to go.
Automatic Switching from Full to Floating Charge
Charges as fast a 3 Amp Machine
- BrandBattery Tender
- Weight2.3 lbs
This model from Foval occupies a bit of a middle ground amongst the products on this list. It is not as smart as some of the more premium models to be found here and it lacks, for example, the temperature adjust feature we discussed on the model above.
On the other hand, it does have some useful features such as connectors constructed of lead to protect against sparks and reverse polarity protection. It works on a wide range of battery types and is very simple to use, being pretty much fully automatic.
The main downside is an output of only 1 Amp, though this is a bit of a mixed blessing, as it really depends what you need. If your battery is already low, it’s going to take a while for it to be raised back up to full charge at just 1 amp of juice.
On the other hand, 1 amp is fine for trickle charger, as you do want a nice low amperage when the device is in maintenance mode. Depending on that, you could look at this as a little underpowered, or you could see it as a pretty useful, relatively smart trickle charger with a price tag that will give you change from a $20 bill.
Spark Proof Lead Connection
Reverse Polarity Protection
Automatic Charge Adjustment
- Weight10.6 oz
Whilst some trickle chargers may be “smart,” this model from NOCO is advertised as being no less than a genius. Frankly, for the price tag (say hello to the most expensive model on today’s list) it better be a genius!
Luckily it lives up the billing with a number of very useful, well thought out features. Safety wise we have lead connectors, reverse polarity protection and overcharge prevention. All very useful, and allow you to plug in and leave for extended periods without worry.
The onboard mini-computer (the genius part we guess) not only monitors the battery condition to adapt from full to trickle charge, it can detect and repair battery damage by altering the power flow. Not only then does it help to prolong existing battery life, it can even full on extend it.
The product even has a rubberized outer housing. That is to make it less likely to slip off a surface, and also to protect your vehicle’s paint from scratches. That is the kind of level of detail that shows you are dealing with a truly high end, well designed product.
It doesn’t come cheap, but if you are looking for a charger that you plug in and forget then this could be the one for you.
Top Level Safety Features
Monitors Battery Health
Can Repair and Extend Battery Life
- Weight1 lb
This model from OrionMotorTech has been stripped way back to a pretty basic design. That means that this model comes with a very low price tag, however the manufacturer has managed to keep a number of useful features included within the product.
It is fully automatic, with a built in processor to monitor the charge level held in the battery and adjust the charge accordingly. The usual safety features are present such as anti-spark technology, overcharge and short circuit protection.
One small thing to note with this model is that it doesn’t have the power to charge larger batteries, such as those found in cars, trucks and other full size vehicles. Instead, with these it will only do maintenance style trickle charges to keep them topped up. It can however both charge and maintain smaller batteries, such as those found in motorbikes.
All in all then, a very basic model with a very attractive low price and, whilst it may be a little underpowered, still has enough features to be a decent trickle charger.
Automatic Charge Monitoring
- Weight6.4 oz
Our second entry from Battery Charger, and this model is a far simpler – and cheaper – model. It’s also nice and small and simple to use whilst also packing in a range of very useful features.
It has the normal safety features (anti – spark, over charge protection) whilst a built in microcomputer handles all the monitoring during charging. It flips between Initial Charge, Bulk Charge and Float (maintenance) charge to ensure that the battery is always getting the exact power supply that it requires at that moment.
Again, it is a slightly underpowered model compared to some on this list. It is going to be able to charge and maintain batteries across a range of smaller vehicles like motorbikes and ride on mowers. In larger vehicles like cars however it will only perform trickle charges to maintain battery level.
If you are happy with just a trickle mode however, at least with a car, this small and low priced charger is very well designed to provide easy battery maintenance.
Multi Stage Charge Cycle
Automatic Charge Switching
Small, Compact Design
- BrandBattery Tender
- Weight1.8 lbs
This Trickle Charger from RAVPower is a pretty versatile little design. It can switch easily from ring style to alligator clips, both of which simply clip in and out of the charger.
With a 1.5 amp / 12 volt output, it also packs enough of a punch to tackle batteries found in a wide range of uses – including most cars and trucks. It is a very simple to use machine too, however it is not one of the smarter types of charger and it won’t automatically shut off, though it will enter a low power trickle mode as the battery reaches capacity.
You just need to keep an a bit more of eye on it, and manually shut it down when it’s done – but that’s easy to do with the simple LED indicators mounted on the top. It also includes the usual anti-spark and surge protection technology.
It’s a pretty basic model that no one will confuse for the genius or even smart chargers on the list. It is however more powerful than several other models we’ve discussed so far and has a lower end price tag that helps make it a very attractive option.
Powerful 1.5 Amp/12 Volt Output
Suitable for Most Vehicle Types
Easily Switch Between Ring & Alligator Clips
- ModelUS RE-PC032(B)
- Weight14.4 oz
Best Trickle Charger Buying Guide & FAQ
That is our list of trickle chargers. As we mentioned right up top, these are very useful devices because they can help to prevent a battery going flat if you are planning on keeping a vehicle off the road for a prolonged period, or if you own a vehicle of any kind (from a summer drop top convertible to a ride on mower) that you don’t drive regularly.
A flat battery is after all a really bad idea, and so it’s great news that such a simple little device as a Trickle Charger can help prevent a dead battery. But which style to choose, which features are a must and, once you have it, how to use it?
That’s what we’re here to discuss, so let’s get on with it.
Types of Trickle Charger
Where better to start than with a quick discussion of the different types of Trickle Charger – though you may be forgiven for thinking there is only one type available as we mainly looked at Smart Style.
The two types are:
- Dumb – So called “Dumb” style are the traditional battery charger type, and are basically little more than cables that plug into a wall socket. They are very cheap, true, and also quite powerful – they will almost always be able to charge a battery of any size, a feat that not all Smart chargers can pull off.
- Smart – This is a more modern design, and usually more expensive than a traditional, Dumb style. As technology progresses and becomes more common however, the price is rapidly falling. The benefit of these models is that they are “plug and forget” i.e. you plug them in and forget about them. Built in monitors will monitor the charge level and adapt it to suit the current charge in the battery. That makes them much safer, especially for long term use, than Dumb style chargers.
We took the decision to only really look at “Smart” style chargers on this list. Frankly, we just don’t see that much advantage to a “dumb” style charger. In fact, that can even be a little dangerous, lacking that monitoring ability they can lead to a dangerously overheating battery if not carefully monitored. We did include one for comparison however, and because a Dumb style can be a decent and useful tool – just remember to keep an eye on it!
Battery Maintainers vs. Trickle Chargers
The main difference is that a Maintainer will cut off power supply when the battery is full. It then monitors the charge and when it drops to a pre-determined level, it kicks back into action to recharge back to full… before shutting off again.
A trickle charger doesn’t shut off. Instead, it provides a continuous charge which, with a Smart style charger, automatically reduces to a tiny amount of power when the battery is full or nearly full. A battery is always losing power if it is not being charged; it’s just a symptom on the chemical formula found inside. A trickle charger then will work to keep the battery fully topped up at all times.
A Guide to Using a Trickle Charger
So maybe you’ve noticed some of the signs that your battery is dying. Or maybe you’re smart, and you want to prevent your battery from showing any of these issues for as long as possible. Either way, a great tool to tackle a dying battery – and to potentially prolong its lifespan – is via a trickle charger.
But if you’ve bought your first charger, or are still on the fence about it, you may be wondering how to use it.
Each model will vary of course so do make sure that you read the instructions specific to the model you purchase. Generally speaking however, these are the steps to follow:
Safety – Charging a battery is generally safe of course. However, we are talking about hooking an external electrical supply up to a lead lined box full of Sulfuric Acid. So be careful! Don’t do it out in the rain, and do it in a well-ventilated area.
Prep – Next prep the car. Turn off the headlights and ignition, remove your keys and attach the ground wire to a suitable grounding point, such a clean part of the vehicle frame.
Attach – It’s not going to charge anything if it’s not connected. Make sure the charger is unplugged and set the amp and voltage (if you need to, some models do this automatically). Attach the positive clip (alligator or ring) to the positive terminal on the battery. Follow this up by attaching the Negative clip to the negative terminal.
Charge! – Check all the wires are connected and there is no danger of water coming into contact with any part of the charger or battery. Double check the instructions and, if you’re satisfied, throw the switch.
Trickle Charger FAQs
Q: Why Use a Trickle Charger?
A: A trickle charger is a simple and effective way to protect your battery, simple as that. You don’t need to worry about coming back to a vehicle like a car, motorbike, truck or even a Jet ski or ride on mower and not being able to start it or use it straight away.
Also, depleting a battery to the point it actually dies is not good for the battery itself. It’s really going to shorten the lifespan, and you may not even be able to recharge it at all. Bottom line then, a Trickle Charger can prevent you having to pay out for new batteries before you need to.
Q: Can You Overcharge a Battery with a Trickle Charger?
A: As we discussed above, a Trickle Charger works by providing a constant trickle of electric current. This should only offset the natural loss of the battery, to keep it topped up. If the trickle is more than the battery loses, it can overcharge. Just make sure to monitor the charger and don’t leave it plugged in for extended periods. It’s best to hook it up every now and then for a boost rather than leaving it plugged in for long periods of time.
Q: How Long Does it Take to Charge a Car Battery?
A: How long is a piece of string? Sorry, it’s annoying when people say that, isn’t it? Different batteries hold a different charge, so it all depends on the battery power and the charger strength.
As a rule of thumb, a typical car battery holds 48 amps of power. Charging with a 2-amp charger will take about 24 hours. Factor up and down from there.
Q: How Long Does it Take to Charge a Motorcycle Battery with a Trickle Charger?
A: Most motorbike batteries are going to be between 6 and 10 amps. So, again, based on the above it’s going to take about 3 to 5 hours to charge a battery with a 2-amp trickle charger.