Be prepared for the changing battery landscape – and increase profit

According to figures released by Varta, long-term battery partner of Ecobat Battery Technologies (EBT), almost 90 per cent of the cars manufactured this year will feature start-stop technology. By 2020, more than 30 per cent of the vehicles entering independent workshops will also be equipped with this technology. All will be fitted with batteries specifically designed for these systems, without which they will malfunction and the battery, potentially fail.

EBT therefore considers it imperative for workshops that their preferred motor factor supplies them an appropriate replacement and that their technicians follow the correct procedure during its installation, and this is why it’s wise to begin by being specific about the vehicle when ordering the replacement and not assume the battery already fitted is correct. Past experience with traditional SLI (starter, lights and ignition) batteries should also be ignored.

The replacement battery for a start-stop enabled vehicle will be one of two types – absorbent glass mat (AGM) or enhanced flooded battery (EFB) – and subsequently, of the necessary capacity to cater for the 4,000 plus different start-stop models currently on the road.

Additional challenges facing the independent also include where the battery is located – only 58 per cent of applications are in the traditional under the bonnet location, with 40 per cent in the boot and the remaining two per cent (or 80 models!) situated in the passenger compartment. An added complication is the time required to fit these batteries, which can sometimes be four times longer than the time taken to fit previous-generation batteries. This however, should be looked upon as a benefit, as the unprofitable ‘free fitting’ sales spin will become a thing of the past as workshops sensibly charge for the time needed to fit them.

In addition to the change in their location, the primary reason the time required to fit a new battery has grown to such a great extent is due to the process that must be completed to successfully install them.

Whereas the SLI battery in a traditional system undergoes a large discharge of its power to start the vehicle and then is constantly being charged via the alternator while the engine is running, the AGM/EFB battery is continuously monitored by the vehicle’s battery management system (BMS) and is only fed a charge once its state of charge has dropped to a predetermined level. Otherwise all of the vehicle’s electrical systems are powered by the battery to avoid using the engine to power the alternator unnecessarily, thereby reducing both the vehicle’s fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.

Although in some cases the BMS can operate the charging curve for a new battery based on the battery fitment options stored within and can, over time, ‘learn’ what battery has been fitted and optimise the operating algorithm accordingly, many do not. This means that with these cases, the battery being installed must be registered or ‘validated’ into the BMS via a diagnostic tool to ensure the battery is charged with the correct algorithm. Otherwise the vehicle will generate diagnostic fault codes and there is the risk of premature battery failure.

Being aware of and prepared for these issues is vital for the independent workshop as it will enable them to compete with the franchised dealer in the face of this rapidly changing landscape.

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