Special Coverage



Technical Session Explores Modern Truck Battery Challenges

Jeff Muir
Jeff Muir by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

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CLEVELAND — The evolving demands on truck batteries and how to prolong their life has proven revolutionary for Class 6 and Class 8 vehicles, experts said Sept. 14 during American Trucking Associations’ 2021 Technology & Maintenance Council Fall Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition.

“There are more loads and accessories today than ever before. All these loads and accessories require additional power requirements. Those power requirements are being drawn off the batteries,” said Jeff Muir, original equipment sales director at East Penn Manufacturing.

Muir said one of the biggest factors is what is known as hoteling. This is where sleeper cab drivers expect a lot of power during their off periods. The hoteling functions could be powering any type of accessories including a television, laptop, gaming system, microwave or crockpot.


Mike Krajewski by John Sommers II for Transport Topics.

“Essentially the drivers and the operators really want all the creature comforts of home, packed into a sleeper cab and be able to use those with a definitive amount of power,” Muir said. “They don’t want to go in a dark room or have their truck fail to start because they ran out of battery power.”

This is driving research into different ways to improve truck batteries, and the key takeaway, Muir said, is batteries have a dual function in the modern world. They have to be able to start the truck as well as offer cycling capabilities to power accessory loads and hoteling.

“That operator is essentially using all the power that’s in the battery pack and then during their next drive cycle, they have to be able to recoup that power, that energy, and repeat that cycle over and over again,” Muir said. “That energy recuperation is the biggest opportunity because we don’t want to see the battery packs operate in a partial state of charge.”

He said these trends will continue and become more prevalent. Digitalization is driving new technologies on the trucks from increased telematics systems and interconnected vehicles. But while the experts look at technical solutions there are things fleets and drivers can do to improve their battery life and functionality.

Mike Krajewski, senior application engineer at East Penn Manufacturing, said there are really four main factors that impact battery life.

“They’re time, care and maintenance, partial state of charge and temperature. These four big components, if you manage them correctly, can greatly increase the life of the battery you see in the truck, or if they’re managed improperly, it can drastically decrease,” Krajewski said.

He added that when a battery is made two clocks start ticking: cycle life or calendar life. For calendar life there isn’t much that can be done — even if it sits on a shelf, it will still die eventually. But cycle life is how the battery is used and therefore where improvements can be made.

“How deeply do you discharge the battery over and over again? How timely do you recharge it back?” Krajewski asked. “The main goal is you try to get the longest calendar life by using the best cycle life.”

Temperature is one of the biggest factors that can affect the battery since its life is shortened around hotter temperatures. But other concerns are basic maintenance and not keeping the battery at a partial charge too often.


John Cathey by John Sommers II for Transport Topics.

“The most common thing that we see out there in the industry today from a warranty perspective is batteries that are discharged,” said John Cathey, field sales support manager for original equipment at East Penn Manufacturing. “I think many times as we think about batteries, we think this battery is empty and it’s going to take too much time to fill and so I’ll simply just put another battery that’s new in its place.”

The problem with that approach, he said, is it creates an environment where nobody actually finds the problem so nobody really understands what was happening. There is a high likelihood that a battery that is empty or above 10.5 volts can be recovered.

“Now it still may fail; you may still have concerns with the battery,” Cathey said. “But the encouragement here is to try to get the battery fully charged, or at least 75% stated charge before we’re looking at any type of answers.”

What companies can do to avoid issues, he said, is make sure their charging and battery testing equipment is working at complete capacity, check battery leads for corrosion, clean corrosion, replace battery testers on an annual basis and review past battery test results trends for irregularities.

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