A history of the car battery

Spare a thought for the humble car battery. Day after day, it sits nestled in your engine bay, never complaining, just getting on with the job at hand.

In fact, you’ll only give it a second thought when it happens to break down on you one damp and miserable morning, leaving you reaching for the jump leads. Which you can’t find.

But give the car battery some respect, because without it, your car couldn’t function. It would be like asking you to do without your morning coffee. Put simply, your battery is your car’s get-up-and-go.



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History of the Car Battery - An infographic by the RAC Breakdown Team’s Car Battery specialists.

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The lead-acid battery, which - unless you happen to drive an electric car - will be the type of battery found in your car, has a history tracing back as far as 1859. It was then that French physicist, Gaston Planté, invented the world’s first rechargeable battery. Clever chap.

The common or garden car battery is known as an SLI, which - despite sounding like the name given to a souped-up Vauxhall Cavalier - stands for Starting, Lighting and Ignition. Three pretty essential elements of a car’s existence.

Stand by, because here comes the science bit. A lead-acid battery is made up of six galvanic cells, laid out in series. Each cell delivers 2.1 volts of electromotive force which - when combined - produces enough power for a 12 volt SLI battery. More than enough for the average car.

Fascinating stuff. As is the fact that in 1971, the world’s first sealed car battery was invented. No longer requiring water, this meant the battery would be corrosion-free. Weirdly, it was to become known as the Freedom Battery.

The battery continued to develop throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with new in-car technology putting greater strain on the electrical system. This in turn led to the introduction of batteries with greater power and capacity.

And if that wasn’t enough, new Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries had to be introduced to cope with modern fuel-efficient start-stop systems. See, we told you there was more to the humble car battery than meets the eye.

Of course, the question you’ve been meaning to ask is, how many hours on a bike would it take to charge a dead battery? Well, assuming you’re in reasonably good shape, it would take six hours.

Which means it would take 72,000 cyclists six hours to power a one-hour blackout in China. So you’ll be well prepared should this question come up during the next pub quiz. Or you happen to be in China during a power cut.

Finally, the smallest battery in the world is just 3mm long. You’d need 200,000,000,000 of these to provide the power equivalent to one regular car battery. That’s 20 trillion. Imagine jumpstarting that little lot in the morning.

So give your battery some love. Your car just wouldn’t be the same without it.