Contrary to popular belief, golf cart batteries can and will blow up for several reasons, and that includes golf cart batteries as well. If you currently own, plan to own, or are considering the possibility of owning a golf cart, it is important to understand the possible dangers surrounding golf cart batteries and how to avoid a possible disaster. By learning more about the reasons why golf cart batteries blow up, you will also be learning the dos and don’ts of golf cart battery maintenance.
There are several reasons why golf cart batteries may blow up and by understanding each one, you will be better prepared to avoid a possible disaster with your own golf cart. From the gas they secrete to the fluids they leak, golf cart batteries can be tricky to deal with if you are unaware of their potential mishaps.
While golf carts are ideal for leisurely days on the golf course or completing chores around the farm, it is extremely important to properly maintain and service your golf cart, especially the batteries if it is a battery-operated golf cart.
Batteries are highly combustible and, although you would not expect them to, they do require a certain level of maintenance and upkeep in order to reduce the risk of an explosion. There are generally 4-6 batteries in a single pack on a golf cart and even one bad battery can result in the entire pack blowing up; but why do they blow up?
Why Do Golf Cart Batteries Blow Up?
1. Excretion of Hydrogen Gas:
When it comes to the main reason why golf cart batteries blow up, the answer is simple; golf cart batteries excrete a flammable and combustible fume known as hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas is a by-product of batteries that occurs during a chemical reaction involving the water and sulfuric acid solution and lead plates. Signs that your golf cart batteries are overproducing hydrogen gas include but may not be limited to:
- Odor: You notice a smell like something is burning, this could indicate that the batteries and battery charger are overheating and causing the plastic to melt
- Corrosion: If you notice corrosion around the batteries, battery pack, terminals, or cables, you could be experiencing an increase in hydrogen gas production as hydrogen gas is a product of the mixture of acid and water in the batteries heating up and turning to gas, a highly corrosive and combustible substance
- Swelling: While some “swelling” in the batteries is considered normal due to the hydrogen gas venting, abnormal amounts of swelling could indicate the batteries have an over-abundance of hydrogen gas accumulating within its cells
- Leaking: If you notice your batteries are leaking an abnormal amount of battery acid, it could be caused by an increase in swelling in the batteries from an overproduction of hydrogen gas and overheating, causing the battery acid to seep out and onto the lid
When placed under pressure or near heat or sparks, hydrogen gas can and will combust causing an explosion to occur. Be sure to work carefully while tending to your golf cart batteries and keep them properly maintained to reduce this risk. Once the hydrogen gas levels within a space reach 4 percent or higher, it is extremely easy and possible for an explosion to occur.
2. Poor Quality Chargers:
If you are using a charger that is poor in quality, you will be taking the risk of causing an overcharge to occur (which will be discussed further later in the article) and ultimately producing an explosion. Overcharging, along with blocked or clogged vent plugs, can cause the by-product hydrogen gas to accumulate within the cell. This accumulation can cause the golf cart batteries to blow up with even the smallest spark or flame. Signs that you have a poor quality charger include but may not be limited to:
- Overheating: Your battery charger and/or batteries are extremely hot to the touch and you can hear loud boiling sounds coming from the batteries, you may even notice an odor of rotten eggs which is extremely dangerous as it indicates an increase hydrogen gas production, the batteries may be melting, and an explosion is near to happen
- Overcharging: Your battery charger continues to “charge” your batteries past the point of completion, resulting in overcharging your batteries which can cause your batteries to burn up and decline quicker than they should
- No Charge: Your battery charger runs continuously but does not actually produce a charge to the batteries, this seemingly pointless phenomenon results from a bad battery charger which can be extremely dangerous to continue using as overheating can easily occur
It is recommended to purchase a high quality charger for your golf cart batteries with the ability to slow down as it nears the end of its charging cycle and will shut off completely once the charging cycle has completed. By using a charger with this capability you will be reducing the risk of overcharging and overheating your batteries, ultimately reducing the risk of a possible explosion.
3. Clogging in Vent Caps:
Golf cart batteries require a vent in order to release the gases and fumes that form inside the pack, if the vent plugs or caps become clogged or blocked from dirt, corrosion, or dust, the accumulation of hydrogen gas is highly combustible. The smallest spark anywhere near the golf cart batteries during this clogging issue can cause the battery pack to blow up. Be sure to keep the battery vent plugs or caps clear and to always remove the vent plugs while charging a flooded battery. In order to properly keep your battery vents clean follow these steps:
- Ensure that all vent caps are properly placed and tight
- Use a mixture of baking soda and water and a soft cloth or brush to clean the top of the battery, be sure that none of the cleaning solution gets inside the battery
- Rinse the cleaning solution with water and use a soft, clean cloth to dry
- Use a post and clamp cleaner to clean the battery terminals and inside the cable clamps to keep them shiny
- Once you reconnect the clamps, use a small amount of anti-corrosive spray to thinly coat the clamps and terminals
- Keep the battery pack and surrounding area clean and dry
By keeping the vent caps and surrounding areas clean of dust, you will prevent clogging from occurring within the vent caps or plugs, ultimately reducing the risk of your golf cart batteries blowing up. All of that collected dust becomes a fire hazard on its own, add in the clog in the vents and overproduction of hydrogen gas and you will have a great possibility of an explosion.
4. Frayed or Corroded Battery Cables:
A very important part in proper maintenance for your golf cart batteries is ensuring that all cables connected to the battery have no fraying or corrosion. Due to the high combustibility of hydrogen gas that is produced by charging batteries, if there are any frayed or corroded battery cables they can cause a spark to occur, ultimately causing your golf cart batteries to blow up. Corrosion occurs due to the hydrogen gas accumulating around the battery in a closed area, over time this production of hydrogen gas can corrode the battery cables, plates, and terminals.
5. Wet Battery Lids:
At some point, your batteries will secrete some battery acid while charging. Hydrogen gas is produced at a rapid rate and causes bubbling and boiling as the acid spills over onto the lid of the batteries. Charging cables splayed across a battery acid soaked battery pack lid, especially if said charging cables are frayed in any way, an explosion is bound to occur.
Be sure to keep your batteries and battery lids clean and dry in order to reduce the risk of an explosion. If your batteries are constantly leaking battery acid, it is time to purchase new batteries. Battery acid can also cause the melting of the battery and other parts it may drip on to, as well as cause burns to your skin if it makes contact. Battery acid is highly toxic and any leaks or spills should immediately be cleaned.
6. Sparks or Fire:
Due to the combustibility of hydrogen gas, when it accumulates within the battery pack, a single spark or flame can cause the batteries to blow up. Once the amount of hydrogen gas inside a room reaches 4 percent, it becomes highly combustible. This accumulation of hydrogen gas is caused by poor ventilation in the area where you are charging your batteries, along with overheating or overcharging causing the overproduction of hydrogen gas from the batteries themselves.
It is extremely important to ensure that the room or space where you are charging your golf cart batteries is well ventilated. With this overproduction of hydrogen gas within this space, the smallest spark or flame can and will cause an explosion to occur.
Poor quality chargers can continue to charge your batteries past their initial stopping point, especially if you need to replace any of the batteries in the pack; it is always recommended that you change every battery within the pack in order to reduce the risk of unbalanced charging. It is also recommended to purchase a high quality charger with an automatic safety shutoff once charging has completed.
A charger that causes your batteries to experience overcharging will cause the charger and batteries to overheat. Pushing the batteries past their completion point while charging can cause an increase in hydrogen gas production. Once the hydrogen gas amount in a single space reaches 4 percent, it becomes highly flammable and combustible, even the smallest spark or too much heat, like what is caused by overcharging, can cause the golf cart’s batteries to blow up. Some signs to look for that may indicate overcharging include, but may not be limited to:
- The decrease in the amount of time that your golf cart holds a charge
- The loud boiling sound coming from batteries due to the acid and distilled water overheating which can cause the battery to be extremely hot to the touch and may melt or swell the batteries and/or casing
- Increase in hydrogen gas production due to the swelling in the batteries and/or casing
These signs will indicate that it is time for a new charger and some new batteries as any small spark in the area of the charging batteries can cause the batteries to blow up. The steady amount of hydrogen gas that will be produced due to overcharging will easily reach a combustible state and any type of spark or flame can be extremely damaging.
When it comes to charging your golf cart batteries, it is normal for them to get warm, however, if your batteries or charger feel way too hot or there is a smell, then your batteries could be experiencing an overheating issue and it is time to investigate. There are a few different reasons for your golf cart batteries to be getting hot including:
- Loose battery connections
- Dirty or dusty terminals
- Low water level
- Heavy Use at a Cold Outdoor Temperature
Any of these reasons can easily cause a spark and/or explosion if not fixed as soon as possible, but before you run out and buy new batteries and/or a new charger, there are ways to diagnose and check to see if you are having one of these problems, including:
- Battery Cables: if your battery cables are not connected properly, it can cause overheating within the batteries and can cause the charger to overheat as well
- Breathing room: your golf cart batteries require optimum room to breathe properly, by ensuring the wires and cables are tangle free and the charger is lying flat on a smooth surface, you will be creating an appropriate environment for your charger that will reduce the risk of overheating
- Water level: allowing your water levels to drop below optimal levels will cause overheating, it is extremely important to properly maintain the water levels in your batteries to reduce this possibility
It is important to remember that even though having a battery operated golf cart does not require as much maintenance as a gas powered golf cart, they do still require some and it is important to keep up with the maintenance in order to reduce the risk of an explosion. Overheating creates the perfect environment for a possible explosion as it allows for more production of hydrogen gas, a highly combustible fume created by batteries.
9. Poor Ventilation:
Poor ventilation while charging your golf cart batteries can result in several different issues for you and your golf cart, including but not limited to:
- Lack of appropriate ventilation can cause hydrogen gas produced by the golf cart’s batteries during charging to leak into the home and cause illness or even death for you and/or your family
- Without appropriate ventilation for the hydrogen gas to escape, it will continue to build within the confined space causing the levels in the air to reach a combustible level of 4 percent, which could ultimately end in an explosion
- With the increase in hydrogen gas in the air, poor ventilation can cause your battery to corrode which can cause your golf cart to perform poorly and not be able to maintain a charge
It is extremely important to maintain proper ventilation for the hydrogen gas that is produced during charging to escape. An overabundance within a confined area can be highly dangerous as an explosion or toxicity can occur.
10. Short in Plates:
High quality batteries will allow a golf cart to travel for about 7 miles on a single charge, this is due to the reliable charges made possible by thick plates allowing for complete discharges during use. Once the plates begin to go out, your power output will shorten greatly, and while it may seem that the voltage holds during a test, the actual performance of the golf cart will be the telling sign that there is something wrong with the plates and battery cells. Signs of a short in your batteries include but may not be limited to:
- Performance: If your experiencing a dead battery at the initial start of the ignition but not after jumping the battery off, you could have a possible short somewhere causing the battery to completely drain after each use
- Initial Crank: Another sign of a short or bad battery is when your golf cart is slow to crank or turn over. A short in the plates will not allow the golf cart battery to maintain the appropriate amount of voltage needed to properly start the golf cart
- Accessories: If you have added accessories on your golf cart that are unable to continue functioning once the key is turned back, this could be a sign of a short in your battery plates
If you are experiencing any of the above issues with your golf cart, you could possibly have a short and it will need replacing as soon as possible. A short in the batteries could cause a spark to occur, igniting the accumulated hydrogen gas emitted by the batteries causing the batteries to blow up.