Photo: PointImages/Getty Images

Photo: PointImages/Getty Images

Computerization of vehicles is not a new trend. For at least 30 years, computers have controlled the vehicle’s engine, fuel system, and more. But the growing number of components that computers control on vehicles is a recent trend.

“The vehicle computer system is controlling the electrical systems and the charging systems and monitoring and determining what’s happening with the state of the battery on the vehicle,” said Pat Pierce, product management, diagnostics, Bosch Automotive Service Solutions.

Pierce and others at Bosch note the importance of proper battery maintenance and that government fleet managers should become knowledgeable on how computerization of vehicles plays an important role in keeping the battery in top condition.

Bosch has been serving government fleets for at least 50 years, offering diagnostic service and maintenance tools and other special equipment, said Jackie McCraw, government key account manager for Bosch.

“Being a manufacturer of original equipment manufacturer [OEM] special service tools and diagnostic equipment, it was very apparent early on that we also had a need and opportunity to support the government space. They’re buying commercially available automobile vehicles, light-­duty trucks, and even heavy-duty trucks that require battery maintenance,” McCraw said.

At a glance

Computerization of vehicles plays several important roles in keeping the battery in top condition:

  • The vehicle computer system controls the electrical and charging systems and monitors the state of the battery in the vehicle
  • A vehicle computer now knows the cold cranking amps (CCA) rating of the battery and can monitor battery degradation
  • Diagnostic testers note the battery’s CCA rating. Other equipment can slowly charge and maintain batteries when the battery is not in use for an extended period of time.

Vehicle Complexity and Batteries

Vehicle systems have become more complex. The vehicle computer now knows the cold cranking amps (CCA) rating of the battery and can monitor the degradation of the battery and other components. If a vehicle needs a new battery, the computer knows what the battery’s rating should be. But when a fleet technician replaces the battery without performing a battery reset procedure using a scan tool, the computer might not know a new battery is in the vehicle. That could result in the battery being overcharged and could reduce its effective life, Pierce said. Certain vehicle systems now require reset procedures to make sure the computer is notified that a new battery is placed in the vehicle.

“Not all the vehicles have taken it on yet, but it’s gradually being integrated into more and more vehicles in North America,” Pierce said.

A new equipment trend is the integration of optional battery test modules into scan tool operating systems so that one piece of equipment can scan the vehicle and directly test the battery.

“The technology and complexity of controlling more and more systems on vehicles is the overarching vehicle technology trend. We are adapting our diagnostic scan tools and battery tester products to address the vehicle complexity trend so service techs can use testing devices for multiple purposes,” Pierce said.

Maintaining Fleet Batteries

Fleet battery maintenance can be divided into two separate categories, said Surender Makhija, electrical engineer and battery test consultant for Bosch Automotive Service Solutions. New batteries in storage are the first category. Over time, the batteries slowly self-discharge. Government fleet technicians should check the charge on those batteries periodically, Makhija said.

“Once they get below the 80%-charged level, you want to make sure you check them and test them and make sure they are fully charged,” Makhija said.

Checking the operation of the batteries in the vehicles from time to time is the second category of fleet battery maintenance. Excessive drain of the batteries is the biggest problem, and technicians should check battery levels every two to three months. Overcharging or undercharging of the battery, charging system problems, and problems with cables and battery terminals are top battery maintenance issues.

“All these things have to be checked from time to time to make sure the battery is being fully charged,” Makhija said. “The more you keep the battery fully charged, the more life you can get out of it.”

He noted that Bosch sells testers that measure the battery’s CCA rating, and fleets should use testers if batteries are not staying fully charged. Other equipment is available to slowly charge and maintain a battery at full charge when the fleet is not using the battery for an extended period of time.

“If the vehicle charging system is not working properly, we test that, too,” Makhija said. “Batteries might be just fine, but the charging system is at fault. The other part is visual inspection of cables and battery posts to make sure there is no corrosion on the terminals. Every two to three months, testing, especially in a fleet, can extend the life of a battery — if [technicians] do these checks from time to time and correct them if needed.”