Lithium Batteries VS Lead Acid Batteries
After recently purchasing a lithium based battery for our Raptor 700R we decided to see what we could find online about lithium batteries vs the more traditional lead acid based batteries; here is what we found.
We all need batteries for powersports vehicles, but you can spend from under $50 for a traditional lead-acid battery to over $250 for a modern lithium-iron unit. Lithium batteries are definitely high-tech, but is it really worth it to spend all that extra cash?
Not too long ago, you only had one choice, and that was a lead acid battery – basically a heavy box filled with lead plates and sulfuric acid that reliably created enough power to start everything from a 50cc scooter to a Mack truck. But in the last several years there’s been a revolution in the technology of portable power, and now lithium – the lightest metal in the universe, and soft enough to be cut with a knife – is powering everything from cell phones to solar homes.
Lithium based batteries are new and high-tech, but they aren’t exactly cheap compared to tried-and-true lead-acid batteries. So are they really good enough for you to drop all the extra coin on one?
The short answer: yes, they are. But there are some conditions, so read on and see if they are really right for you.
Myths & Facts About Lithium Powersport Batteries
You’ve probably heard some of the myths about lithium batteries: they spontaneously explode, don’t work in cold weather, and they are just overpriced gimmicks that do the exact same thing that lead-acid batteries do. Sound familiar?
Well, before you write off a lithium-based powersports battery because of internet hearsay, let us explain to you why none of this is quite true.
First off, lithium batteries have been known to catch fire when they are treated improperly – but these are lithium-ION batteries, the kind you find in small devices like cordless tools and RC cars. Powersports batteries are lithium Iron-Phosphate batteries (also referred to as LiPo or LiFEPo batteries) that are far more chemically stable.
They also do work in the cold down to around freezing temps; but their chemistry requires that they be warmed up before use, which can be done by cranking them several times or running the headlights for a few minutes. They actually get stronger with each crank as the battery “wakes up.”
But are they really “expensive gimmicks that do the same thing that lead-acid batteries do?” Well if all you’re referring to is them starting a vehicle, then yes, that is true. But how well they do it, and how long they will do it for, is a different matter entirely.
What Makes Lithium Powersports Batteries So Damn Good
Ok, so we know both kinds of batteries will get your vehicle started reliably – so why spend any more money on a lithium?
They last longer. Lead-acid batteries can last 500-1000 cycles in optimal conditions, but in real world use, 100-300 cycles is a lot more typical. Lithium-iron batteries will go 2000 cycles no problem, and can go up to 5000 when treated right. In other words, you’ll go through several lead-acids in the time it takes to wear out one lithium-iron – meaning lithium-iron batteries truly do pay for themselves.They hold a charge better. Lithium-iron batteries have a remarkably low self-discharge rate, losing only about 10% of their charge a year. Compare that to lead-acids, which lose about 1% of their charge a day.They crank harder and longer. Lead acid batteries are considered “dead” at between 50-70% charge – once they hit that mark, they’re useless. Lithium-iron batteries discharge full power until they are completely discharged, so they give fast, powerful cranks right up until they’re dead.They are super light. If you’re a performance rider and trying to save weight, you simply need to have one. For example, an OEM battery from a newer sport bike weighs about 8 pounds, but its lithium replacement will weigh only about 1.5-2 pounds – an impressive weight savings of 75-80%.They are much safer. Not only will they not catch fire, but the “dry cell” construction of lithium-iron batteries eliminates the use of poisonous lead and harmful sulfuric acid. They can be mounted in any direction, and will never leak acid.Much better warranties. Most lithium-iron batteries have impressive warranties, with 3 years being the norm. Most lead-acid batteries have shorter warranties of a year or less.
So yes, they’re better batteries, plain and simple.
What Are The Drawbacks?
While lithum-iron batteries are superior batteries and the best choice for most riders, they may not be the ideal battery for everyone. Here are a few drawbacks that may make a lead-acid better for you and your situation.
Obviously, there is the cost. Lithium-iron batteries cost $75-300, compared to lead-acids, which cost around $50-100. If you care more about getting the cheapest than the best, then don’t even think about a lithium and go straight for lead-acids.
In addition, they should be used with a special charger, which of course, is an added cost. Lithium-iron batteries can be charged with standard chargers, but they won’t be calibrated to the same voltage requirements (lead-acids charge to around 12.8 volts, while lithium-irons need 13-14.) The best way to protect your investment is to use a lithium specific battery charger.
In addition, parasitic draw from accessories (like alarms) is harder on them than it is on lead-acids. If you have a bunch of gadgets draining power on your bike, stick to lead-acid batteries.
Finally, if you ride in cold weather, a lithium-iron battery will work, but it may annoy you to have to go through the warming up procedure.