I have often heard that batteries can explode.
I knew not to test batteries by sparking and to be careful when connecting jumper cables.
I was not prepared for what I found the other day.
This is a relatively new battery.
I was charging the battery.
I it was only a two amp charger.
I forgot to take off the caps.
Nothing lost but the battery and some time cleaning up.
It got my attention
That looks just like the one that blew up in my 26 roadster. It happened when I moved the charger and the clamp came off while charging. It was a heck of a bang. I had to scramble to wash everything down with baking soda before the acid had time to do any damage. All is well now.
I had one blow up in a bus that was I changing the caps on the cells while it was being charging and I ended up with plastic in my face and neck and covered with acid. After washing myself down I was taken to the local hospital to remove the plastic and stuff the bus, my helper hosed it out with the garden hose and replaced the battery and sent it out. the pain of the acid in the nose and eyes was unreal. I am sure thats why I look so old. Ray
There was a young guy in our neighborhood that did something under the hood of a car when we were kids. It had something to do with a battery like, pulling it out of a running car and switching it out to start another battery charging. What I was told was he unhooked the cable and it sparked on the post and the battery exploded. He ended up terribly scarred and blind and deaf on one side of his face. One day he came over to the house after my brother had just read Dick Tracy in the Sunday Paper. He started calling the scarred up kid "The Mole". To the best of my knowledge they still refer to him as "The Mole" and that happened over 50 years ago. His real name was Clarence.
I hooked a 12v automotive battery up to an inverter one day, and there was a massive explosion. I was lucky not to be hurt but a new pair of Jeans was toast due to the acid. I got the polarity right, but have since been told that after transporting a battery in a car, leave it for 30 minutes before hooking it up to anything. I had just transported it for 16 miles. Scary!
They towed in a collection truck and the wrecker driver told us it was a no-start. That's all he knew about it. What actually happened was the starter solenoid jammed and it cranked until it killed the 3 12 volt batteries connected in parallel. (that is all the positives were connected together and all the negatives are too. More cranking amps still 12 volts). Of course it was still jammed on and a starter is almost a dead short as far as current draw is concerned. Luckily these trucks had a remote external hook-up for boosting. The batts were still cooking because of the starter being on and the gasses were trapped under the metal batt box cover. Hooked up the charger, turned it on and the resulting explosion is still talked about today and it was over 10 years ago that it happened. Luckily the box cover & lock held.
My good friend who has been a mechanic - and a highly respected diagnostician - most of his life, tells the story of his experiences with exploding batteries.
It seems he installed batteries in several cars, and they exploded after a while. Some violently, some not so much so.
The parts store he dealt with always replaced the batteries with no charge, but some of the replacements exploded as well.
His regular use of the replacement warranty eventually prompted a visit from a technician from the company that supplied the batteries. He tried every way in the book, and some not in the book, to blame the problem on my friend's handling and installation, or on the car owner's fooling around with the battery after it was installed.
My friend challenged the technician. He said that he could prove the fault was with the manufacture of the batteries, and if the tech would agree to a written apology for his accusations, he'd show him.
The tech arrived the next day with a brand-new battery, and 3 other technicians as witnesses.
First he dumped the acid out of the battery, to make it safe.
Then he very carefully cut around the top of the battery with a saber saw, and around the posts. He lifted off the top of the battery, and showed the technicians that the straps between the cells were in two pieces, riveted together. Then with a magnet, he showed that the rivets were steel.
Everyone could see that the problem was that the acid ate the rivets, the strap connections became loose, and ultimately a spark was produced -- POW!
He got his apology, which he framed and hung on his wall.
The battery company roundly cursed the overseas manufacturer, and changed the specs on the batteries. No more problems.
As part of the technician's "penance" he went back and listed all of my friend's warranty returns, and others in the same area, and determined that the batteries that exploded were all manufactured just after their manufacture moved overseas. Case closed, and problem solved.
This is a long story, but I tell it so you know that not all battery explosions are predictable and preventable, as they are sometimes the result of defects inside the battery.
One thing they all could see when they took the battery apart, was that you're asking for trouble if you pound the terminals on to the posts of a battery. It is worth the time and trouble to stretch the terminal open far enough for it to slip over the post, then tighten it.
Oh - and ALWAYS wire-brush both the post and the inside of the terminal. The posts have preservatives on them, and if you clamp a terminal over it, there is not a 100% connection. Ditto the inside of the terminal, although it's not preservative, but oxidation. Both surfaces should be clean and BRIGHT. It's not a problem if the wire brush roughens the surfaces - they're lead, and will mold to each other when pressure is applied.
Ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch. I like to tack on a reminder about this about once or twice a year. We are ahead of that curve this year, I already mentioned it about a month ago. I do not remember which thread.
I was quite fortunate when the battery in my (then) '65 Ford pickup exploded. I was at the shop, hose bib and hose handy, as well as the industrial air compressor had a battery I could borrow to get home.
Thank you all for your tales as well. Battery explosions may not be common, however, they are not rare either. And we in this hobby tend to do all the wrong things with batteries. Bouncing, shaking, low water, and severe discharging all contribute to the likelihood of a battery going bang. Worse, our batteries are often operating in the open. You only need to be near an exploding battery once to have a reminder for life. IF you are lucky. With appropriate apologies. I imagine that the "Mole" would agree.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
I don't know how high this battery top went, but it seemed like it was up in the air quite awhile. Yes, it did get my attention.
Now, what has to be done so this doesn't happen?
If you're "jumping" a dead battery with another one, begin with the engine running in the car with the "good" battery. Connect the red cable from positive to positive poles on the batteries. Now connect the black cable to the negative pole of the "dead" battery and instead of making the last connection to the negative pole of the "good" battery, connect it to the frame (ground) of the car with the "good battery." This puts any sparking far enough from the battery's flammable gas exhalations that it won't explode.
If you're working with a charger, start with the charger unplugged. Hook up the red cable to the positive pole on the "dead" battery. Now hook up the black cable to the frame (ground) of the car with the "dead" battery. Again, pick a spot far enough from the battery that any sparking won't be close enough to cause it to explode. Plug the charger into your wall socket and, if it has a switch, turn it on.
As an aside, my Optima Battery (which does not contain liquid acid) and Optima Battery Charger won't work in the above way because there's something in the digital circuitry of the charger that demands pole-to-pole contact (regardless of what the instructions say). The charger allegedly has anti-spark circuitry and I depend on that, a pair of goggles and the non-explosive nature of the Optima "AGM" battery to protect me.
The AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) battery uses a very absorbent micro fiberglass material to trap the gas generated during discharge and recharge, so, in theory, it's safer. So far, so good.
When you start charging a battery that's been sitting, the risk is low. The problem is the hydrogen gas created when charging, it gets explosive when mixed with air. So any sparking from the connections when something charging the battery has been on for a while is a big risk.
Once in the early 90's I was in a hurry getting a stubborn 6 volt Opel started, tried to persuade it by connecting a 12v battery to it with jumper cables. Didn't start in the first try with a loose jumper battery, then I drove close with a 12v car with the engine running to get even better boost. Didn't pay enough attention when connecting the cables, BANG! Got lucky, didn't get any acid on my skin, just ruined my new Levis jeans. Never bought any brand jeans since. No damage to the Opel, just had to clean it up to stop the acid from attacking the steel. And buy a new battery.
For a battery to explode there must be a spark, either caused by attaching jumper cables, or a bad connection at the battery terminals. You should not take the caps off while charging. There are hundreds of old wives tales associated with batteries, this is yet another.
Please understand, I'm not really trying to get laughs at Clarence's expense but, I am attempting to tell you the boy was disfigured to the point where, even as little kids, we were influenced by the seriousness of his accident. So much so that every time I do something with a battery that I'm doing it in as safe a method as I know how.
When I was a kid, I would take old batteries from abandoned cars and such to a nearby battery repair shop where the I was paid a decent dollar for doing so. There were hundreds of batteries at the shop and the owner told me twice he had been blown right to the shop ceiling by exploding batteries. I'm amazed nothing ever happened to me with all the careless things I'd done over the years. Now I'm real careful. If that means getting up every 20 minutes to check on my charger, so be it.
Several years ago I owned a 1926 Packard Eight which I drove on long distance tours. One day coming back from about a 350 mile round trip, all of the caps on the battery were blown off. This was due to overcharging.
The Packard did not have a voltage regulator, so after that I always drove with a light on to keep the charging amps down to about 2-3A. But this brings up a question about using Optima Batteries in a car without voltage regulation.
Apparently Optima batteries are particularly susceptible to overcharging and can be catastrophically damaged. Lead-acid batteries can withstand overcharging much better.
Install Fun Projects voltage regulators in place of 3rd brush.
Use only automatic chargers that won't keep charging once the battery is up to rated voltage.
Careless use of hydrogen can have catastrophic results. handle with care
The energy in a charging current greater than a few milliamps into a fully charged battery will go to separating the water into hydrogen and oxygen, in perfect proportion for combustion.
All it takes then is a spark.
This discussion seems to be headed towards "what's too new for a T". Optima's in modern cars with highly regulated charging systems cause no problems. In Dennis's case (standard lead acid batt), with his charger hooked up & running already he may have just had a defective batt or a poor connection which sparked. I'm going with a defective batt because at 2 amps there shouldn't have been enough gas produced to cause his mishap.Plus the batt was in open air. That is not enclosed in a case which would retain gasses. Pulling the caps isn't strictly necessary but they are vented and if their clogged you'll usually just get the cap popping off not the whole top going north.
In my working days I most always had a two way radio in my car. Something began to happen when the Maintenance Free batteries first came out, one could be talking away on the radio, and sometimes when you keyed the mike, there would be a muffled "Boom" under the hood, and sometimes the engine would die. What was happening was that the battery water would get low, after all, that was what "Maintenance Free" was all about, right? and the plates would suck together internally and viola, you had an exploded battery. This also happened a time or two with the old style batteries, but I kept mine full of water. We learned that you could sometimes get the caps off the new style batteries, not easy, but could be done. The one I have now in my pickup is sealed, I defy anyone to get in it. Loose or poor grounds will cause lots of grief, and will boil one dry pretty quick, been there, done that.
I think there's two possible scenerios that can cause a battery to "explode".
1. Build up of pressure in the battery case due to poor or no venting of the cells. Eventually the case explodes.
2. Actual ignition of a combustible gas, in this case hydrogen.
I suspect Dennis's battery underwent the #1 option. I came very close to that once as well. After a long run in my T, I stopped for gas. While gassing it up, I could here a hissing sound from under the car. I looked underneath and saw a very scary, very bulged battery! I carefully and slowly removed the cell caps. The battery returned to its normal state. I kept the caps loose and used the battery for several more years. (I also reduced my charge rate.)
Off the top of my head, without much real thought (other than this is something I have dealt with for most of my life). There are three totally different kinds of automobile type battery explosions.
1. Simple pressure. Over-charging can separate the oxygen and hydrogen in the acid creating two gasses that require much more space than the combined gasses as water in the acid requires. If the battery cells are not adequately vented, the pressure build up inside the battery case can pop that case like a balloon.
2. External explosions. Those separated gasses (oxygen and hydrogen) are very explosive, and when coming from the reactions inside the battery, are the perfect mix for maximum explosion. If the battery is vented well enough (or too much), those gasses are forced out of the battery by the pressure that could have otherwise caused a scenario 1 explosion. ANY spark, electrical or otherwise, could cause an external explosion if it is in contact with the mix of those gasses.
An external explosion could result in a fire that could burn the building down, damage paint and upholstery, blind you for life or even result in death. It probably would not blow the top off the battery, leaving it more or less intact, and maybe even still be repairable and usable.
External explosions are usually preventable by keeping the battery in a ventilated area so that any gasses released can blow away and dissipate. Do follow Bob Coiro's safety rules. They are good ones.
3. Internal explosions. These are potentially the most violent and most likely to maim or kill. They are less likely to burn the house down as the blast is somewhat self extinguishing. They can do a fair amount of damage between the blast and the acid they throw all around.
Internal explosions are also the most difficult to prevent by simple rules. The most important things are two; 1, keep the "water" level UP! Do not be content with the water just covering the plates. 2, if you notice ANY indication of any ONE cell requiring water more than the others, be very concerned.
Internal explosions (what mine did) are caused by a spark inside the battery (no amount of careful jumper connecting can prevent it). The spark ignites the gasses inside the battery, which being contained inside a moderately tough container makes it work much like a pipe-bomb.
Keeping the water level high does two things. 1, it reduces the amount of space (and therefore the volume) for gasses to accumulate. Less accumulated gas is lessor bang. 2, A spark occurring inside the battery requires a poor connection SOMEWHERE. It could be in the connections between the cells, or it may be between the plates within a single cell. As long as the water level is covering the poor connection, any arcing will likely NOT ignite the gasses which are mostly above the water. (Note, it is possible to ignite rising bubbles near the surface of the water).
That poor connection also creates heat which if under the surface of the acid/water tends to boil the water out. This is why you should be concerned if one cell requires added water more than the rest. In the case of my truck battery, I noticed the loss of water earlier that day. If I had acted quickly, I could have prevented some damage. I went with the odds, expected I would have a few days, and got kaboom instead. Remember, a single cell requiring more water than the rest, indicates a bad connection inside the battery. A bad connection that, with only a minor change of circumstances, could ignite the gasses inside and cause a battery explosion. The change of circumstances is likely nothing more than a tiny fraction of an inch in water level (exposing the spark to ignitable gasses) or hitting the starter switch.
Mike Garrison, I hope that you understand that I do understand. I know you well enough to know that you did not mean any disrespect to your friend. I should have been more clear about that myself. Sadly, the scarring, both visible and internal, that your friend suffered, is something he cannot escape. He must deal with it every day of his life. Sadly also, his scarring is a good reminder to others that batteries are potentially dangerous. That was your only point in mentioning him. I often comment that I was very fortunate when my battery exploded. I was sitting, safely separated, in the cab of my truck. The hood was closed. I often think about that air compressor I borrowed the battery from to get home that night. Hitting the starter in the truck is what triggered my batteries explosion. That air compressor? I started it hundreds of times over the years. Standing right next to the battery in the full open, pressing the starter button on the compressor's control panel. Scary.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
One exploded in a car when i went to start it. The hood was bent from the force and would not open. When it was forced open there was no top of the battery, Just the plates and the base with the remainder plastic and acid spread over the engine bay. Even after washing the acid off with baking soda the car still dissolved in the rain.