WESTCO BATTERY


Editor's Note: These items were originally sent to the Airheads mailing list, but because Westco Batteries have been a frequent subject on the Internet BMW Riders list, Robert gave permission for this copy.

WestCo/Panasonic battery article V1.2

By Robert Fleischer

From: Robert Fleischer <snowbum@jps.net>
Date: Sun, 30 Jul 2000 08:13:57 -0700

Absorbed mat type battery tests, product review, updated.

***Extensively revised and updated Tue., 30 July 2000, by the author***

Keep in mind that MY TESTS information are on ONE WestCo branded battery, not the Panasonic branded battery, and not the average of many. I will report further as the years/mileage [hopefully] on the battery accumulate. Too bad I could not likely get WestCo to pay for such mileage [well, actually, I did not have the cojónes to ask] :-).

It is my decades-long habit to normally replace my airhead battery every 3 or 4 years, before they can fail while out on a tour. With this new type of battery, I intend to leave it in the motorcycle until it fails, thereby obtain at least some sort of information on what life one might expect from it. Keep in mind that my bike starts easily; that is, it is not cranked long at each starting; and, I seldom start the bike at temperatures below 40 degrees which is harder on batteries. Finally, I am not riding this bike very much anymore ... under 10,000 miles a year ... ... AND ... most of the time I do not shut the engine off until I need a tank of gasoline. This all means that MY usage is likely very much easier on the battery than a lot of other folks' usage.

I am slowly collecting reports on folks experiences with these types of batteries. This article should apply to the Panasonic absorbed mat battery ... apparently Panasonic is the manufacturer of the WestCo. So far, reports seem to indicate a good acceptance of the absorbed mat batteries, but it also seems that SOME new or near new failures (any product will have SOME initial failures) are being reported as 'sudden', 'without warning'. Not enough reports have been received yet to indicate any sort of trend in this regard ... but, I do consider it, if true, potentially troubling. Theoretically speaking, I can think of only a couple reasonable explanations for any 'sudden' failure: intercell connections were improperly designed or manufactured; serious vapor venting, 'somehow'. I would think that an improperly operating charging system ... or usage ... would be less likely to cause very sudden unwarned about failures. This is all pure speculation.

Since my own 1983 R100RT was scheduled for a new battery, I decided after much thought, to purchase one of the 28AH Westco sealed batteries. I made quite a few inquiries before I purchased it. AT THAT TIME I was unaware that Panasonic supposedly manufactured these batteries, and that they were available elsewhere's with conventional terminals (not yet seen nor measured for dimensions, nor tested). Vertical posts are the only type Westco offered.

Since this battery is not very old, being installed in January 2000, and has not had any sort of problem so far, I am unable to tell you what the life of this particular battery is, or will be ... yet.

I can relate some items, both good, possibly poor/bad, and perhaps some are unimportant.

  1. WestCo was very prompt shipping this battery to me, via United Parcel Service (UPS). WestCo describes this battery as recombinant chemistry, of the absorbed mat type, not gel type, not an alarm system type, and is not a full deep cycle battery, but apparently a partial deep cycle type. THAT remains to be seen, I did not test that, as it requires destructive testing. BTW, gel cell batteries are easily cooked by overcharging, less so with absorbed mat types, and far less so with standard liquid batteries. Some of this should be tempered with the fact that when most folks swap batteries, they do not change the charging voltage, and there is SOME indication that the absorbed mat batteries MIGHT like a slightly higher charging voltage, perhaps 14.5, and thereby are LESS 'cooked' by the LOWER normal system voltage. Float voltage [for long term storage purposes] of about 13.5 is about right.
     
  2. The outer case seems well made and quite supportive. Frankly, it looks better than the BMW Mareg. Because it is narrower, it is much easier to install/remove ... a point that will undoubtedly be VERY popular.
    ***On some machines, with the right upper stud modification to the engine-to-transmission fastener [using a bolt instead of stud], as I have posted about previously, using this battery will save time doing transmission/clutch spline greasing.
  3. WestCo says, and I agree, that THEIR battery is 6.5 x 4.9 x 6.9 inches. The battery being slightly taller than the stock BMW "Mareg" battery will NOT allow ME to properly fit the BMW metal tie down strap to MY 1983 RT ... without a very serious modification to it. Hence, I have made my own tie down out of a scrap piece of stainless steel, which in height is much less than the BMW metal strap ... the one I made is of .134" thickness, because that is the thickness of material on hand, using SS because for its thickness it bends less, and I wanted to be able to use at least 4 threads on the original battery hold down knobs.
        I could have used aluminum, but just can't bring myself to use aluminum around a battery [please, no comments about airplanes here]. Cold rolled steel would be OK, but would have to be a tad thicker than the thinnest SS that could do the job ... still, SS or regular steel, it COULD be thinner than what I used. In fact, I have checked two other 1980-ish airheads, and think that YOU should NOT use material this thick (my approx. 1/8th inch), because this thicker material leaves little to no room for any clearance between the seat and the tool tray ... one of these bikes would not tolerate my thick piece of hold down.
        Also, I noticed that the little black plastic knobs that hold the original strap [and are also used at the gas tank] have a countersunk area with no threads, and this does not help the minimal threads above the battery top level. ... I sanded the bottom of the knob, to eliminate the non-threaded portion. So, for the strap, I think that 1/16th inch SS or 3/32 inch cold rolled steel would be fine. Be sure to radius the forward corners adequately to keep the strap from touching the frame.
     
  4. The WestCo battery width is narrower ... roughly about 5/8 inch or so. This allowed me to use a standard thickness of wood as a single side spacer, 5/8 plywood. One could use a single side spacer, or one on each side.
     
  5. The Westco battery is almost 3 pounds HEAVIER than the stock BMW Mareg 28AH battery, the Mareg weighing about 19-1/8th pounds, and the Westco weighing about 22-1/2 pounds.
     
  6. The terminals on this particular 28AH battery [I understand that Panasonic does offer conventional BMW Mareg type terminals] are vertical, thin/small. However, they are cadmium plated stainless steel, and quite strong. They only appear to be insufficient to pass the starter current, but this is not so, due to the pad area. Still, there IS that small nut being used. It appears adequate, if not overly generous to be sure. During cranking, the interface was good, with no heat produced. The terminals are fully exposed, which is a fire hazard. The BMW Mareg batteries have a cover over the terminals. Some sort of little plastic piece might be made up for a safety cover. The BMW battery leads WILL fit the terminals adequately. The terminals being small, connections need to be extra carefully done (clean, bright, shiny, and TIGHT) so that the starter motor drain will be properly supplied by the battery. The screw and nut are capable of a fair amount of tightening, which is needed in my opinion to avoid having normal road vibration effects on the cables, loosen them. I have NOT heard of this happening however (yet).
     
  7. Before testing began, I made sure the battery was fully charged (it WAS shipped that way), by trickle charging and monitoring. The measured terminal voltage, no load, before any charging, was 12.87 volts, when testing and trickle charging commenced. This is quite good for a battery as received.
     
  8. The battery discharge curve was flatter than I had expected, which is nice. I consider the AH tests to be of little importance, at this time anyway, but I did not get 28AH [I EXPECTED not to], as the rate of discharge I was using was rather high. This would be true of the stock battery as well. The actual capacity of the battery is not terribly important for our usage anyway. The true capacity would have to be measured at a much lower rate, a 10% (2.8 A) rate.
     
  9. The battery had good to excellent float voltage characteristics. Like most types of batteries, if left on most chargers, even most trickle chargers (NOT smart chargers), the battery voltage can rise excessively, and is to be avoided. This is particularly so on 'dry' batteries.
     
  10. During high level discharge tests the terminal voltage was fairly flat, and had a rather steep drop off once the voltage fell below about 10.9 volts. This extra steepness was not expected, and likely is a favorable characteristic.
     
  11. I made some measurements on what might be expected, as a trickle charge rate on a fully charged WestCo battery, and this measured at about 200 ma for 14.00 volts and about 110 ma for 13.7 volts. The battery CAN be overcharged if a trickle charger is left on continuously, and a more sophisticated charger [smart charger, Battery Tender] would be best if one was not checking the state of charge now and then.
     
  12. Moderate drain [as opposed to the heavy drain of use of the starter motor] discharge testing was at a rather fast rate, about a 10 ampere constant drain. This was done to be a compromise between simulating a worst case, such as the headlight being on, perhaps a few small extra lights, perhaps heated clothing ... or any combination of these, in a situation where the bike was not charging, or, not enough. These tests were performed in 2 stages, allowing roughly a 50% discharge over a 1 hour period, to a terminal voltage of roughly 11.76 volts, then letting the battery sit for about 6 hours, and then discharging again at about a 10 ampere rate, until the voltage fell below about 9 volts, when I stopped testing, and began a 1 ampere trickle charging until the battery stabilized at a float voltage of about 14.1, and then, later, began rising above that, at which point it is not good to keep charging. {note: I now think that 14.7 would be the limit, not 14.1 for recharging ... but only 13.7 for float limits}.
     
  13. Cold Cranking Amperes [CCA]: this test, to be a good one, must be done at zero Fahrenheit!. Few of us ride ... or start our bikes, at such temperatures. Preliminary tests that the Westco provides adequate cranking power, at least when brand new.
    *** I am going to perform cold cranking amperes, and cold capacity, to simulate starting your bike at well below the temperatures most any of us would ever ride in, as this battery ages, which is the worst possible situation. I actually thought of purchasing a second battery and making a setup to simulate daily riding (particularly many short city type trips), and then chilling the battery and performing output tests, every 4 to 6 months. This would likely be of only SOME value, it is rather time consuming to make the setup and perform the tests, so I have not done so, and do not contemplate doing so ... unless these batteries start failing prematurely, especially in cold weather starts.
  14. Compatibility with the BMW voltage regulator: After several carefully done tests, I ORIGINALLY believed the best voltage setting would be 13.7-14.1. I now think that voltage OK, but that 14.5 might be a more optimum setting. This is NOT confirmed yet. My suspicions still are that this battery will not like overcharging very much. It just remains to be seen just what the voltage for overcharging, needs to be. For the time being, I am going to suggest that the voltage not exceed 14.2 when the battery and regulator are warm from riding. Starting from cold, and before the battery and regulator could warm up, a higher voltage is necessary AND tolerable, and the temperature compensated voltage regulator will try to do that, and the battery will accept it OK. Restating this, at cold temperatures the battery charging circuit should produce a higher voltage, automatically taken care of in the voltage regulator. Those that have adjustable voltage regulators are advised to go for a nice 20 mile ride in mild weather, then put a BIG fan in front of the engine, and use a remote fuel supply, while adjusting the regulator output [turn off or disconnect as many accessories as possible, including the headlight if able to], at a high enough rpm to enable full regulated output.
    *** When I speak of voltage measurements, that is what is measured with a KNOWN ACCURATE digital meter, connected directly to the battery terminals themselves. Your fairing voltmeter will likely read less, due to drops in the system wiring and connections. Performing a calibration of the fairing voltmeter can be helpful, for on the road readings, even though in practice, with vibration and small internal dash voltmeter errors, you cannot expect more than +- 0.2 volt accuracy, even after calibration. To do this easily, put your charger on the bike, let the battery get to float voltage, and turn on the ignition and monitor both the battery voltage and the fairing voltmeter. Try to take a reading near 14 volts, even while the voltage is dropping slowly due to the load of lights or whatever. You will probably find the fairing voltmeter is about 0.5 lower in reading. The fairing voltmeter does NOT change much with temperature, but it is best to calibrate it after a ride, or in mild weather.
  15. Self discharge: Westco claims 2% or 3% monthly discharge rate, a very low value compared to wetcell batteries. This is quite good, if it continues to hold up thusly. I have not enough experience yet to prove the SD rate....but it appears to be very low.
    *** One of the potential problems with purchasing wetcell batteries from your dealer, or other source, is that once acid is installed, and assuming the battery WAS properly filled, let sit awhile, and WAS properly slow charged, ETC. ... then that battery will begin self discharging immediately, at a goodly rate, upon being removed from the charger. Hot weather makes it worse. Few dealers/suppliers maintain properly prepared batteries on constant trickle chargers or similar. This means that a purchaser is at the mercy of his battery seller for the proper initialization of the battery, which has a MAJOR effect on battery life. If the battery is filled and left sitting without regular charging, a substantial percentage of useful life will be lost. I HAVE seen batteries fail within WEEKS of installation, due to mishandling by sellers. Wet cell batteries tend to self disharge rather rapidly, especially in summertime, and need to be re-charged monthly. It is commonly accepted that self discharge rates of 20-30% or more, monthly, are typical. Self discharge is very difficult to measure without repeated capacity testing.

    Suffice it to say, that, from my preliminary tests, the WestCo has a very low self discharge rate; therefore, it is more likely that if you purchase one of these types, that it would be in good condition, as compared to a BMW Mareg, for instance.

  16. Normal temperature, cranking and recovery: Pretty darn good!
     
  17. The REALLY important results will come from long term testing, especially cranking ability when old, and cold. A REALLY good test would be a dozen batteries, each from different manufacturing batches. Unfortunately, I just can't do that.

I really WOULD like to have feedback from those installing and using the WestCo/Panasonic, initial impressions, mounting problems if any, and long term results.

Source references:

WestCo Battery; 1620 Sunkist Street-Unit L; Anaheim, CA 92806; 714-938-5080; FAX 714-938-5307. http://www.westcobattery.com

Panasonic part number LC-X1228; and various terminal permutations ('A' type posts,,,and also AP post and nut)

http://www.gotbatteries.com $58.50 plus shipping, small vertical terminal, a-la-WestCo.

800-551-5645 Portable Power Systems

Yuasa, sealed battery, for Harley Davidsons, about 1 inch shorter 335 CCA #YIX30L Yuasa, Allan Kohler 800-538-3627 (I have NOT confirmed this information).

http://batteryweb.com $58 including shipping, ask for Ric, conventional terminals


WestCo Battery Tests and Product Review

By Robert Fleischer

From: Robert Fleischer <snowbum@jps.net>
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 16:44:50 -0800

The following should be considered as part anecdotal and part science and part? I will report further as time goes by, but keep in mind that this information is on ONE battery, not the average of many. At the present moment the bike the battery is in is in Winter storage. I will report further as the years (hopefully) on the battery accumulate, after lots of mileage [too bad I could not likely get Westco to pay for such mileage :-) ].

Since my own 1983 R100RT was scheduled for a new battery, I decided after much thought, to purchase one of the 28AH Westco sealed batteries. I made quite a few inquiries before I purchased it.

Since this battery is brand new, except for my testing, I am unable to tell you what the life of this particular battery was/is ... yet. I also do not yet have any feel for what this might be.

I can relate some items, both good, possibly poor/bad, and perhaps some are unimportant.

1. Westco was very prompt shipping this battery to me, via United Parcel Service (UPS). Westco describes this battery as recombinant chemistry, of the mat, not gel type, not an alarm system type, and is not a full deep cycle battery, but apparently a partial deep cycle type. THAT remains to be seen, I did not test that, as it really requires destructive testing. BTW, gel cell batteries are easily cooked by overcharging.

2. The outer case seems well made and quite supportive. Frankly, that looks better than the BMW Mareg. Because it is narrower, it is much easier to install/remove ... a point that will undoubtedly be very popular! On some machines, with the right upper stud modification to the engine-to-transmission, using this battery will save time doing transmission spline (clutch spline) greasing.

3. Westco says, and I agree, that their battery is 6.5 x 4.9 x 6.9 inches. The battery being slightly taller than the stock BMW "Mareg" battery will NOT allow me to properly fit the BMW metal tie down strap. I have made my own tie down out of a scrap piece of stainless steel, which in height is less than the BMW metal strap ... the one I made is of .134" thickness, because that is the thickness of material on hand, using SS because for its thickness it bends less, and I wanted to be able to use at least 4 threads on the original battery hold down knobs. I could have used aluminum, but just can't bring myself to use aluminum around a battery (please, no comments about airplanes here). Cold rolled steel would be ok, but would have to be a tad thicker than the thinnest SS doing the job.

*** I have checked two other 1980-ish airheads, and think that YOU should NOT use material this thick (my approx. 1/8th inch). That leaves little to no room for any clearance between the seat and the tool tray ... one of these bikes would not tolerate so thick a piece of hold down. Also, I noticed that the little black plastic knobs that hold the original strap have a countersunk area with no threads, and this does not help the minimal threads above the battery top level ... I sanded the bottom of the knob stub to eliminate those non-threaded areas. I think that 1/16th inch steel would be fine. Be sure to radius the forward corners adequately to keep the strap from touching the frame.

4. The battery width is narrower ... roughly about 5/8 inch or so. This allowed me to use a standard thickness of wood as a single side spacer, 5/8 plywood would be excellent. One could use a single side spacer, or one on each side.

5. The Westco battery is almost 3 pounds HEAVIER than the stock BMW Mareg 28AH battery, the Mareg weighing about 19-1/8th pounds, and the Westco weighing about 22-1/2 pounds.

6. The terminals on this 28AH battery are vertical, thin/small. They appear insufficient to pass the starter current, but this is not so due to the pad area. Still, there IS that tiny nut being used. During cranking, the interface was good, with no appreciable heat produced. The terminals are fully exposed, which is a fire hazard. Some sort of little plastic piece might be made up for a safety cover. The BMW battery leads WILL fit them adequately. The terminals being small, connections need to be extra carefully done (clean, bright, shiny, and TIGHT) so that the starter motor drain will be properly supplied by the battery. The screw and nut seem to be stainless steel and capable of a fair amount of tightening, which is needed in my opinion to avoid having normal road vibration loosen them. I have NOT heard of this happening however (yet).

7. Before testing began, I made sure the battery was fully charged (it WAS shipped that way). The measured terminal voltage, no load, after sitting was 12.87 volts, when testing commenced. This is quite good for a battery as received.

8. The battery discharge curve was flatter than I had expected, which is nice. I consider the AH tests to be of little importance, at this time anyway, but I did not get 28AH [I EXPECTED not to], as the rate of discharge I was using was rather high. The actual capacity of the battery is not terribly important for our usage anyway. The true capacity would have to be measured at a much lower rate, like a 10% (2.8 A) rate.

9. The battery had good to excellent float voltage characteristics. Like most types of batteries, if left on most chargers, even most trickle chargers (NOT smart chargers), the battery voltage can rise excessively, and is to be avoided.

10. During high level discharge tests the terminal voltage was fairly flat, and had a rather steep drop off once the voltage fell below about 10.9 volts. This steepness was not expected, and likely is a good thing.

11. I made some measurements on what might be expected as a trickle charge rate on a fully charged Westco battery, and this measured at about 200 ma for 14.00 volts and about 110 ma for 13.7 volts. AGAIN, the battery CAN be overcharged if a trickle charger is left on continuously, and a more sophisticated charger might be better if one was not checking the state of charge now and then.

12. Testing was at a rather fast rate, about a 10 ampere constant drain. This was done to be a compromise of simulating a worst case, such as the headlight being on, perhaps a few small extra lights, perhaps heated clothing ... or any combination of these, in a situation where the bike was not charging, or, not enough.
    These preliminary tests were performed in 2 stages, allowing roughly a 50% discharge over a 1 hour period, to a terminal voltage of roughly 11.76 volts, then letting the battery sit for about 6 hours, and then discharging again at about a 10 ampere rate, until the voltage fell below about 9 volts, when I stopped testing, and began a slow 1 ampere trickle charging until the battery stabilized at a float voltage of about 14.1, and began rising above that, which is not a good idea then to keep charging.

13. Cold Cranking amperes: this test, to be a good one, must be done at a very cold temperature. Zero Fahrenheit!. Few of us ride at such temperatures. Preliminary tests show that the Westco provides adequate cranking power, at least when brand new.

*** I am going to perform cold cranking amperes, and cold capacity, to simulate starting your bike at well below the temperatures most any of us would ever ride in, as this battery ages, which is the worst possible situation. I actually thought of purchasing a second battery and making a setup to simulate daily riding (particularly many short city type trips), and then chilling the battery and running output tests, every 4 to 6 months. This would likely be of only some value, it is rather time consuming to make the setup and perform the tests, so I have not done so, and do not contemplate doing so ... unless these batteries start failing prematurely, especially in cold weather starts.

14. Compatibility with the BMW voltage regulator: After several carefully done tests, I believe the best setting would be 13.7-14.1. I suggest avoidance of the usage of high voltage type voltage regulators [on tours/etc.], wherein the voltage on the battery might exceed 14.1, approximately, at 70 degrees. My suspicions are that this battery will not like overcharging very much. Those whose primary riding is commuting, and feel that a higher voltage regulator helps some, may have to think about the touring situation, if that occurs. It is very unlikely to have a battery at 70 degrees, unless you are in a very cold climate and riding, since the engine will heat it and also the voltage regulator. Keep in mind that necessary charging voltage rises with DEcrease in temperature. I am going to suggest that the voltage not exceed 13.9-14.0 when the battery and regulator are warm from riding. Starting from cold, and before the battery and regulator could warm up, a higher voltage is necessary AND tolerable, as the voltage regulator will try to do that, and the battery will accept it OK. Restating this, at cold temperatures the battery charging circuit MUST produce a higher voltage. This is automatically taken care of in the voltage regulator.
    Those that have adjustable voltage regulators are advised to go for a nice 20 mile ride in mild weather, then put a BIG fan in front of the engine, and use a remote fuel supply, while adjusting the regulator output (turn off or disconnect as many accessories as possible, including the headlight if able to), at a high enough rpm to enable full regulated output.

*** When I speak of voltage measurements, that voltage is what is measured with a KNOWN ACCURATE digital meter, connected directly to the battery terminals themselves. Your fairing voltmeter will likely read less, due to drops in the system wiring and connections. Performing a calibration of the fairing voltmeter can be quite helpful, for on the road readings, even though in practice, with vibration and small internal dash voltmeter effects, you cannot expect more than +- 0.2 volt accuracy, even after calibration. To do this easily, put your charger on the bike, let the battery get to float voltage, and turn on the ignition and monitor the battery voltage versus the fairing voltage. Try to take a reading near 14 volts, even while the voltage is dropping slowly due to the load of lights or whatever. You will probably find the fairing voltmeter is about 0.5 lower in reading. The fairing voltmeter does NOT change much with temperature, but it is best to calibrate after a ride, or in mild weather.

15. Self discharge: Westco claims 2% or 3% monthly discharge rate, a very low value compared to wetcell batteries. This is quite good, if it continues to hold up thusly. I have not enough experience yet to prove the SD rate.

*** One of the potential problems with purchasing wetcell batteries from your BMW dealer, or other source, is that once acid is installed, and assuming the battery WAS properly filled and WAS properly slow charged, ETC ... then the battery will begin self discharging immediately upon being removed from the charger. Few dealers maintain properly prepared batteries on constant trickle chargers or similar. This means that a purchaser is at the mercy of his battery seller for the initial quality of the battery, which has a MAJOR effect on battery life. If the battery is filled and let sitting without regular charging, a large percentage of useful life will disappear due to sulphation of the plates. I HAVE seen batteries fail within WEEKS of installation, due to mishandling by dealers! Wet cell batteries tend to self discharge rather rapidly, and in winter or other storage periods, need to be charged monthly. It is commonly accepted that self discharge rates of 20-30% or more, monthly, are typical. Self discharge is very difficult to measure without repeated capacity testing.

From my preliminary tests, the Westco has a low self discharge rate; therefore, it is more likely that if you purchased one of these from a dealer, that it would be in good condition.

16. Normal temperature, cranking and recovery: Pretty darn good!

Snowbum #1843


Mon, 21 Feb 2000 20:27:40 -0800 Robert added:

The next coming test is in a few weeks when I will attempt to determine the percentage of capacity lost by just sitting. Lead acid wet batteries can loose up to 20-30% a month ... Westco claims 2-3% per month. That is useful information for the owner, regarding recharging or trickle maintenance.

The REALLY important results will come from long term testing, especially cranking ability when old, and cold. A REALLY true test would be a dozen batteries, each from different manufacturing batches. Unfortunately, I just can't do that.

I really WOULD like to have feedback from those installing and using the Westco, initial impressions and long term results.

Editor's Note: Use this email link for feedback: Robert Fleischer <snowbum@jps.net>


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