Spring is the season of renewal and in many parts of the country a time to renew your golf car for the upcoming season of golf or just driving to around town. Jack Triolo of Mountaintop Golf Cars in Banner Elk, NC and www.golfcarcatalog.com has been generous enough to pass on some tips and maintenance checks to ready your vehicle for driving. If you are a do-it-yourselfer some maintenance procedures and remedies for some of the problems you may discover are provided as well. However, if you are not the “hands-on” type, we suggest you have your local dealer perform the fixes or more involved maintenance checks.
STEP 1: Check if the Golf Car Runs
When you get back to your electric golf car one of the first things to check is; Does the car actually run? If it does…great! Check the water level in the batteries to be sure the plates are covered and put the electric golf car on charge. Don't fill the batteries just yet unless the low water level has left the plates exposed. If exposed add just enough distilled water to cover them.
If the electric golf car does not run ask yourself these questions:
Did I flip the Tow/Maintenance switch over to Run? If the 'regen' controller has been left in the Tow or Tow/Maintenance position the car will not run. The switch must be in the Run position for the car to operate.
Did I forget to put the Tow/Maintenance switch into the Tow/Maintenance position for the long storage? If you did forget, the batteries may now be too discharged to move the car, or for the charger to even come on to recharge them.
Did I leave the battery charger plugged into the car for six months? With some chargers this will also discharge the battery pack in the same manner as above.
- Is there any water in the batteries? The liquid inside the battery cells should at least cover the plates.
- Did the batteries freeze and perhaps burst? Check under the car for evidence of spilled battery acid-usually a white powdery residue is present. Any added water will simply spill out as well.
- Has a battery cable corroded and broken off? Inspect & wriggle each battery cable end in turn. A weak terminal end may not allow charging current to pass.
- Will the battery charger come on? Sometimes the charge, especially with older batteries, may be just too low to move the car, maybe even a low or flat tire is making things worse. If everything else checks out OK, then try to recharge the batteries. Modern battery chargers (1985 on) must 'read' a minimum 'cut-on' voltage from the batteries to actually cut on and begin charging. If the overall battery voltage is too low you must somehow get them recharged to the minimum voltage required by the charger. On an electric golf car with 6-volt batteries you can use a small 6-volt/12-volt auto battery charger to individually recharge each battery (or two connected batteries) for an hour or so apiece. On a car with 8-volt batteries, connect a 12-volt charger to each individual battery, and then turn the charger on for NO MORE THAN 10 minutes each. Try to restart your regular golf car charger after each battery has been on for the 10-minute charge. Remember, you have to get the entire battery pack up to the required voltage. Giving a short boost to a couple of batteries is sometimes all that is needed.
Be certain the water level is sufficient in each battery and that no cables are weak or broken before proceeding. Old battery chargers come on regardless of the battery charge or electrolyte level. Plug them in and allow the charger to stay on till the charge is complete. Normally the ammeter dial should go above half way to indicate the charger is actually working (just a hum from the charger does not mean it is really charging). With very discharged batteries, the charger dial may not even move off of zero. Be sure the water level in the battery is OK and leave the charger turned on but keep a close eye on the dial. The ammeter needle should start to crawl up the dial, at least a little, within 15 to 20 minutes. The needle should eventually go all the way up to around 20+ amps and then gradually fall to near zero again to indicate the charge is complete. Keep feeling the AC & DC charger cords and plugs to be sure they are not getting too hot to touch. Warm is OK, TOO HOT IS NOT! Once the electric golf car is running then you can start the procedures outlined below.
STEP 2: Cleaning the Batteries
When golf car batteries approach full charge they begin to gas, or vent a mixture of hydro-sulphuric acid vapors and hydrogen gas. The heavier acidic vapors fall out and settle on everything nearby, starting to corrode any unprotected metal parts. At the start of the season and at regular intervals it's a good idea to clean the batteries, racks and surrounding areas. Your local dealer can do this for you or, if you are so inclined, you can do it yourself following these steps
STEP 3: Maintaining the Battery Terminals
WARNING 1: For your personal safety always, always, always remove all metal rings from fingers, watchbands or bracelets from wrists and any loose hanging necklaces. If the jewelry becomes a short circuit between batteries, it will ruin your day…not to mention that cherished family jewel!
WARNING 2: Eye safety is a vital concern too. Wear eye protection! A spark from a cigarette (NO! NO! NO!) or an inadvertent battery short, such as a dropped tool (or ring), can cause a battery to explode, spew battery acid and possibly catch fire (I know this from 'lucky' personal experience, thank you). Extreme caution is required. At best an exploding battery will put the hurt to your ears and a twitter to your heart. Should you ever drop a wrench or other tool onto a battery top—BACK AWAY IMMEDIATELY!!!!! It's a whole lot better, and cheaper, to replace a battery than have an Emergency Room visit. Retrieve the tool after the smoke clears.
The start of the season is an excellent time to check, clean, tighten & treat all of the battery terminal connections. Battery cable looseness, weakness, oxidation and corrosion all interfere with the flow of electricity, create excess heat and decrease the efficiency of your electric golf car. This looseness can occur and must be checked for anywhere the thick battery cables attach; battery to battery, at the F&R switch, at the motor, controller or old fashioned wiper contact & speed board, the resistor coils or the solenoid(s). Loose connections create a lot of heat; look for discoloration in the cable end or on the stud and base plate to which the cable is attached. Then perform these simple checks.
A. Check for Loose Battery Connections - Firmly wriggle each cable end side-to-side and then flex up & down. There should be no looseness or movement sideways. If there is, the nut that secures the cable end to the battery post needs to be tightened some more. Use an adjustable wrench to tighten the nut, clockwise, just a little. If the cable end will not tighten, even if the nut feels tight, there may be a problem with the battery post stud. Chronic looseness of any cable end, anywhere in the electrical system, will cause a heat buildup. Enough heat can 'freeze' the nut on the battery stud making it impossible to tighten the cable end. Over time the heat can cause the lead post to melt away from the cable end. You can see the melted lead on the side of the post, much like melted candle wax…sometimes even a pool on the battery top…sometimes little beads of lead splatter onto the battery top, melt through the case and allow acid to jostle out as the car moves along. Be sure the cables are tight to the post. Don't over tighten but they should be good and snug…no wriggle! The up & down flex motion at the cable end should not cause much flex. The end should be rigid to the post. The cable can flex but the metal terminal end should not. If it does easily flex or, worse, it's downright floppy, then you have a battery cable end about to give it up. Have it fixed or replaced before it leaves you, where you least expect it!
B. Check for Terminal Oxidation and Corrosion - The type of terminal oxidation mentioned above looks fundamentally different from battery rack corrosion. The positive terminals generally take the brunt of the corrosion but the negative posts will corrode too. If they are badly corroded, you should have them cleaned by your local dealer or do it yourself.
C. Recheck Battery Water Levels - Recheck the water levels in each cell. Take the hassle out of this task by using a Battery Filler Bottle. Use distilled water (lead acid batteries can be damaged by certain elements found in some tap water even though it is safe to drink). Be sure the electrolyte (water) in each battery cell is, at a minimum, above the plates (the straight lines you can see when looking straight down into the battery cell). For regular everyday use the battery water level should be just slightly below the cell collar, or about 1? below the top of the battery. Be careful not to overfill the cells. This is an extremely common mistake that results in shortened overall battery life, acid getting everywhere and it requires much more maintenance. In the busy golf season, especially in hot climates, it is recommended to keep a close eye on the water level, especially in older batteries, and NEVER let it get below the plates.
D. Protect the Battery Terminals - OK, we have washed and cleaned and inspected and tightened and neutralized. Let the car drip dry for a while and then apply some sort of protection on the battery terminals to inhibit future corrosion. When used on a new or clean terminal, proper protection can last for years with little care. If the terminals are corroded, treatment does little but add to the mess. Don't believe the claims that a little spray here and there takes care of badly corroded batteries.
E. Charge the Car - If the batteries are fully charged, you can run the car after checking the Tow/Maintenance/Run switch (Step 3.F). If not, put the car on charge and allow the charger to run its full course. It will take 10 or so charge/discharge cycles to bring the batteries up to full capacity after a long layover.
F. Check the Tow/Maintenance/Run Switch - After the charge is done, unplug the charger from the car and from the wall. If you have a 'ReGen' model electric (1995 and newer), be sure to turn the switch under the seat from 'Tow' or 'Tow/Maintenance' to the 'RUN' position. This electrically reactivates the car for use after off-season storage. This is a very important step when preparing the car for seasonal use. If left in the 'TOW' or 'Tow Maintenance' mode, the electronic speed controller stays dormant and will not permit the car to move. Conversely, if the 'TOW' switch has been left in the 'RUN' mode, then the controller capacitors stay energized by drawing off the limited battery juice. This can run the battery voltage below the critical charger 'cut-on' voltage leaving open the possibility of excessive lead sulfate buildup on the plates and the batteries freezing if the temperature drops too low.
STEP 4: Finalizing the Spring Prep
A. Check Tires - Check the tire pressure and inflate to 20–25 psi. If you have had any problems with a slow leaking tire, don't waste your time with the foam 'fix-a-flat' stuff that comes in aerosol cans. Usually it does not work permanently and can damage aluminum wheels. I recommend taking the tire to a professional and having it plugged (it's only about $5) or, if the tread is still pretty good, have a tube installed. While you are down there filling the tires, look at the tread and sidewalls. The tire tread wear should be even across the entire width of the tire. If the center of the tread is worn too much the tire may be over inflated. If the outer edges are worn away then a chronic air leak is indicated, maybe due to weather-cracked sidewalls or a pesky nail or golf tee. (Sidewall cracks are very common and the cracks may or may not be the cause of the air leak. Apply soapy water with a brush over the sides & tread of the tire and look for bubbles caused by escaping air.) If one front tire is worn a lot more than the other, or the tread has signs of feathering or scrubbing in one direction, then a front-end inspection & alignment may be needed. It is somewhat normal for a tire to lose 5 to 10 pounds of air pressure over a long storage. Low tire pressure makes the battery pack have to work a lot harder to power the car around especially in grass or loose dirt & gravel.
B. Grease the Front End - In order to keep your steering system working smoothly and to prevent any metal-to-metal deterioration, it is recommended that your front end be greased at least once a year. For those that use the car year round or use the car above and beyond 'normal' usage', you may need to do this more often. You can have your local golf car dealer do this or do it yourself.
C. Check the Brakes - The beginning of the season is also a good time to be sure your brakes, brake cables and hill brake catch mechanism are all working. It doesn't do a lot of good to have a great running golf car that you can't stop and keep stopped. A hill brake lock mechanism that unexpectedly pops off is a mortal danger to anyone downhill from you.
Thoroughly inspect and test your brakes regularly. Begin (with the key off and on flat ground) by pressing the brake pedal. Feel to be sure the pedal doesn't feel mushy or weak. If the pedal tension does feel weak, you may have a frayed, kinked or broken brake cable, need to disassemble & clean the brake shoe adjuster mechanisms, or perform an adjustment to the turnbuckle or compensator spring assembly where the cables attach to the pedal underneath the floorboard. Carefully check the cables for battery corrosion, rust, kinks or signs of fraying or unraveling. If the pedal tension feels ok, but you still have to press extra hard on the pedal for adequate stopping, you may need to replace the shoes or inspect the brake drums. You can purchase new cables and brake shoes and install them yourself or have your local dealer do it. Any of these components or combinations thereof may need replacing or adjusting to achieve the proper brake feel.
With the vast array of shoes and cables out there, I have seen all kinds of jury-rigged combinations. The correct shoes, installed & adjusted the proper way, with the correct brake cables & drums helps insure proper braking and personal safety. The hill brake catch mechanism is hard to inspect on any car. There are two parts; the notch (usually found on the hill brake pedal) and the catch plate (usually attached to the frame of the car). Either or both can wear and unexpectedly pop off creating a dangerous rollaway situation. The best way to check this is to get down with a flashlight and carefully look at both components for wear. The other way is to lock the hill brake down as you normally would, then reach down with your hand and try to dislodge the catch mechanism by shaking & pulling at it. It should hold very firmly. If it seems to pop off too easily then there may be need of closer inspection. Consult your service manual for complete instructions.
D. Check the Differential Gear Oil - This is often overlooked for years and lack of oil will cause the diff gears to start clashing, which leads to an audible gear whine noise as you accelerate, cruise or coast. Lots of older electric golf cars have both a drain & a fill hole but on more modern cars the drain hole has gone away. All of the modern Dana brand differentials take regular 30 weight motor oil but other brands may take heavier 90 weight gear oil. It is always best to consult your service or owner's manual. If the oil is determined to be low; add to the bottom of the fill hole. Be sure you are adding oil to the actual fill hole and that you are not overfilling because this can lead to other problems such as blown wheel seals and oily brakes. I always look carefully for signs of oil leaks around the differential cover plate and at the end of the axle tubes where the wheels attach. If things look oily or caked with damp looking dirt chances are you have a leak somewhere.
E. Check the Reverse Buzzer! - OK, OK, everybody hates these loud obnoxious intrusions while concentrating on backing up. I find many cars that have a wire pulled or cut off. Others that just don't work. I also find cars accidently left in the reverse position, standing quietly, ominously, waiting to unexpectedly go into reverse when the gas pedal is pushed. Don't do this! That buzzer is for everyone's safety. With the modern 'regen' cars the buzzer functions as the 'roll away protection' warning signal as well. In today's market, where the majority of golf cars are used for personal transportation and where parking areas are crowded with other golf cars and people standing around, a disabled or broken reverse buzzer is inviting disaster. And perhaps a lawsuit! If the buzzer is too loud, locate where it is located on the car and partially cover the buzzer hole with a piece of duct tape. This will cut down on the high pitch while still making enough noise to warn the driver, and those standing around, that the car is in reverse. If you walk past an unattended car accidently left in reverse, do your neighbor a kind deed and shift it to Neutral. The legs you save may be your own!
F. Check Other Battery Cable Connections - The last thing to really take a close look at is how tight the battery cable connections are throughout the electric golf car. I mentioned loose battery cables at the battery posts proper but anywhere the heavy cables are attached–the motor, the F&R switch, the wiper-style speed switch with the fixed copper contacts (older pre-electronic speed controller cars, 1990 & before), the newer electronic speed controller terminals and especially on the solenoid (the most common failure)–must have a clean tight connection. Looseness=Heat. Heat=Failure…sooner or later. Again, if you can wriggle the cable end under the nut that secures it, it is loose! If the entire contact moves on the board to which it is attached, then the contact is loose on the board. If the cable end or the stud & nuts look oxidized, rusted or discolored compared to other nearby connections, it indicates a heat buildup and impending failure. Deal with these problems while you have the vehicle where it can be repaired. Otherwise you will be dragging that bad boy home.
If you need to order any parts or service manuals or need help with some of these issues contact Golfcarcatalog.com at 800-328-1953 or 828-963-6775 (fax: 828-963-8321).
Cleaning the Batteries
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A. First make sure all the batteries have sufficient water, that the battery caps are securely in place and the car has been fully charged. Then take a hard look at the battery support racks and battery hold down brackets & J-bolts. Will the battery racks last another year? Do you need to remove the batteries to repair the racks from which a battery or two is hanging at a 45 degree angle? If so you can skip this part till the racks are fixed. Most times it's not so drastic but look the racks over from above and from beneath the car. A white powdery looking crystal that can be very difficult to remove usually accompanies advanced cases of corrosion. If the following procedures do not virtually eliminate all of the corrosion, then the batteries may need to be removed for a more thorough cleaning & corrosion prevention treatment. Sometimes you will find a clean, corrosion-free rack that has become so rusted it is about to collapse.
B. Unplug the charger and drive the car to a convenient place where you can wash the batteries & battery racks with Neutralizer and lots of water (a garden hose is OK). Lock the hill brake.
C. If you have a 'Regen' electrical drive system (automatically brakes going down hill), turn the master switch under the seat to 'Tow' or 'Tow/Maintenance'. This turns the car completely off. Be sure to turn the switch back to the “RUN” position after the cleaning is done or the car will appear dead and not run. If you do not have a 'Regen' system, then just put the Forward/Reverse (F/R) switch into the Neutral position (straight up) and turn the key to 'OFF'. This also turns the car off…no battery current can run to the motor.
D. We recommend that you DO NOT disconnect any terminals unless it is necessary to clean them. Regen cars require that the 'Tow/Maintenance' switch be in the 'Tow' position and that a specific sequence of battery cable disconnect & reconnect be followed. There is some other maintenance to do here and we will cover cables later.
E. Be sure your car is in a location where the neutralized acid water, grass and mud you are about to wash off will safely wash away. Be sure you are NOT wearing your best pair of jeans or any other cotton clothing. Hydrosulphuric acid just loves cotton. It's fond of skin too, so you might want long sleeves and gloves. Polyester clothing resists the acid.
F. Start on one side of the electric golf cart and spray our environmentally-friendly Battery Acid Neutralizer all over the tops & terminal posts of the batteries. Be sure to spray between the batteries, on the battery racks and the inside walls of the body panels, especially if they are metal. Now use an old paintbrush to scour all the nooks and crannies of the battery tops and sides. Use a little extra water if you need. Follow the directions on the bottle in applying and rinsing the Neutralizer. This liquid will change color to signify that it is neutralizing any acid present. Allow this to sit and work for a few moments then wash the entire compartment thoroughly with lots of water, being careful to avoid any acid splash on you.
NOTE: Water from a garden hose with a pressure nozzle, or even a commercial pressure washer, will not hurt the electrical parts of the car. Do not let the pressure washer beat on the vital parts but a good thorough washing is fine. Many golf clubs wash the battery compartment out every day…this is great! Several times a month is good, once a month is ok, and certainly at seasons end at a very minimum. Hey, it's your investment!
G. Wash the entire compartment thoroughly with water. You can use plain water from the garden hose, which does nothing to neutralize the acid but at least it keeps excess acid from contaminating the battery cable ends & racks. You can also use a solution of baking soda (about 2 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water) to neutralize the acid, but you may be introducing some environmentally unfriendly side effects. In some regulatory jurisdictions, acid & soda wash is considered hazardous waste. Besides, bicarbonate of soda does not clean. Drippings from improperly washed batteries will stain finished concrete surfaces and, over time, cause the surface layer to decompose and start to crumble. This is certainly a much larger concern for clubs rather than individuals, but I have seen many fine examples in private garages too. We offer an inexpensive, plastic backed, absorbent mat made just for golf cars. Unfortunately, I do not have any magic cures for stained or crumbling garage floors.