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Tips on caring for batteries

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 1998


It used to be a simple reminder, reinforced in the fine print on the boxes for electronic gifts: Batteries not included. Now, with more high-tech gadgets using different kinds of batteries, consumers need to know which battery they're looking for and how to properly use it.

If you're giving a gift that uses a rechargeable battery, for example, you should charge the battery before you wrap the present. That way, says Ken Hawk, chief executive of 1-800-BATTERIES, it will be ready to use when it is opened.

Consumers need to be aware of which type of battery a device uses, since they are not interchangeable.

"That's what makes it really confusing for consumers," Hawk said. "They just want to use their portable (device)."

And consumers need to know that charging a battery for a cell phone, digital camera, laptop computer or other portable devices is not as simple as it sounds. Some batteries may need two or three charges before they get to full capacity, Hawk said, so consumers need to read the directions carefully before putting the device in a charger and later in the device that it powers.

Inadequately charging a nickel cadmium battery can affect performance, Hawk said. The nicad battery "remembers" its last charge. If it is not a full charge, it will deliver only the limited amount of energy from the previous time.

For example, many people put cordless phones back in the cradle after a conversation that lasts only a few minutes. If they do that repeatedly, the battery may give only a few minutes of use before it needs to be recharged.

Hawk said consumers should leave cordless phones off chargers until they are almost drained, then recharged. Newer cordless phones have battery indicators, Hawk said. But for those without one, Hawk said consumers could charge the battery, leave the phone off the cradle and see how long it takes to run down. That depends, however, on how long the phone is in standby mode, when it is not in use but the battery is losing its charge, and how long it is in talk time, which drains power faster.

Nickel metal hydride batteries can be damaged by heat and by overcharging.

As for alkalines, just tossing them out won't do, Hawk said, because of danger to the environment.

"The manufacturers are sending out the message that the new makeup is not as bad as the old," Hawk said. Many are mercury-free, but, he said, "you're still better off recycling than putting them in dump."

He said 14 states have mandatory battery recycling programs (Florida is not one), with sporadic efforts elsewhere. Pasco County has a recycling program, with drop-off bins at 150 or more locations, as well as a contest for schoolchildren to bring in batteries for recycling. Hawk's business offers a free recycling program for anyone (call for details).

Here are some other tips on battery care from Duracell:

* Don't mix old and new batteries, or different types of batteries, such as alkaline and zinc carbon, in the same device.

* Don't store batteries loosely. They can be shorted by touching metal objects.

* Don't dispose of batteries in a fire.

* Don't recharge a battery unless it is specifically marked rechargeable.

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