You are sitting beside your home, bed, kitchen, protection, transportation, and expedition vehicle all rolled into one, on a remote beach in the Baja. You hear a sizzling sound coming from the engine compartment. The truck has been parked for at least day. Hmm. You open the hood and take a look around. After a short inspection, you see a pile of white crystals around one of your battery trays. Hmm again, with a bit of uh-oh. You disconnect the ground lead, and the sizzling stops. Another look reveals the battery tie-down bolt has vibrated off. You've got a hole in your car battery; apparently washboard roads ARE good for something.
This happened to us - and like many places on the Baja, there was nobody around, and a walk would have taken far too long. This is how we got our truck going again.
...it's a true story, and was one of many that were less than ideal...
Let me preface this with a little "don't try this at home." What we had to do was dangerous and definitely a last resort. When you're all alone you have to be creative, but you must never sacrifice your safety. Remember expedition travel can be dangerous, and requires all of your wits and guts about you.
Battery plastic can be welded (melted) together. Here we describe how to weld the battery hole closed.
If you have the handle to your battery, chances are it's the same type or at least compatible plastic with the battery case. The handle serves as your welding rod. We always have propane and a small torch tip with us in our box of tools, so we figured we would be able to weld up the hole.
Batteries produce hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas is very explosive, and this is what makes the fix so dangerous. Blowing a battery up is bad for the battery, but if you're anywhere near it you can get sulphuric acid on you, which can result in serious chemical burns. The following points describe the safest way to fix a hole in your battery:
- Wear protective clothing. Put on pants, long sleeves, and find some glasses or something to protect your eyes. Wear gloves.
- Place the battery on the ground, with the hole facing up. Place a board or something between you and the hole, leaving just enough room so you can reach around and see what you are doing.
- Clean and dry the battery around the hole with a rag.
- Cut a piece of the plastic handle that is just larger than the hole.
- Heat up the donor piece so that it is melted on the side that will go against the battery.
- While the plastic is still hot and melted, place it over the hole. It will partially bond with the battery.
- Now comes the dangerous part: you have to complete the bond. Do this by taking a section of the handle and melting the end. Quickly, lightly feather the battery around the edges of the donor piece to heat up the area. Dab the heated area with the melted handle end. You have to go back and forth a bit to keep the handle section melted, while keeping the battery plastic just hot. During this stage you run a serious risk of igniting hydrogen gas, blowing up the battery, and burning yourself.
- Once you are satisfied that the hole is closed, turn off the torch and turn the battery right side up. If it's not a sealed unit, fill it up with water. Replace it in the vehicle, cross your fingers, and hope that it starts.
That's it. This fix worked for us - it's a true story, and was one of many that were less than ideal. However, it got us running again, and as soon as we came to a town with supplies we replaced the battery with a new one.