What's the Battery Breakthrough?

Oct 02, 2021

Today’s puzzler comes from real life. One of my neighbors was out walking his dog and he stopped by my house and we got to talking. Now his dog was a pretty big dog, and this dog kept looking at my left leg and drooling. I don't know why. But at any rate, that doesn’t have anything to do with this puzzler.

This neighbor and I started talking about car batteries, and he said, “Gee, you know, years ago, I remember that people would go out to start their cars on cold winter mornings. And on any given cold winter morning, about 20% of the cars wouldn't start, you turn the key and the car would go RuhRruuhRuuhRuuuuh.”

And he wanted to know why batteries are so good now. He said, “This doesn’t seem to happen anymore, so what is the new battery technology over the past 20 years?

He wanted to know what it is that makes newer cars start more reliably than they did 25 years ago.

It's so easy to start your car now, for the most part.  So the question is what's going on here? What new technology? What breakthrough has taken place?



Remember this one? My neighbor Frank was walking his dog. And Frank stopped by so his dog could visit my azaleas.

Anyway, we were just shooting the breeze so to speak, and he wants to know, why is it that you don't see so many cars that won't start in the morning anymore? I mean, the vast majority of cars now, with almost no exceptions, start right up. You get in them, you turn the key, and they start up. And he wanted to know, what is it about modern cars? What technology has befallen us? What happened to the good old days when you could call into work and say, “Car won’t start, and I’m waiting for the tow truck!”

Not only do you no longer have an excuse for not showing up at work, there's no opportunity to meet your neighbors. I mean, in the old days, at least when the car didn't start, you'd be out there and a couple of your neighbors would stop by, and someone would bring jumper cables, and it turns into a socialising experience.

So, what great technology has taken place? None! Batteries really haven't improved significantly, starter motors haven't improved significantly. I mean they've all improved somewhat, but not in such a way that would revolutionize what's going on.

But what has happened, is that while batteries have remained about the same size and energy, engines have gotten smaller, by as much as 50 or 60%.

So because engines are smaller, you don't have the failure rate that you had, because it's easy to start up a small engine with a battery that's almost dead.

When you had a 5 million cubic inch motor underneath the hood, and you turn the key on a cold, wet morning, you just get RuhRuhRuhRuh. It doesn’t start. But today, that same battery would start 4 Toyotas.


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