Are Name-Brand Batteries Better Than Generics?


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It's easy to compare generic aspirin to name-brand – the ingredients are on the box. But what about batteries? Here's some information you'll get a charge out of.

My father and I have been debating batteries since I was a kid. I’d quickly run through every battery in the house playing my Discman (remember those?) and then blame my dad for buying the cheaper generic batteries. I swore the generic batteries didn’t last as long as the name-brand ones.

When I moved out of the house I started buying name-brand batteries (much to my dad’s dismay). He still buys the generic ones from dollar stores and drugstores.

For years, I’ve sworn my brand-name batteries outlast generics. But I’ve never actually tested them. So am I right? In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson talked with some people who did test battery performance. Check out the video, then read on for more…

As Stacy said in the video, my dad and I could both be right depending on what types of batteries we buy and how we use them. Here are the details…

Comparing non-alkaline dollar-store batteries to brand-name alkalines

While I never put much science behind my decision to buy the name-brand batteries, some people have. Rhett Allain, a physics professor from Southeastern Louisiana University, compared dollar-store non-alkaline (zinc chloride) batteries to Duracell and Energizer alkalines. He then published the results, along with lots of formulas and graphs in this article on Wired.  What he told Stacy in the video above:

If you buy the cheaper batteries, you’re paying a little bit now and then you’ll pay a little bit later. It’s thinking more short-term. If you buy the more expensive batteries, you pay more up front but they last longer. In the end, there’s not that big a difference – it’s the same amount of energy per price.

The professor compared three batteries: a 20-cent Dollar General zinc chloride battery, a 68-cent Duracell alkaline battery, and a 65-cent alkaline Energizer. The Duracell and Energizer cost three times more and lasted three times longer. So the cost per amount of energy purchased was roughly the same.

The professor pointed out, however, that along with the added convenience of not having to change batteries as often, the more expensive batteries offer another advantage. From his Wired article:

There is a bit more to batteries than just the energy stored in it. It depends on what you are using it for. Suppose that I was using these batteries for a flashlight. In this case, it wouldn’t matter too much which battery I used. If I used the cheaper (Dollar General battery), I would just have to replace the batteries more often. However, suppose that I am using the batteries for my Wii remote. For this electronic device, if the voltage drops too low it might not work properly. Yes, the battery will still have energy in it, but if it won’t run the device correctly, who cares?

In other words, when the voltage drops off with a flashlight, the bulb dims, but the flashlight still works. But when the voltage drops on more sensitive devices, like a camera or Wii remote, they stop working.

The professor’s conclusion? If you can get alkalines cheaper by buying in bulk or stocking up when they’re on sale, do it. But if you’re running out to the store for batteries for a kid’s toy or flashlight, dollar-store batteries will do the trick.

Alkaline batteries: name-brand vs. generic

So now we know we’d rather have alkaline batteries than cheap non-alkalines.  But are name-brand alkalines better than generic?

The website Dealnews sent a collection of alkaline AA batteries – including Duracell, Energizer, and generics – to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute for testing. Here’s what Lindsay Sakraida of Dealnews had to say about the results in the video:

Our exclusive test results gathered by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute show that in terms of power over time, there’s no discernible difference between expensive, name-brand batteries and cheaper generic ones.

Dealnews didn’t compare every generic, so it’s possible some might not work as well as name brands. But the bottom line is that when it comes to alkaline batteries, as with so many other things we buy, paying for a name is not money well spent.

Stacy Johnson

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