When it comes to powering our toys, cameras and flashlights, we face an array of battery choices — and ring up quite a bill. In trying to cut those costs, we appear to face an endless array of questions:
- Do we choose alkaline or nonalkaline?
- Will a name-brand battery outlast a cheaper generic or house brand?
- When does it make sense to depart from disposables and put money down on rechargeables?
Here’s the skinny:
1. Decide on nonalkaline versus alkaline
Many stores carry only alkaline, or mostly alkaline batteries, although discount stores still have a lot of nonalkaline products on the shelves, usually at a lower price. Which choice makes more sense?
Rhett Allain, physics professor from Southeastern Louisiana University, says that tests show name-brand, disposable alkaline batteries beat cheap, dollar-store nonalkalines.
“If you buy the cheaper (nonalkaline) batteries, you’re paying a little bit now, and then you’ll pay a little bit later,” Allain says. “It’s thinking more short-term. If you buy the more expensive batteries, you pay more upfront but they last longer. In the end there’s not that big a difference, it’s the same amount of energy per price.”
But if you opt for the alkaline product, you will save on the hassle of swapping out batteries frequently and on trips to the store for new batteries.
2. Choose between generic versus name brand
Generics are proven ways to save 20 percent to 50 percent on many of the things we buy, from groceries to medicine, says Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.
So suppose you decide to buy alkaline batteries, and you are at the store facing a shelf of similar products — some sold under brand names and others with generic packaging.
Turns out that when choosing between generic and name-brand batteries, there’s no significant difference in performance, according to bargain-spotting website DealNews:
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.
But DealNews found one notable exception: The Energizer Advanced Lithium battery pushed out far more initial voltage than the others in a test — and when it finally corrected down to the expected 1.5 volts, it kept going and going and going.
3. Weigh options to expand battery lifespan
Some battery makers say their products have a shelf life of 10 years — although it never seems that way when you dig out a stored flashlight or battery-powered toy to find it has a dead battery.
It turns out that there’s no need to store batteries in the fridge, like your grandparents did, in an effort to extend their life: It won’t make any difference.
But a new product, Batteriser, claims it can make your disposable battery last eight times longer by tapping into unused power, even when the battery appears to be dead.
4. Choose the most suitable disposable battery
What type of battery is best for you? It depends on how you plan to use it. Battery makers, Consumer Reports and retailers such as REI offer these suggestions:
- Lithium: For high-drain devices such as cameras, wireless gaming accessories and hand-held games.
- Alkaline: For low-drain devices such as remote controls, flashlights, calculators, clocks and radios, LED headlamps, portable electronics, and wireless mice and keyboards.
- Zinc chloride (heavy-duty) or zinc carbon (general purpose): For clocks and other low-drain devices.
5. Decide whether to buy rechargeables
If you’re going through a lot of disposable batteries, you may want to consider rechargeables. They cost more upfront, but depending on the device, they can pay for themselves over time:
- Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH): Good for high-drain devices such as digital cameras and flash units, or devices that experience prolonged use, such as GPS receivers.
- Nickel cadmium (NiCd): Recommended for power tools, two-way radios and high-temperature situations.
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