An Assault On Batteries


December 22, 1990|By Rob Kasper

Forget Santa. Rechargeable Rick is main man on Christmas at our house.

Rick, who looks like a D battery with biceps, is the cartoon figure Panasonic Industrial Co. has chosen to tell us how to keep rechargeable batteries happy.

I became acquainted with Rick after making a substantial contribution to Panasonic. I went to a toy store and forked over a ridiculous amount of money for "remote control" vehicles. Then I paid an even more absurd sum for the batteries and the recharger needed to keep the toys zipping around.

Rick came with an instruction sheet on the six-hour, BQ-4C nickel-cadmium battery charger. I have no idea what any of those initials stand for. But I know the recharger cost me 15 bucks.

I bought it, plus $74 worth of rechargeable AA and 9-volt batteries.

The expenditure, the most money I have ever spent on batteries, was, I told myself, "a way save money."

I also told myself that once Rick and his black-coated cadmiums entered my life, I would never need to buy batteries again.

Unlike alkaline batteries, which at the end of their life are buried in the trash, tuckered-out nickel cadmiums can be resurrected by sticking them in the electrically powered recharger. These born-again batteries cost about double ($7 for two AA) the price of batteries that have only one life to lead.

Once Rick started filling me in on rechargeable lifestyle, I began to have doubts about how long these nickel cadmium types would last around our house.

It turns out that while rechargeable batteries can keep turning out juice for almost three years, they are finicky.

First of all, they are like high school freshmen. They are not supposed to mix with their elders. Rick said it was not a good idea to use a brand new rechargeable battery with a more senior battery. The older battery will harass the young battery, and that, Rick said, could "reduce the life span" of the new battery.

This made sense to me. When I was a high school freshman basketball player, the senior players would regularly threatened to "reduce our life span." Especially if they found us in "their" locker room.

It also turns out that rechargeable batteries are touchy about meeting other batteries.

I knew that rechargeable batteries should never, never, never be seen in the company of common alkaline batteries. The rechargeable battery was, after all, a better class of battery than the mundane alkaline.

But I was surprised when I learned the lines of distinction among batteries went even further. Rick said he didn't recommend blending brands of similar-size rechargeable batteries. Those other batteries may look just like us, Rick said, but there are subtle differences. Like the the milliAmp rating. Rick never told me what the milliAmp rating was, but he said if I paired up `D batteries with different milliAmp ratings, I ran the risk of reducing their life spans.

Rick didn't discuss the nasty issue of what happens when your kids lose a rechargeable battery. Kids rarely lose all four of the batteries that power a toy, they only lose one. If the lost battery were an everyday alkaline battery, you would shrug and buy another.

But if the missing battery is one of Rick's pricy rechargeable numbers, you react more forcefully. You seal all the exits. No one is allowed to leave the house unless they have been interrogated. Have they seen the missing battery? Are they sure? Where were they at 10 a.m. yesterday morning? Do they have any witnesses?

If interrogation fails, you then begin a room-to-room search. No hiding spot, not even the collection of dust balls under the bed, is left unexamined.

If that fails, you play cat and mouse. You wait for the battery to come out of hiding. Currently in our home, two rechargeable C batteries have escaped from a kid's portable tape player and are on the lam. I have posted a notice on the refrigerator offering a 50-cent reward for their capture.

I need the tape player to play some Christmas morning music. But I have the feeling they will show. They may be well hidden now. But some day they'll get careless, or maybe they'll want to peek at the new rechargeables in the house.

Then they will roll out from under the hot water heater.

And when they do, I will be there to pounce on them and, following Rick's advice, I'll throw them in the recharger.

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