Trying to start a car only to find out the battery is dead is no fun for anyone and it is expensive to fix. Prince William County’s Fleet Management has a solution.
“Solar panels, about the size of a computer keyboard, are the answer,” says Brent Lineberger, Fleet’s customer service manager. “Modern vehicles have electrical drains even when the car is not running. When vehicles sit for a period, that drain builds and reduces the battery power. These panels are designed to counteract that electrical draw while the vehicle is not being operated to help maintain the charge on the battery.”
Several factors contribute to batteries discharging in fleet vehicles. “Currently, due to staff telework, job vacancies, operational reductions in tasks from COVID-19, a number of the county’s general fleet vehicles are experiencing dead batteries,”
The solar panels preempt batteries discharging, as they sit idle, by converting sunlight into electricity and transferring that electricity to a vehicle’s battery. Installing the panel is a matter of simply sticking it to the inside of the windshield with small suction cups and plugging a connector into the vehicle’s power port. An alternate way to connect the solar panel is to run a connection directly to the vehicle’s battery, which takes about 10 minutes, according to Lineberger.
Using the solar panels, which cost under $20 each, could save the county $100 to $150 for each battery that needs to be replaced because it went dead. Once a battery goes dead, it is less efficient. “It causes irreversible damage to the battery. This damage shortens the lifespan and power output of the battery,” Lineberger said.
He also tells us that while newer vehicles are more susceptible to battery drain, customers should start cars occasionally. “While the electrical drain is greater in the newer cars because you have more systems going on, you’ve got to start the older ones periodically, too,”
What happens if the cars are no longer needed? Lineberger says Fleet Management adjusts accordingly. “Fleet, in collaboration with county agencies, works to ensure that identified underutilized vehicles are either returned to Fleet for broader general use or removed when they’re not needed.”