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How to use and charge LiPo batteries

LiPo batteries overall

There are a couple of basic things to know about LiPo batteries before using them. It’s true that misusing a LiPo battery may cause burning/melting of the battery. When used correctly, LiPo batteries are rather safe to use and store. The benefits of using LiPo batteries in RC cars are undeniable, so careful and proper use of the batteries is necessary for safe and worry-free RC hobby. Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries are efficient and have a greater capacity than NiMH batteries, which is why they’re also more popular among hobbyists. In this article, we’ve decided to put together a list of things to know about LiPo batteries. The batteries are easy to use and there’s no reason to stress over using them.

LiPo batteries must be charged with chargers that are specifically meant for charging LiPo batteries. When you’ve got a new LiPo battery, check it’s polarity to avoid incorrect installation.  If the markings on the battery are not clear enough, you can check the polarity with a basic voltage meter. You can use a pen or paint to make the markings clearer. In batteries of known brands such as Gens Ace the markings are usually clear.

The most important thing about charging LiPo batteries is that you must never leave the battery unmonitored while it’s charging.  So if you’re about to go to the store while your battery is charging, charge the battery only when you’re back from the store.

If any issues occur during the charging, it may lead to the warming of the battery and in the worst case the battery might melt or explode.  This may be caused by the wrong charging program or incorrect parameters. This is why you should never charge a battery on anything that catches fire easily like paper or a tablecloth. It’s good to be prepared for this kind of things and buy a safety bag specifically meant for charging LiPo batteries. It protects both the battery and its environment during charging. While charging, the battery should be placed somewhere where it can be monitored and it should not be hidden in a closet, for example. 

Because monitoring LiPo batteries while they are charging is so important, we recommend the young hobbyists to get an RC car with a NiMH battery.  NiMH is a great and worry-free alternative when the car is not used frequently.

Charging Lipos

When charging a LiPo battery, first you choose a correct charging program. After this, you choose the number of cells to be charged (voltage) and make sure the maximum charge rate (A) is not exceeded. The maximum charge is the C value stated by the manufacturer in the manual.  A general rule is that batteries can be charged with the current corresponding to their capacity (1C). Let’s say your battery’s capacity is 4000 mAh. The marking 1C means that the battery can be charged with 4 Ampere current (value calculated directly from the battery’s capacity 1Cx4Ah=4A).

So when charging LiPo batteries, usually you only have to adjust to the charge current.  It’s recommended to always use balance charging. Balancing chargers ensure that all the cells are charged evenly and there are no differences in voltages between them. Balancing also makes sure that none of the cells are over-charged, as over-charging may have unwanted consequences. So make sure you are using a balancing charger with your LiPo batteries. In the pictures below, you can see an external balancing board and the integrated balancer in the charger to which the connector is connected according to the number of the cells.

In practice, the main power connectors (+ and -) and the balancing connector are connected to the charger. During runs you only connect the main power connectors (+ and -).

The LiPo battery is full when it’s reached the max voltage. The traditional LiPo cells (3.7v) max voltage is 4.2v and LiHv (High volt) 4.35v. This means that the voltage of a fully charged basic 2S LiPo (7.4v) is 8.4v and that of LiHV batteries is 8.7v. It’s good to note that the recommended charge voltage of the LiHV cells is 4,2v/cell, which is also the highest voltage allowed in races.  The maximum charge of a basic LiPo battery 4.2v / cell must not be exceeded.

In use, the cell voltage of a LiPo battery should not drop below 3v because it will damage the battery. Many RC cars have an integrated cut-off function, which will cut the power when the voltage is dropping too low. Before using LiPo batteries, check if your car has this function. 

When storing unused LiPo battery, it’s recommended to charge the battery to 50%. In a 2S battery this would mean a voltage of 7,6–7,7v (3,8–3,85/cell). Smart chargers have a Storage function that charges the battery to the voltage suitable for storing. You should also use a safety bag for storing your LiPo batteries and as a safety measure, store the batteries in an open space where you can see them. 

Despite their longevity, LiPo batteries wear out the same way as a full-size car battery for example. This is caused by the weakening chemistry of the battery. In the end, batteries are like any other consumable. By taking good care of and properly charging, you can easily increase the life span of your batteries.

So how do I recognize a malfunctioning battery?

The first sign of a damaged battery is puffing. Puffing may be caused by excess voltage or too high discharge rate. As LiPo batteries get old, it’s normal for them to puff a little in the middle. However, if the puffing is sudden you must get rid of the battery and not use it anymore. If the battery warms up above body temperature during charging, it’s a sign of decreased charging ability and the battery nearing the end of its life. In this case it’s good to check that the charging rate is correct.  LiPo batteries should be able to handle 1C charging rate without problems and without overheating.

However, in use it’s normal for the batteries to warm up. Especially in the more powerful cars it’s normal that the battery warms up to body temperature. If the battery feels clearly hot the current consumption of the car has exceeded the current output. If this is the case, you should consider switching to more efficient batteries (Higher C-rate).

When you follow instructions and use common sense, LiPo batteries are not dangerous, you just need to use them correctly. In use, they are definitely more efficient than NiMH batteries. For children and for infrequent use we recommend NiMH batteries because they are a worry-free alternative and endure a longer shelf life compared to LiPo batteries. If you’re concerned about something related to LiPo batteries or chargers, do not hesitate to ask us. We will gladly help you.

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