Put a charge into your battery savingsCopperTop and Energizer Bunny are marketing terms most Americans are familiar with, but they don't necessarily represent the brands of batteries consumers should be buying.
By: Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune
CopperTop and Energizer Bunny are marketing terms most Americans are familiar with, but they don't necessarily represent the brands of batteries consumers should be buying.
It's not that Duracell or Energizer batteries are bad; it's just that cheaper, lesser-known brands perform about the same, at least for traditional disposable alkaline batteries, according to recent testing by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a report at DealNews.com.
The report found "no measurable difference in quality among these batteries." In the testing, brand-name batteries were tested alongside generics and a cheaper brand, Rayovac.
Those findings echo other studies, including one by Consumer Reports, which found so little difference among alkaline batteries that it recommended cheap Kirkland Signature brand batteries sold at Costco.
Online retailer Zbattery.com also did its own tests and found less than 20 percent difference among brands of alkalines, while price differences are often much greater than 20 percent, said owner Jim DeWitt.
To be fair, big-name battery-makers manufacture some excellent, albeit expensive, high-capacity, long-lasting batteries, such as lithium batteries.
But that only highlights the growing complexity of buying batteries, especially when you add the topic of rechargeable batteries.
The myriad choices mean you might be overspending or purchasing the wrong type of batteries for your needs.
Here's what you need to know.
DON'T BUY HEAVY-DUTY BATTERIES: If ever a product was misnamed, it's heavy-duty batteries, which are just about the lightest-duty, lowest-capacity batteries you can buy. They have a fraction of the capacity of alkalines but don't cost much less. "I see no use for heavy-duty batteries for the average consumer — zero," DeWitt said. Sometimes, manufacturers that include batteries with their products — for a remote control, for example — might use the short-life batteries to cut costs, he said.
DISPOSABLE ALKALINES SIMPLY WORK: Quality of single-use alkaline batteries is similar among brands, so shop by price. A notable exception is the Energizer Max Alkaline, which was a poor-performing battery in Consumer Reports tests reported in December. Alkalines have a long shelf life, usually more than five years, making them ideal for seldom-used devices such as flashlights and smoke detectors. They're also best for low-draw devices like wall clocks.
"There are definitely times when you want to stick with regular alkaline batteries," said Christine Frietchen of ConsumerSearch.com, which compiles and summarizes other reviews.
BUY ALKALINES IN BULK: In small quantities, a good price on standard alkalines would be 50 cents each for standard AA cells. But you can pay near half that if you're willing to buy in bulk. You're not taking a huge risk of batteries going dead before you use them, because alkalines have such a long shelf life. Best storage is a cool, dry place, but not a refrigerator or freezer, according to manufacturers.
A recent offer found via DealNews.com was for a 24-pack of Duracell Procell AA batteries for about $8 from Amazon.com. That's just 33 cents per battery, excluding shipping cost. Zbattery.com sells a case of 98 Sony AA batteries for $25.95, or 26 cents each before shipping costs.
And keep an eye out for manufacturer coupons. Stacking a sale and a coupon might mean you get name-brand batteries cheaper than generics.
RECHARGEABLES CAN BE A VERY GOOD OPTION: Besides being an environmentally appealing option, creating less battery waste, rechargeable batteries can make great financial sense.
They are more expensive upfront, perhaps $2 to $4 each, but they can be recharged hundreds of times. With some AA batteries costing 50 cents to $1 each, rechargeables pay for themselves in just a few charges.
Rechargeables can be especially good for cameras, DeWitt said. "Rechargeables in most cameras actually perform better because they deliver more current," he said. "Some cameras just don't do well with alkalines, even the high-capacity ones."
You will also need a battery charger, sometimes sold as a package with rechargeable batteries.
RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES SHOULD BE RECYCLED: See call2recycle.org for a list of battery recyclers, which include many prominent retailers, such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Radio Shack.
SEEK OUT HYBRID RECHARGEABLES: Today's rechargeables retain most of their charge much longer, and many will work right out of the package. That's a huge improvement for anyone who was frustrated by previous-generation rechargeables that always seemed to be dead just when you needed them most.
"If I haven't touched my camera for two months, I find they'll still work," DeWitt said.
Consumer Reports recommended all the rechargeable brands it tested, not finding a poor performer. The Sanyo brand, called Eneloop, gets especially high ratings across different reviews.
"Owner reviews for the Eneloop batteries are terrific. In fact, we had a hard time finding anyone who didn't like them," Frietchen said.
WEIGH THE VALUE OF SUPERBATTERIES: High-capacity disposable batteries, such as lithium ion, are great performers, lasting a long time, according to tests. But you'll pay for it, spending maybe double or even four times more than regular alkalines. They also have a longer shelf life than alkalines and are somewhat lighter than traditional batteries. So, if you don't want the hassle of changing batteries often or, in the case of portable devices, carrying extra batteries, long-life batteries might be appropriate.
An alternative for on-the-go batteries is to use rechargeable cells and carry a charger. Some chargers can be powered by your vehicle's power outlet or the USB port on a computer. Some are even solar powered.