Lithium Golf Cart Batteries - Guide
This guide is dedicated to educating readers about Lithium batteries in Golf Carts.
Traditionally electric Golf Carts have used lead-acid batteries. Older models will usually have 6 x 6 volt batteries (for 36V), newer 48 volt models have either 4 x 12 volt, 6 x 8 volt or 8 x 6 volt batteries wired in series. The lead acid batteries fitted to Golf Carts have not changed in over 50 years, they have served well and can last 6 or more years if they're looked after.
While Lithium batteries have been around for decades, the big technology development has been in the Lithium specific formula of Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO 4). This formula is more stable, less toxic and importantly more cost effective to produce than other types of Lithium batteries.
As production of LiFePO 4 Lithium Batteries has scaled up in the last few years, the manufacturing cost has naturally reduced, making them now a cost effective alternative to lead-acid Golf Cart batteries.
The benefits of Lithium batteries when compared to Lead-Acid when used in Golf Carts include:
- No maintenance; Lead Acids will require water to be added regularly and because they are not sealed, corrosion if often present on the terminals and cables.
- Less Weight; Lithium batteries are more energy dense than lead-acid batteries. This means that more energy can be stored in less space. The result is less weight and saved space in your Golf Cart. The result is exponential as not only will the saved weight (more than 100kg) lead to better performance but the vehicle will use less energy to travel at the same speed.
- Cycles; Lead-acid batteries are typically rated at 500-800 cycles. A cycle is the number of times a battery can be discharged completely and recharged. Lithium batteries are typically rated at 2,000-3,000 cycles. As a result, you would expect at least twice the life from a Lithium battery of the same capacity as a lead-acid operating in the same way.
Naturally, with any technology change, there are still some benefits of lead-acid. The obvious one is cost, a replacement set of lead-acid golf cart batteries will almost certainly be cheaper than a quality Lithium. The other benefit of lead-acid is their very strong ability to handle aggressive discharge. This is why cars still use lead-acid batteries, when starting a car, an extreme amount of current (often 500a or more) can be drawn from the battery safely.
This takes us to some very important considerations when looking at Lithium Golf Cart batteries. We have done lots of testing of various brands, we can say with absolute certainty that there are very big differences between Lithium Golf Cart batteries currently on sale in Australia.
There are three fundamental components that will determine how suitable a Lithium battery conversion is. Those are:
- BMS (Battery Management System); Controls the parameters to ensure the battery remains safe. As an example, the BMS can shut the battery off because of over-voltage, under-voltage, over-current, over-heating.
- Cells; All Lithium Cells are Graded based on material quality and manufacturing. High grade cells are less prone to failure and simply will be capable of more cycles than a low grade cells.
- Charger; the charger should be appropriate in terms of voltage and amps to ensure the battery is charged safely. Using the wrong charger can lead to the BMS shutting off the battery, resulting in failed or inconsistent charging.
Using a general purpose Lithium battery (for example, marine, caravan/camping or solar storage as an example) in a Golf Cart is a very bad idea. This is because the BMS and cells in a Lithium Golf Cart battery are designed for high current discharge (lots of amps being pulled out of the battery when going up a hill as an example). General purpose batteries are designed to power accessories which draw small amounts of current but for a long time. The result of using a general purpose Lithium Battery in a Golf Cart will be permanent damage to cells and a BMS that could shut-down during operation.
Converting your Golf Cart to Lithium - To do the job properly, you will need a dedicated battery with appropriate BMS (see above), Charger and Gauge. In some applications you may also need a bracket/adapter and wiring harness. Although you may see low prices advertised for Lithium Golf Cart batteries that claim to be suitable for your standard charger, these are often a general purpose Lithium being marketed as being suitable for Golf. We would really recommend buying a complete kit specifically for your model of Golf Cart. These kits will come with the correct plugs for your Golf Cart and the result is that you can charge the golf cart the same way as always (plugging into the receptacle).
Different ways of converting to Lithium in your Golf Cart - There are two fundamentally different ways of converting to Lithium. The first is a large single battery (usually either 36V or 48V) in place of your existing batteries. The alternative way is using modular Lithium batteries (same case size as a lead-acid) wired in Parallel. There are advantages and disadvantages to both conversion types which we will briefly cover.
Single battery advantages;
- Simple and robust architecture. Connects directly to the main vehicle positive and negative. No cables connecting batteries.
- Single BMS monitoring all cells. Typically meaning more communications/diagnostics and higher ability to support continuous current. Remaining capacity is calculated based on amps drawn which is fairly accurate.
Single battery disadvantages;
- The stored energy cannot be changed, for example, if you buy a 67Ah battery, the capacity cannot be changed without replacing the entire battery.
- Very difficult to freight as they often weigh 50kg+ so a forklift will be needed for delivery.
- Installation is far more complicated, you will need an adapter plate to mount it safely in the golf cart.
- They are too large for some models of Golf Cart.
Modular Parallel advantages;
- Easy installation. As they are in standard Golf Cart cases, they mount using standard brackets so they can be fitted to any golf cart, regardless of make/model.
- The capacity can be increased or reduced by adding or removing a battery. If you want the vehicle to run for a longer time, you can add another battery.
Modular Parallel disadvantages;
- BMS is more basic meaning less diagnostic information and less parameters being monitored. Remaining capacity is estimated based on voltage which is a guide only.
- Still has some battery cables which can come loose or wear over time.
What is right for you? This is subjective but typically we would recommend if the Golf Cart is being used heavily, for example as part of a Golf Cart fleet, the extra effort for installation is easily worth it as the simpler architecture and higher BMS management will lead to a more reliable vehicle.
Capacity; This is the biggest question we get and probably the most misunderstood. The capacity refers to the amount of stored energy, that is, how long the battery can provide power. Popular choices are from 50Ah up to 100Ah or more. A 100Ah battery will provide roughly double the run time of a 50Ah battery and so forth. The best way to think about amp hours and ensure you make the right choice, is the same way you think about liters of fuel in your car. A car with a bigger fuel tank, will drive further before requiring recharging.
If you are playing a regular course once a week, a smaller capacity (54Ah for example) should be enough to get you around with a bit of extra capacity.
Where this becomes a bit more complicated, some models of Golf Cart draw more current than others, steep hills greatly reduce range, four seats or more will also reduce range. Modified golf carts (lifted or bigger wheels) will also reduce the range.
When choosing a capacity you need to consider your golf cart and how you use it. We would never recommend less than 50Ah in any Golf Cart. If you are a heavy user, more stored energy (Ah) is always better because you are using less of the batteries cycle life during each use.
Installation; We generally recommend installation by professionals. Some kits, for example, the modular sets are fairly easy to install and can be done at home if you have a basic understanding and mechanical ability however getting it wrong can lead to serious damage or injury.
We are more than happy to recommend someone close to you. If you would like us to recommend an installer, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org letting us know your location and we will recommend someone for you.
Finally, some really important information.
Compliance; This one is often overlooked but really important. Ensure that the package you buy has RCM compliance. Look for the RCM trademark on the charger. It is illegal to sell equipment that is not RCM complied.
Although you are unlikely to be penalised for buying a non-RCM complied charger, a minor problem could be interference with other electric equipment. More seriously, if there was an incident, for example, a fire, whether caused by the charger or not, you could find yourself in a situation where your insurance is at risk. This could potentially result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.
Having an RCM complied charger means the charger meets Australian standards and has been tested before being sold. It's not worth risking a product that isn't approved to Australian standards to save a small amount of money.
RCM Compliance Logo to look for:
This guide is written by Regar Australia and is intended to be objective and genuine advice.