Solar trickle chargers are designed to slowly charge a 12-volt battery, preventing a sitting battery from discharging over time. Although it’s clear this is an excellent advantage for those who want to extend their battery life, are solar trickle chargers any good compared to traditional trickle chargers?
Solar trickle chargers are more versatile and portable than plug-in trickle chargers, making them particularly useful for maintaining the batteries in recreational vehicles, boats, and cars left to sit out in the sun.
Solar trickle chargers are an affordable solution if you need to keep a battery charged long-term, but there are several things to consider if you are in the market for a solar trickle charger.
What is a Solar Trickle Charger?
A trickle charger is a device that supplies power to an idle battery in a slow trickle, allowing that battery to charge over time.
Based on that definition, a solar trickle charger is a trickle charger that draws its energy source from the sun using a solar panel. They are highly portable and are compatible with any 12-volt battery making them great for recreational vehicles like boats or tractors that may not be used daily.
Generally, trickle chargers are used to maintain the charge of 12-volt car batteries, which can gradually discharge when a vehicle is left to sit. There are generally two types of trickle chargers:
- “Smart” trickle chargers can gauge the charge level of the battery it is connected to. When the battery is full, it stops charging; when the battery discharges, the charger will resume feeding the battery.
- “Dumb” trickle chargers cannot read the charge level of the battery it is connected to and will simply continue to feed the battery, which could occur in an overcharge.
Most solar trickle chargers on the market today are “dumb” chargers, but they are not likely to overcharge your battery because they stop working when the sun goes down.
What Does a Solar Trickle Charger Do?
Solar trickle chargers slowly charge a battery over time. They are typically used to maintain a battery’s charge because they can charge the battery at the same rate that power discharge naturally occurs in flooded lead-acid batteries.
That said, they do naturally switch off at night when the sun is no longer shining, so they generally can be safely left attached to an idle battery for an extended period. Just be sure to monitor your solar trickle charger, should you opt to use one.
How Much Are Solar Trickle Chargers?
Solar trickle chargers are pretty affordable, especially when compared to the plug-in version of a trickle charger. Solar trickle chargers cost on average between $20 and $80. In contrast, the plug-in versions can cost upwards of $200 or more!
Solar trickle chargers are an excellent value for their cost, too, because they generate the electricity needed to charge your 12-volt battery for free.
Are Solar Trickle Chargers Any Good?
As we have explored, solar trickle chargers can undoubtedly be handy if you have a flooded lead-acid, 12-volt battery that sits around unused for any amount of time. But as with any product on the market today, there are some positives and negatives to consider.
We have put together this quick pros and cons list to help you make a fully informed decision about solar trickle chargers:
The Pros of Solar Trickle Chargers
- They are off-grid: Because they draw power from the sun, solar trickle chargers do not need an external power source.
- They can be used anywhere: Since they don’t need an external power source, solar trickle chargers can be used anywhere. Out in a field, in the middle of a lake, in outer space—as long as there is sunlight, it will work.
- They are all-season: These simple devices are resistant to the elements and have an operating temperature range of -40 degrees to 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
- They’re transportable: These light-weight chargers usually come with adhesives or suction cups so you can stick the solar panel to a well-light surface. Theoretically, you do not need to relocate the solar panel when it isn’t in use. You just have to unplug the alligator clips.
The Cons of Solar Trickle Chargers
- They may not be consistent: Though solar panels do work when it’s overcast, despite common misconceptions, they are indeed less efficient when the sun isn’t shining directly onto the solar panel, meaning a solar trickle charger may be less-efficient on a cloudy day.
- They’re big: Solar panels make use of their surface-area to trap solar energy. As such, they are generally a little on the bigger side, so it may be hard to find a place to mount the solar panel if the vehicle you are attaching it to is on the small side.
- They can’t charge a dead battery: Because the amperage of a single 10-watt solar panel is relatively low, it will not be able to charge a dead battery. The battery’s self-depletion will take place at the same rate the battery can charge, meaning you won’t make any progress with a trickle charger.
Is a Solar Trickle Charger Right for Me?
Solar trickle chargers can be particularly useful in certain situations regardless of the potential “cons” listed above. Perhaps one of these situations applies to you:
- You own a recreational vehicle that is not parked near an electrical source.
- You own a boat.
- You own farming, lawn-care, or garden equipment that is powered by a 12-volt battery.
- You have an extra vehicle that sits idle outside most of the year.
If you resonate with any of the situations described above, a solar trickle charger would probably be a worthwhile investment for you.
Investing in a Solar Trickle Charger
Investing in a solar trickle charger is an excellent place to start if you are in the market for a trickle charger.
Because they are so inexpensive, the investment risk is relatively low. Since they are easy to use and are less likely to overcharge your battery, they’re a perfect trickle charger to get you started.
The Top 5 Best Solar Trickle Chargers
If you have been convinced that a solar trickle charger is right for you, we have compiled this list of the top five best solar trickle chargers that happen to be available on Amazon for easy purchase.
- The Eco-Worthy 25-Watt Trickle Charger: This solar trickle charger comes with a slightly larger, higher-powered solar panel than others, making it the only solar charger that can charge a dead battery.
- The Suner Power 6-Watt Trickle Charging Kit: This is one of the few smart solar trickle chargers, which protects users from overcharging their battery.
- The Sunway Solar Car Battery Trickle Charger Kit: This kit is best for use in cars because it can be plugged straight into the cigarette lighter and is sized to fit nicely on your dashboard. It is also smart, so it will not overcharge your battery.
- The Powiser 3.3-Watt Solar Powered Battery Maintainer: This trickle charger is best for boats or any other vehicle that might come into contact with water because it is waterproofed beyond the standard rain protection.
- The Allpowers 5-Watt Portable Solar Panel Charger: This is the best value you are going to find; at $21.99, it is a well-rated kit that will allow you the chance to test-out a solar trickle charger for a low cost. Best of all, this kit is smart.
If you happen to be looking for something with a little more juice or will charge consistently despite the weather, you may wish to consider a regular-old plug-in trickle charger or battery maintainer.
These devices work in much the same way a solar trickle charger does, but they have to be plugged into an outside power source. They are also more likely to charge a battery from dead and are almost always smart, so you can plug them in and forget about them until it is time to use your battery.
Batteries naturally discharge energy over time, but a solar trickle charger can top your battery off using power harnessed from the sun. By helping to maintain a 12-volt battery’s full charge, solar trickle chargers can extend the life of your battery and ensure that your vehicle is always ready-to-go.