You are about to make one of your most important RC purchases here so do your homework and get it right the first time! There are so many types and models of chargers available today it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to figure out which one is best for you. There are 2 types of chargers that I will discuss here. The first type we refer to is a "DC" charger. This type of charger requires the use of a separate 12 volt AC/DC power supply when charging from an AC source. You must plug in the power supply to a wall socket first then plug in the charger input leads to the output of the Power Supply. See below on selecting the correct size power supply.*
The second type is an "AC\DC" charger. This type of charger has its own built in power supply. Generally, chargers that have built in power supplies tend to be the less expensive models. The charger is often rated at a 5 amp charge rate (50 watts total) and the power supply is rated at 5 amps 50 watts maximum also. The problems start to arise when you are charging at 5 amps and the temperature outside is over 100 degrees and sitting in direct sunlight. Oh and the case is aluminum but it color is black. The power supplies compoments inside are getting very hot under these conditions and sooner or later "Poof" there goes the power supply. Now you have a paperweight unless you want to buy another separate power supply. It is for this exact reason we encourage customers to buy a charger that is rated at least 20% higher than the total watts you will be using. This creates a buffer so that the power supply does not have to "work" so hard to maintain the proper output power. So now you ask how do I figure out how many watts the power supply needs to be. Well it's much easier than you think. Read below*
*Figure out what your chargers maximum power rating is. Every one I have ever seen has a "max watts" power rating. Then if you are going to use multiple charges with the same power supply make sure to add the "max watts" of all the chargers you are going to connect to the power supply. Multiply this number by 1.2 Here is an example. I have 3 chargers I am going to use with the same power supply. 2 are 50 watt chargers and one is 100 watts. 100+ (2X50) 100 =200 watts. I multiply this number by 1.2 and the correct size power supply required is 240 watts. Anything over this figure will just add reliability as it will not get too hot under severe conditions.
One of the most common misleading ratings I see is the charge rate listed by the charger manufacturers. All chargers have a maximum power rating which is referred to as "maximum watts". Most of the basic charger models are rated at 50 watts, so we'll use this for our example. What many people do not understand is one of the most basic laws of electricity. It is called "ohms law". What this laW of physics says in simple terms for our needs is this. If you multiply the voltage of the battery being charged by the amp rate the charger is set at you can easily calculate the "watts" of power the charger is using.
For example: A 2s Lipo is charging at an amp rate of 5 amps. The voltage of the pack is 4.0 volts per cell or 8 volts total. At this point the charger is using 8(Volts)X5(Amps)= 40watts. Now let's say you are charging a 4S lipo at 5 amps at the same votage(4 volts per cell) and the pack is now at 16 volts. 16X5=80 watts. If you try to charge a 4S pack at 5 amps when the voltage of the pack is at 16 volts on a 50 watt charger it wouldn't work. Since 50 watts is the chargers maximum power limit, the maximum amps the charger can charge at 16 volts is 3.125 amps. This rule applies to ALL "DC" chargers. If you can live with charging a 4S pack at 3 amps, or are only charging 2S packs, then a 50 watt charger will work just fine for you. If you plan on charging 3S or 4S packs stepping up to an 80+ watt charger would be a wise decision. If you you charge higher than 4S packs you should get an even higher wattage charger. Always find out the watt rating of a charger FIRST! This should be your #1 consideration when deciding on what charge to buy.
Now that you know how to figure out what wattage charger you need, you can move on to the next step.
You will need to decide if you are going to charge only Lipo/Life packs or if you want a charger that can charge all types of battery chemistries such as ni-cad, ni-mh, PB (lead acid), lipo, life, and lithium Ion. Most of today’s chargers do all types of batteries so this type of charger is the most common choice. One thing that I do want to point out here though is that there are some LIpo/Life only chargers that have one distinct advantage and that is "automatic cell count selection". What this means is once you plug the lipo battery's power and balance plugs into the charger it will automatically know the correct number of cells in the pack. If you plug a 3S pack into the charger it knows it's a 3S. This way you don't select the wrong number of cells, push the start button, then a little while later POOF, you've started a fire! I've seen it happen!
If you plan on charging nimh cells make sure the charger has adjustable peak detection. It will save you a lot of hassles down the road. An automatic current limit function is a big plus for charging older ni-mh packs especially if they have sat for a while. For Lipo's make sure the charger has built in cell balancing. This is a must have feature! Most Lipo packs sold today come with an "XH" style plug and this type of balance port is the most common type found on today's chargers. Most of the chargers sold today also come with additional balance boards to fit just about any type of balance plug you can find. Make sure the charger has “discharge” and “storage” mode functions as well. The keypad can even be an important decision as well. If you are going to use the charger outdoors in dusty conditions buy a charger with “sealed membrane” buttons. Some of the “push button” chargers allow dust to enter the body of the switch can eventually lead to the failure of the button rendering the charger useless.
On a final note I want you to understand that just about everything electronic is manufactured in China these days. So wherever you buy your charger, make sure you get at least a 1 year replacement warranty! Also consider the cost of postage and other risks if you purchase directly from a Chinese supplier especially if you have to send a defective unit back!
I sincerely hope this information helps you to better understand the process of choosing a battery charger that fits your needs.
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