Battery Maintainer vs Trickle Charger — What’s the Difference?

Battery Maintainer vs Trickle Charger: What’s the Difference (+ Comparison Table)

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It’s a fresh, sunny morning. 

You head into the garage with full gear prepared to roll out your motorcycle. Keys slide into the ignition switch, but when the “start” button is pressed, nothing happens.  

Panic!

A perfectly planned morning ride was ruined by cold nights, draining the battery FLAT! You immediately rush to the nearest motorcycle gear shop, in search of a Trickle Charger or Battery Maintainer. 

Overwhelmed by the variety of choices and what piece of tech does what, you get confused. What is the actual difference between the battery maintainer and trickle charger?

All you want to do is charge your battery fast enough, so your morning ride isn’t a wasted opportunity. 

Is it too much to ask for?!

riding motorcycle early in the morning

But, being ignorant here and not knowing what the difference between battery maintainer and trickle charger is COSTLY!

There are specific scenarios and use cases in which Battery Maintainer is better than Trickle Charger and vise versa. Knowing these differences will prolong your motorcycle battery’s life!

At first sight, the technology behind them could be hard to understand, but I’ll try to describe this topic in a non-geeky, kind of way, with as little technical details (and as much plain English) as possible. 

But first, here’s a table for those of you who need a quick overview. If I learned it the hard way, you don’t have to! Use this spreadsheet wisely and ALWAYS have it near you when charging your motorcycle battery. 

FeaturesBattery MaintainerTrickle Charger
Overheat protection
Overcharge protection
Low Price
Can fit under the seat 
Can revive a DEAD battery
Doesn’t cause lead plate corrosion
Overcomes parasitic drains
Can charge different types of batteries
Best for winter charging
Best for quick night charge
Trickle Charger vs Battery Maintainer – Comparison Table

Battery Maintainer vs Trickle Charger — Which is which and when to use what?

Shopping for these devices is no easy task, trust me. If you get it wrong, your motorcycle battery will pay the price. 

These are the main things you need to know if you don’t wanna end up buying the wrong thing:

  • Battery maintainer a.k.a. smart charger is a 3 in 1 solution – it has a battery charger, trickle charger, and float charger all built-in.
  • Battery maintainer can sense in what state the battery is in. Is it empty, half charger, or 80% charged? — Battery Maintainer does the thinking for ya!

    When it detects the state of your battery, it will also determine the BEST CHARGING PROCESS for it. Smart, eh?

    In your case, dealing with an empty battery, the battery maintainer would be the best choice. It will spot when the battery is empty and immediately start a progressive charging process.

    It’s similar to your everyday smartphone charger. Both of them work precisely the same!

    When it gets to 80%, you can easily remove the battery from the charger and let the motorcycle’s generator do the rest.

    But if you have more patience than I do, please let the Battery Maintainer do the full charging and maintaining cycle.
  • Battery maintainer won’t overcharge your battery!

    Before my journey to the motorcycle shop, I used to charge the battery with an old bulky charger. It looked like a Soviet radio transmitter!

    After some time charging my battery, I could hear boiling and hissing sounds inside the battery’s housing.

    That’s OVERCHARGING! Avoid it at ANY cost!

    Later on, I threw that piece of rusty garbage. It was doing more harm than good to my battery. 

    What happens when you overcharge the battery is a scene you don’t want to see!

    Battery maintainer can “feel” your battery. It means it will automatically adjust its charging/maintaining process. So, there is ZERO RISK for overcharging it.
  • Battery Maintainer vs Battery Charger: NOT the Same

    Regular battery chargers don’t have the monitoring feature that Battery Maintainer does. So, there is a constant risk of overcharging your battery. 

    When shopping for a Battery Maintainer with a built-in battery charger, I want to get the best motorcycle battery maintainer w/ charger on the market.

    Having a high-quality product is something I’m willing to pay for and know I won’t burn down my garage with an overcharged battery.
motorcyle battery indicator
  • Think of a trickle charger as a predecessor of battery maintainer, before they became “smart”. 

    Trickle charger isn’t made for fully charging an empty battery! It’s created for maintaining your battery’s capacity for long periods.

    Face it: every battery loses some of its capacity over time. It’s as certain as a sunrise.
  • Trickle charger will catch up to capacity losses and recharge the battery to the fullest.

    But this might be dangerous!
  • Trickle charger does NOT have overcharging feature! It means that it’s NOT able to detect when to STOP CHARGING the battery.

    So, leaving my battery on a trickle charger during winter, would eventually damage my battery and overcharge it.
  • Trickle charger causes lead plate grid corrosion in lead-acid batteries.

     It means that the more corrosion you have in your battery, it will die quicker and lose its capacity. 
  • Battery tender vs trickle charger – they are NOT the same!

    “Battery Tender” is actually a brand and not a type of product like trickle chargers and battery maintainers are. It’s a smarter and more robust device than your average trickle charger. Check out this comparison guide between Battery Tender, Ctek and NOCO battery chargers!

3 Things a Trickle Charger is Good for

I thought this kind of tech is nowadays a forgotten relic, but there are cases where trickle charger comes in handy. 

Some of them are: 

1. When I spot my battery is a bit weak, I leave it on a trickle charger overnight, to charge fully. In the morning, I only remove the alligator clips from the battery and roll my motorcycle into a fresh morning start.

checking motorcycle battery

When charging overnight, there is NO risk of overcharging

How? 

Trickle charger supplies the battery with microscopic levels of constant current that won’t cause any damage in that time frame.

2. Trickle charger is great when you have parasitic drains on your motorcycle or car.

Parasitic what?!

Parasitic drain is a situation where some device on your motorcycle or car is constantly draining the battery. The parasitic part of it is when you can’t find which device drains the battery and it’s hidden.

For example, I had an audio system installed on my motorcycle that constantly drained my battery, without me knowing about it. 

In these cases, connecting a trickle charger to a battery with a parasitic drain is a wise choice. The trickle charger will overcome those drains and keep charging your battery.

3. Trickle charger could bring DEAD batteries back to life! 

I replaced my motorcycle lead battery with a new AGM one. The lead battery had a voltage level way below its minimum and it’s labeled as DEAD. When connected to the battery maintainer, the device won’t even recognize the battery.

So, the scrapyard was its final destination. 

But was it? 

Using a trickle charger I was able to RESURRECT IT to a nominal, minimum voltage state. The battery maintainer detected the battery and started charging it later on. 

Now, that same lead-acid battery is powering my camper.

Float Charger — A Third Wheel?

When shopping for a device that will help my empty battery, I stumbled upon a float charger, which made my decision even harder. 

I know what battery maintainer and a trickle charger are, but what on earth is a float charger?

Float charger is more of an improved trickle charger. It causes less lead grid corrosion in your lead-acid battery. Also, it will only charge a battery when the battery can accept an input charge.

But what does it mean? 

When the battery is fully charged, the float charger will STOP the charging process. As soon as the capacity drops between 100 and 95%, the Float Charger will START the charging process. 

That range between 100 and 95% is called the Float mode. That’s how the Float Charger got its name.

Can you use a Battery Maintainer and a Trickle Charger with different types of batteries?

Different types of battery maintainers or trickle chargers can charge different types of batteries on the market.

Shopping for the best battery for your motorcycle could be tough, but finding a proprietary charger for that battery kind, could be even tougher!

Wouldn’t it be cool if ONE battery maintainer could charge EVERY type of battery?!

You bet!

Battery maintainer is soo SMART nowadays, that it has dozens of different modes for different types of batteries. 

On the battery maintainer, you can select which type of battery you are charging. Is it an AGM, Lead-acid, or Li-ion battery, it doesn’t matter.

For example. When I want to charge an AGM battery for my motorcycle, I select the AGM mode on my battery maintainer. Then let the device do the charging selection process.

The same goes for when I charge a regular Lead-acid battery.

Since AGM batteries are sensitive to overcharging and overheatingcharging them with a battery maintainer is a BIG benefit!

If you’re in the market for something to charge and/or maintain your AGM & Lead-acid battery, be sure to check out a guide to the best AGM battery chargers.

But what about a trickle charger? Can it charge an AGM battery?

Trickle charger can charge AGM battery. It might even do a better job than a regular battery charger. Since an AGM battery likes to be charged with a constants low current, the trickle charger would do a great job. 

It’s even a cheaper solution than a “smarter” battery maintainer.

A word of warning here!

Trickle charger doesn’t have overcharging and overheating protection. So, be careful when charging your AGM battery with a trickle charger.

Charging Li-ion batteries with Battery Maintainer or Trickle Charger? Which is better?

charging motorcycle battery

New battery tech comes around faster than we could keep track of it. The most recent one in the motorcycle and car industry is the LiFePO4 a.ka. Li-ion batteries. 

The question is:

Can a battery maintainer or a trickle charger charge Li-ion batteries? And which one is better? 

And the answer is:

Modern battery maintainers can easily charge Li-ion batteries. Even though charging Li-ion batteries is complicated by default, it doesn’t create a problem for these pieces of tech. 

The rule of thumb says – if you want to get a battery maintainer, used with every type of battery, the price goes up. 

Trickle charger is NOT recommended for charging Li-ion batteries. 

Why?

Trickle charger would only cause metallic plating inside the battery’s cell, thus damaging the battery. 

Battery Maintainer vs Trickle Charger – Bottom Line

While shopping for a battery maintainer or a trickle charger, I wish I had this simple spreadsheet with me. It has the most important differences and use-cases for these two devices. 

If you need it quick and simple, scroll up to the top and check out the comparison table.

Conclusion?

I choose battery maintainer. 

Why?

Battery maintainer has a built-in Battery Charger, trickle charger, and float charger. It has everything I need and it’s small enough to fit into my side-bags or under the seat. 

Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but for convenience, high quality and reliability, it’s WORTH IT!

Another BIG BENEFIT of a battery maintainer is – it could be used with different types of batteries.

However, if I was running on a budget and my situation was different, I would choose a trickle charger. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a battery maintainer cause fire?

No. battery maintainer CAN NOT cause fire when charging your battery. It has overcharging and overheating protection which constantly monitors battery and room temperature.  

Does trickle charging extend battery life?

Unfortunately, No. Only a proper charging process and cycle would extend your battery’s life. This process and cycle are different for every type of battery. 

But to avoid banging your head against the wall, get yourself a well-recommended battery maintainer. The device itself would choose the best charging cycle for the attached battery.

Can a trickle charger revive a dead battery?

One of the perks of a trickle charger is precisely that. Bringing dead batteries back to life. It succeeds where most battery maintainers fail. 

battery installed on motorcycle
How long can you leave a battery maintainer ON?

This little piece of tech is best suited for charging the batteries for an unlimited amount of time. There is NO LIMIT how long you can leave it attached to the battery. 

Since it has all those fancy features and protections, it’s great for maintaining the battery over the winter.

Will a battery maintainer charge a dead battery?

Not really. First, you have to know how much “dead” your battery actually is. It means you would have to measure voltage level across the terminals. 

If the value is below the value the battery maintainer would start charging the battery, then I’m sorry doctor. We have lost it. 

Can you overcharge a battery with a trickle charger? 

Yes, you can! How and why a trickle charger would do that, read above.

What is the difference between Battery Charger and Battery Maintainer?

Battery Charger only supplies the battery with a high constant current or voltage, without even checking if that’s what the battery likes. It doesn’t have that feedback loop that battery maintainer does. 

Other differences which Battery Charger lacks, check above.

Can I use battery maintainer on AGM batteries?

Yes, you can. battery maintainer is equipped with charging different kinds of batteries, including AGM ones. 

How to use a battery maintainer and which ones to get for your AGM battery, read above.

Can I use a Float Charger to charge a battery?

Float Charger isn’t made for fully charging the battery from scratch. Its real purpose is to “maintain” the battery, while in Float mode.