Golf cart and fork lift battery watering - timing is everything!

Posted on 09 Aug 2022 by

Leaking watering system? Batteries in your fork lift or golf cart looking a bit wet or spilling acid on the floor? Read on! 

Despite the trend towards sealed lead acid and lithium batteries, the vast majority of forklifts and ride-on golf carts still use good old lead acid batteries that can be (and need to be) periodically topped up with distilled water.

To make things easier for the user, many installations come with a watering kit - some form of valve system on each battery cell, interconnecting tubes, and a filling device - a pressure gun, a squeezy bulb or, in many cases, good old-fashioned gravity with a bottle of water placed on the roof of the cart, well above the batteries, trickling through the tubes.

 All well and good, because most of the valves contain a little float device which is designed to stop water flowing in when the cell is full, except that these valves live in a very unpleasantly acidic environment and there are a couple of questions of timing to consider too. 


So let's use the golf cart example, but it applies equally to forklifts, scissor lifts, cherry-pickers, floor sweepers and all manner of electric vehicles: 

After 18 holes of golf, the golf cart is returned to the shed and plugged into the charger, then the batteries are allowed to fully recharge then, just before the cart used, the charger is unplugged, the water level is checked and topped up if necessary, then the cart is driven off for another round of golf. Right? 

Absolutely perfect timing, because the electrolyte expands during charging, so when you check the fluid level AFTER charging, it is as high as it is going to be, which gives you a good measure of whether the cell is full enough, because most watering systems also have a little telltale to show if the cell is 

If this telltale is right at the top (as in this image) no water is needed, but IF water is needed, it is going in after the charge is complete, with the charger disconnected, and before the cart is next used. 

On the other hand, if the cart comes back to the shed and the fluid level is conscientiously checked straight away, or the water is just connected and left to top up the batteries, then the outcome, when the charger switched on, is an expansion of the electrolyte and this will force some acidic electrolyte out through the pressure relief valves, wetting the top of the batteries and leading to dilution of the acid in the batteries, poorer range and earlier demise as a result 

So the process is: 

  1.  Finish using the vehicle 
  2. Connect charger and let the batteries fully charge 
  3. Disconnect the charger (but preferably not more than a day or two before the vehicle will next be used) 
  4. Check fluid levels and top up with distilled water only if necessary (over-watering is almost as bad as under-watering) 
  5. Use the vehicle 
  6. Go back to 1. above

There's no doubt that watering kits can fail, or be badly installed, valves can leak and seals can perish, especially in an acidic environment, but sometimes the cause of a leak is simply too much kindness!