Powered Device Not Working? Check The Battery Contacts

I’ve said this before on this blog, but the fact that it keeps happening makes it worth repeating: If you have a battery driven device that isn’t working properly, it’s important to check the battery contacts.

This just happened to us again during a recent cold spell.  This time, it was our thermostat.

I woke up and I could immediately tell that the temperature was not right.  I couldn’t see my breath or anything, but I know what the house feels like when I take that first step out of the covers, and this was colder than it should be.

For the record, the variation was only three degrees off.  We have the heat drop to 60 at night, and it was 57.

I wasn’t sure what was going on, but went downstairs to investigate.

The first thing I found was that the thermostat was the issue, as it was flashing the pretty obvious message: LOW BATT.

Seems pretty simple, except that I knew it shouldn’t be.  As a matter of course, I replace the batteries in the thermostat at the same time that I replace all the smoke detector batteries.  As I just did this in the fall with the most recent time change, I knew that the batteries should be just fine.  In the past, before I went on an annual schedule, they lasted 2-3 years, so I knew that just a few months was not right.

Bad Amazon Batteries?

My first thought was to blame Amazon.  We had ordered our most recent batch of AA batteries from Amazon, and actually ordered the Amazon Basics batteries.  We’ve used them in other devices and they’ve seemed to be just fine, but I thought maybe one was bad or maybe they weren’t providing enough charge.

Either way, I replaced them with two new batteries (out of the same batch) and it did not fix the problem.

Now, I was really on the Amazon kick and already writing the e-mail to them in my head.

I decided to look for batteries that I could use that weren’t Amazon that I knew would work.  I found a couple of Duracell batteries in a remote and switched them out.

Success!  As soon as I put them in, the furnace kicked on and warmth soon started flowing out of the registers.

Problem Not Solved

Well, the heat flowed for a minute or so and then the furnace turned off.  Now, I’m no HVAC expert but I know that even to get the three degrees back that we were short, the furnace would have to run for more than 75 seconds.

I hadn’t made it far and so I went back to the thermostat only to find it not even displaying the LOW BATT note, but basically completely dead.

Perfect.

Bad Contacts

At this point, I woke enough to realize that I should probably start looking at the contacts.  I pulled out the batteries and sure enough, one of the contact points was dirty.  I’m not sure how this exactly happens, but I ventured over to the drawer, grabbed a paper clip, and gently scraped off the corrosion.

mb-2016-02-batteriesPopped the batteries back in (even the Amazon batteries), and voila, the system worked again.  After I had to reprogram the entire thing, of course!

Batteries To Blame After All? (But Not Amazon!)

Now, I was all ready to blame Amazon at first, but after it was all said and done, I actually shifted my blame back to Kirkland.  See, for years we were loyal purchasers of Kirkland batteries.  Until I noticed that they seemed to leak.  All the time.  In just about any device.

It seemed that if you left a device sitting idle for very long or used it very little, it wouldn’t work, and you’d open it up to find that one or both of the batteries had leaked.  This seemed to happen occasionally with other brands of batteries, but seemed to be a constant when it came to the Kirkland batteries.

So much so that we haven’t really purchased them in a while because I was getting so sick of leaky Kirkland batteries.

Now, I know that older batteries we had in the thermostat were Kirkland brand, so I’m wondering if the device draws very little power and actually may have developed a slight leak at some point that could have then further oxidized or corroded over time.

Just my wild theory and it could be way off!  Either way, it reminded me that if you’ve got a device that isn’t working properly and it runs on batteries, the first thing to potentially check is to see if you’ve got a clean contact.  I’ve used this in kids toys, our garage door opener, a radio, and other devices and now I can add….a thermostat!

Readers, do you know anything about batteries and why they leak?  Have you ever fixed a problem with electronics by cleaning the contact points?

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4 thoughts on “Powered Device Not Working? Check The Battery Contacts

  1. I don’t know anything about batteries, but I do know that with the type of cordless phones you use with a land line, the contacts where the phone sits in its recharging cradle can get dirty enough to let the phone’s batteries run down. As for leaking…I’ve had batteries leak just sitting in the package they came in.

  2. Leaky (cheap) batteries….every Landlord’s nightmare. This has happened to me too many times in devices. So I go with regular Duracell’s in the thermostats and smoke detectors in rentals. Left unattended this leakage can ruin a device and stats aren’t cheap. Here at my home I’ve opted for Duracell rechargeables and bought a very good charger. IMHO worth every penny. The new rechargeables are worth a look, much better than their predecessors.

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