Friday, January 01, 2010

Our Battery Saga

Some of you MAY be interested to read this, others will find it boring – no pictures, after all! If so, please just pass it by and get on with the next episode!


On the other hand, this is a true story and it HAS a happy ending! So read on if you want to, and do leave a comment if you have something to add!


In some ways, it all started when we took over our boat in March 2007. Classic Narrowboats had fitted three 'Elecsol' 220Ah leisure batteries to power our domestic circuits. For the next 2 years and 7 months, we had good service out of them, and I even said so on an internet forum on 25th July 2009 when the subject came up: "For what it's worth, we have Elecsol batteries on our boat, chosen and fitted by the boatfitter, and we are very happy with them. We have been living on board more or less continuously for over two years, so it's a bit early to know how long they will keep going satisfactorily, but they do carry a 5 year warranty."



It wasn't until October 2009 that we began to notice problems. The batteries seemed to lose charge faster than usual, and when I checked the electrolyte levels, they were dropping faster than they had before. But then, after topping up and charging, the voltage seemed to hold up a bit better, so we just carried on – until it happened again! Topped up and charged again, voltage OK, but for a much shorter time. Can't remember how many times we did this, but a few!


So then I e-mailed Elecsol, on 8th November. After descibing the history as above, I said:


"Recently, we have found two unwelcome effects: 1) The batteries seem to hold charge much less effectively than previously, and 2) The electrolyte levels seem to fall faster. When we have topped them up again, it takes several days to a week for them to come up to full charge. We run the engine for a minimum of 2-3 hours each day, often longer when we are travelling.
Obviously we are concerned that the batteries may be failing and at (or approaching) the end of their life. How should we go about checking this, or perhaps seeking their replacement under the 5 year guarantee? We do not have any original paperwork which you may have supplied with the batteries, and assume that any there may be is with Classic Narrowboats. I am contacting them to see whether they have any such details on their records.
I look forward to hearing from you soon."


I also emailed Classic to put them in the picture and ask if they had any warranty records for the batteries.


Silence! Not a word, so I wrote to Elecsol after two days saying that I was disappointed not to have heard from them. The next day, a reply that was brief but to the point:


"Sir
After that length in service they will need an equalisation charge charge at 25 amps each battery for 24hours and everything should be fine
regards
team elecsol"


I emailed them back, thanking them for their response and asking for advice whether to approach a boatyard or a car battery dealer. No response for a day or two, so I looked on the internet and phoned around. No boat yard could help me, but I found Lee at Earlam Auto Electrical, who was very helpful.


As we have already told you, Lee came and took the batteries, charged them and brought them back, but saying that he thought we would go on having trouble with them, as they were not testing well.


Two days before the batteries were back (18th November), Elecsol replied suggesting that a boatyard was probably the best solution. Once the batteries were installed (22nd November), I replied:


"Thanks for that.
In the meantime, I have rung around and the most help offered was by a mobile auto electrics specialist. I took the batteries off and he then put them on charge as you suggested, 25 amps each battery for 24 hours. The batteries were installed back on the boat yesterday.
I shall of course need to see how the batteries function in the next few days, but the auto electrics guy said he thought they were still not right and that we would most likely go on having trouble with them. Like us, he found that they did not hold charge and suggested that we get back in touch with you.
If you have any further advice, please get in touch. Otherwise, I shall contact you again after a few days, when we have been able to assess whether the batteries are performing any better than before."


By the next day, though, when we started cruising again, it was obvious that all was not well with the batteries, so I emailed Elecsol again.


"We returned to the boat today to resume cruising. Despite leaving the batteries trickle charging since Saturday with a solar panel and wind turbine, the voltage when we returned today about 12.30 was below 10 volts. This after having been charged as you stated and reinstalled on Saturday. There has been NO load on the batteries since they were installed.
I have been running the boat engine continuously from 12.30 pm to 8 pm, in the hope that the batteries would recover. During that time, there has been some load, but almost all the time my voltmeter showed a voltage of 13.9 to 14.2 volts. The time is now 9.15pm and the voltage has dropped to 12.26 volts. I would normally expect it to be above this level in the morning, after an evening of TV watching and occasional firing of the boat's central heating system during the night. At the present rate, the voltage will be too low for the heating to fire at all, so we shall be very cold on board.
It seems that the charging which you recommended has not improved the batteries' condition at all, and may in fact have worsened it considerably.
As we live on our boat full time, the prospect of battery failure to this degree is catastrophic, especially at this time of year and with the present weather conditions.
Please can you contact me URGENTLY to arrange for the batteries to be replaced under the 5 year guarantee, as it seems that there is little prospect of their restoration to effective use. We are currently moored up on the Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Bathampton.
I hope to hear from you VERY soon. Thank you in anticipation."


No response for two days, so I emailed them again (25th November), with a copy of my last email. "I am disappointed not to have heard from you in response to my email below.
Our present situation is very uncomfortable and entirely due to the lack of proper battery function as detailed below. In addition, we are expending considerable quantities of diesel to attempt to keep a reasonable voltage on board, though this rapidly drops as soon as the engine is stopped.
Please contact me urgently."


Meanwhile, I wondered why I hadn't heard from Classic. Simple answer – I had used an old and obsolete address for them! So I wrote to them again on 25th November, getting an immediate and helpful reply.


"Hi Dave and Val,
Sorry to hear you are having problems with your Elecsol batteries. If there are any problems elecsol will usually ring us for purchase date, so we can confirm the batteries were supplied by us and when. We have no records from Dave’s time, when he closed down he took all records with him, but if you can tell me the date of collection of your boat, I can confirm the date to Elecsol. This should sort out any warranty problems, they are usually very good with their warranties. When you hear back from Elecsol please let me know and I will see what I can do.
Yours sincerely
Bill Southworth"


Good old Bill! We had seen him and the rest of the team when we called in on our way through Wheelton back in July 2008, and could see that Classic was in good hands after Dave retired. I replied:


"Thanks, Bill
That's great. I have just checked our records and see that we made the final payment on 25th March 2007, so that is the best date to work to, I guess.
I hope to get some contact with Elecsol today. They seem to be slow to reply to emails, so I shall try phoning them a little later. Hopefully they will be happy to refer to you for confirmation, as you say.
Thanks for your help."


I phoned Elecsol later that day (26th November) and left a message on the answerphone. Then phoned again later and made this note of the conversation:


Spoke to S**** at Elecsol 16:55 on 26/11/09. Says not full guarantee for narrowboat use, but will replace where there is a dead cell or give significant discount on replacement battery.
He will now look at my earlier emails and send a reply.


Time went on ticking by, the weather was getting more wintry and our battery situation was getting worse. I emailed again on 28th November to remind Elecsol that our situation was urgent:


"I continue to wait for any response to my earlier emails (see below).
On Thursday afternoon at 4:54 pm, I phoned Elecsol on 0800****** and spoke to S****. I had earlier phoned and left a message on the answerphone, to which I received no reply.
S**** gave me some general information about guarantees being limited when the batteries are used on narrowboats, which I had never heard or read before. He also said that he would look at my earlier emails and send me a reply. To date nothing has arrived.
The state of the batteries is so bad that, even after several hours of charging immediately before, and with the boat engine still running to charge the batteries, a very short load from our washing machine to bring the water temperature up a little caused the inverter to warn of low voltage and threaten to cut out.
I am now running the engine for up to 8 hours each day, whereas normally 2-3 hours running has been sufficient to keep the batteries charged, and still they lose charge so badly that the voltage has always dropped to 10 volts or less by the morning, and no appliances will work properly until the engine is running. The refrigerator shows its low voltage warning light and the cabin lights dim dramatically when the water pump runs.
I accept that batteries will gradually lose effectiveness over their life, but they should still remain fit for purpose. Ours are not, and show signs of continuing deterioration.
We need a meaningful response from you VERY SOON, with a definite plan of action to remedy the situation. Your suggested remedial action seems to have made the batteries worse, and your 5 year guarantee is beginning to look rather meaningless.
If you need to confirm the date of purchase of our batteries, please contact Bill Southworth at Classic Narrowboats on 01254 831444, who will be able to confirm that we took delivery of our boat on 25th March 2007, complete with these Elecsol batteries.
I note from your replies to my earlier questions that your computer seems to be working to an American date format and time zone. Is this a mistake, or is this correspondence actually taking place across the Atlantic? If so, presumably Steve who answered my phone call on Thursday is either based in the USA himself or will be given access to this correspondence in order to reply.
Please give this matter your urgent attention.
I await your reply."


Three more days went by. This was late November, cold and wet, and we were spending a small fortune in diesel running the engine to keep the electrics on board alive. It didn't help that we were also a little stuck at Bath because the River Avon was in flood, so we couldn't do more than potter about until we could start our return journey eastwards. It was beginning to look as though all the negative comments about Elecsol and their warranty that I had read on the internet were VERY well founded, and that we would need to start looking around to find some new batteries elsewhere – not cheap!


In the course of enquiries about some new batteries, I asked an online battery dealer

"Please can you say how comprehensive the 3 year guarantee is on these batteries? I am having trouble with the manufacturers of my present batteries, who seem to want to wriggle out of their responsibilities! Just want to check what Numax may say. Thanks."

Their reply was revealing!

"You have no need to worry about the Numax warranty. If you are having issues currently, I guess you have Elecsol batteries..? They have a 5 year warranty; year 1 being with the retailer (where there are no problems) and subsequent years being with Elecsol direct where people have reported problems. We stock these purely as people are blinded by the 5 year warranty and will take nothing else." Interesting!



I was already starting to work out how to fit the new (and different-sized) replacement batteries into the space occupied by the Elecsols, but thought that it might be worth making a last final effort to get Elecsol to honour their warranty, so I wrote the following to every single email address that I could find on their website:-



"As I have not been able to obtain any response to my urgent enquiry over a period of more than a week, I am sending this to all the email addresses which you list on your UK website, in the hope that someone will be prepared to take some action.
Please read down for all the background to our situation. I have spelled out the continuing and escalating problem and stressed the urgency of it. To no avail!
In brief:– We live on board our narrowboat and are totally dependent on the batteries to run the electrical systems on board. We currently need to run the engine for many hours each day, simply to get some charge into the batteries. Even then, the voltage drops substantially overnight, without any use of the inverter and minimal use of 12 volt appliances such as refrigerator and lights. The heating system is turned off, as it uses some power and when we tried leaving it on through the night (on thermostatic control), it simply failed in the early hours of the morning due to insufficient voltage. All of this started to develop some weeks back, and was the reason for my initial enquiry (8th November). The performance of the batteries has become substantially worse since following the advice given in your email of 10th November. Since that date, no one at Elecsol seems prepared to take any action, not even acknowledging my emails, let alone replying to them.
You may be aware that the very poor reputation of both Elecsol batteries and the (lack of) customer support has become well documented on the internet, perhaps especially on canal boating forums such as Canal World ( http://www.canalworld.net/forums/index.php? ). I am sure that you would not wish this to continue but, while you continue to treat customers as you have treated me, you can only expect it to not only continue but also increase exponentially.
In fact, when I recently asked a national battery supplier about the warranty on Numax batteries and said that I was having difficulty getting the manufacturers of my current batteries to honour the guarantee on them, the response was "You have no need to worry about the N**** warranty. If you are having issues currently, I guess you have Elecsol batteries..? They have a 5 year warranty; year 1 being with the retailer (where there are no problems) and subsequent years being with Elecsol direct where people have reported problems. We stock these purely as people are blinded by the 5 year warranty and will take nothing else. " Speaks for itself!
If you are prepared to honour your much-trumpeted 5-year warranty, then I shall have no hesitation in passing on the good news in Canal World and other forums. Equally, if you persist in your current attempts to ignore my situation, I shall not hesitate to pass on the information to as many as possible, and reserve the right to pursue the matter legally.
I trust that I shall receive at least one meaningful reply from you without delay."


Next day, a reply – RESULT!

"Sir
Please return your proof of purchase and guarantee card and we will replace the batteries.
regards
team elecsol"


Brief and to the point again,but they evidently hadn't noted what I had said earlier about how to contact Classic and get purchase verification from them, so I replied:


"Thanks for your reply, with the very welcome news that you agree to replace the batteries.
As explained before (see below), we have never had any paperwork regarding the warranty on these batteries. They were supplied new with the boat which we purchased from Classic Narrowboats on 25th March 2007. If you contact Bill Southworth at Classic Narrowboats on on 01254 831444, he will be able to confirm that we took delivery of our boat on 25th March 2007, complete with these Elecsol batteries. He tells me that he will be happy to confirm the date of purchase of our boat and " This should sort out any warranty problems, they are usually very good with their warranties. When you hear back from Elecsol please let me know and I will see what I can do."
I trust this will be sufficient for your requirements. If you need any further information from me, please do not hesitate to make contact."


Despite the misunderstanding about contacting Classic, perhaps we were actually getting somewhere at last?

Two more days went by with no response, so I emailed again:

"Another two days have gone by without any further response from you.
In the meantime, we continue to need to run our boat engine for 8 hours or more each day, just to have a little charge in the batteries. Under British Waterways guidelines, engines or generators should not be run after 8 p.m., so that is when we turn it off. By 10 p.m. or shortly after, the voltage is well below 12 volts and the heating system will not fire. The boat therefore gets very cold and the heating cannot be re-started until 8 a.m., when we are permitted to run engines again.
The refrigerator (with small freezing compartment) also fails overnight every night and we have needed to throw out any frozen food as unsafe to eat. In the mornings, the refrigerator itself is little colder than the rest of the boat.
This morning there was ice on the outside of the boat and on the inside of the windows. There could hardly be a worse time for us to be without effective batteries.
You have all the information you need to proceed to replace our defective Elecsol batteries without delay. I find it very hard to understand why you are apparently making no effort to speed the process along.
Your email of Wednesday 2nd December (below) clearly indicated a readiness to honour your 5-year warranty. Please do not delay any further."


Next day, another result! A phone call from S**** at Elecsol. Here are the notes I made at the time:


"12:14 pm. Phone call from Elecsol (?S****?) on a mobile number. Said they were getting very fed up with my emails telling them my life story every day or two. I said I was only emailing because of lack of reponse from them. He said let them have the paperwork, guarantee card, etc and they can replace the batteries. I said already told them that we have no paperwork but that Classic Narrowboats fitted the batteries and can confirm it, as I had already said in emails.
He said, OK, if Classic will let them know in writing, confirming their sale to me of the batteries, with dates, etc., they can go ahead. Total change of manner at this point, starts calling me 'Dave', much less annoyed. He suggests that Classic fax them the details. "If we get a fax from Classic on Monday, we can replace the batteries on Tuesday"
Thanked him, verified that fax No is as on website – he confirms. I said I will ask Classic to fax them on Monday. All OK"


WOW! Now we were really getting somewhere. I had no doubt that Classic would be helpful as ever, and emailed them straight away. This was on the Saturday. On Monday, I sent another email to Elecsol:

"Further to earlier email correspondence and our telephone conversation on Saturday 5th December, I have, as agreed, asked Classic Narrowboats to fax confirmation to you that they supplied the 3 x 220 Ah Elecsol batteries to us in March 2007. I understand from our conversation that this will be sufficient for you to arrange replacement of the batteries under the terms of the 5-year warranty.
Please contact me on 07792 592068 to arrange delivery of the new batteries, or if there is any other information that you need to check.
Thank you for your help with this."


Next day, Tuesday, I phoned them again. After all, S**** had said that if they got a fax on Monday, we could have the batteries on Tuesday! Here is my note of the conversation:


"Phoned at 09:57 and said who I was, and that hopefully they would have received faxed confirmation from Classic Narrowboats. Somewhat gruff reply, but said that they were 'processing the claim' and would contact me."


OK, fair enough, we could wait a little longer, but I phoned again the next day:


"Phoned Elecsol 14:37. No reply, left message. At same time, S**** phoned me back from mobile number. Missed the call, so phoned him back 14:40. Friendly again, calling me Dave. No problem with validating the claim, but they don't have the product in stock, so cannot deliver until Monday. He suggests I phone on Sunday afternoon on the mobile number, to give him our expected location for delivery on Monday. Agreed to do that."


That was all fine, but on the following Thursday my phone and I took an unplanned dip in the canal and, although the SIM card worked fine in our spare phone, the mobile number for S**** must have been on the phone's own memory, so I couldn't find it! I tried phoning and leaving messages on Elecsol's answerphone, but ended up sending an email and then phoning on Monday morning.

I got S**** again (is he the only person working there?) and gave him the details of where the batteries should be delivered.


PROBLEM! He hadn't realised that we were so far away from their base in Cheshire, so delivery would have to be by carrier, not one of their own lorries. I gave him a different address where we would be the next day.


Next day, as arranged, THREE NEW BATTERIES ARRIVED! Hallelujah! The delivery guy was very helpful, and was also able to take away the old ones. Excellent!


Today, 31st December 2009, just over two weeks later, the batteries are performing well and we are able to enjoy a much more normal way of life on board again. What a relief, after all that!


So, in summary:–


Did Elecsol honour their warranty? Yes, they did, eventually!


Advice to anyone thinking of buying Elecsol batteries:– It seems that Elecsol WILL honour their warranty but, as you have read by now, our experience is that it takes a LOT of persistence to actually get them to do so. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

5 comments:

Brian and Diana on NB Harnser http://nbharnser.blogspot.com said...

And do you think they would have honoured their warrenty if you had have bought them and not the boat yard who they want repeat business from? I don't

Dave and Val Taylor said...

Maybe you're right, Brian and Diana – their response to the mention of the boatyard certainly seems to support your theory. They are definitely not likely to get any repeat business from me personally!

Brian and Diana on NB Harnser http://nbharnser.blogspot.com said...

A friend of mine cornered them at the IWA National on their stand and would not leave/shut up untill they brought his new batteries to the boat. He had done all the email/telephone bit as well.
I think your other battery supplier summed it up, its just a pain to change all the battery box etc to use something else.

ahmed said...

I have visted this site and got lots of information than that of i visited before a month.

work from home

cecep said...

i like your article about battery saga,, thx alot