The Case for Lithium vs Lead Acid Golf Cart Batteries
If you’re in the market for a golf cart these days, your top priority should be figuring out what type of golf cart battery you’ll want to power your vehicle.
There is a significant technology debate that you’ll need to work through before making your final decision. We covered the gas golf cart vs electric golf cart debate in an earlier post.
If you’ve landed on the side of an electric golf cart, now you’re faced with an important battery discussion.
I’m here to walk you through the options, so let’s get started.
Lithium vs Lead Acid Golf Cart Batteries
For whatever reason, I view most life (and purchasing) decisions through a pros vs cons lens.
This habit tends to guide my decision making, so I’m going to take the pros and cons approach to dealing with the golf cart battery debate.
However, before we jump in with both feet, I want you to be familiar with the different golf car battery options.
Types of Golf Cart Batteries
Lead Acid Batteries
The lead acid battery has been the go-to golf cart battery of choice for many years.
The basic technology consists of lead plates that are suspended in a sulfuric acid solution. This setup creates a chemical reaction and allows energy to be stored and then utilized by your golf cart.
My first cart, a 1987 Club Car DS, was powered by a lead acid battery pack (or series). Most carts from the 1980s through the 2010s are powered by this type of battery, since the flooded lead acid battery is the most affordable option up front.
AGM stands for Absorbed Glass Mat. This is a variation of the traditional lead acid battery.
The technology for this battery consists of lead plates that are placed between electrolyte saturated fiberglass mats.
AGM batteries are completely sealed, which eliminates the leaks and battery maintenance typically associated with their basic lead acid counterpart.
These batteries tend to be more expensive up front and offer comparable power/performance to a lead acid battery.
Lithium Ion Batteries
A lithium golf cart battery is different than the lithium batteries you may be familiar with from small electronics and other applications.
Technically known as a LiFePo4 battery (Lithium Iron Phosphate), these batteries utilize newer technology overcome some of the shortcomings of the lead battery options.
If you’re a curious person, you’re probably wondering:
How does a LiFePO4 Battery Work?
The US Department on Energy has a great write-up on this, but here’s what you need to know.
1. A lithium ion battery is a reversible electrochemical storage system.
2. It converts electricity into charged particles (ions).
3. When the battery is charging, positive lithium ions (Li+) move from the cathode to the anode.
4. When the battery is discharging (being put to use), lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode.
5. This movement (discharge) causes an electron flow between the electrodes and an electric charge is generated (POWER).
Now that you’re a battery expert, we can move onto the topic at hand, lithium vs lead acid golf cart batteries.
Sorry it took me so long to get here…
The Case for Lead Acid Golf Cart Batteries
Before the advent of viable lithium options, these batteries were the de-facto solution for golf cart power.
They continue to be widespread in spite of their limitations. Here’s why:
Lead Acid Battery Pros
- Lower up-front cost
- Most carts were designed for these batteries (no conversion kits or extra work necessary)
- Many years of testing
But the cons are significant.
Lead Acid Battery Cons
- Very heavy
- Require regular maintenance
- Eventually leak in the battery compartment area
- Have a long charge cycle
The Case for Lithium Golf Cart Batteries
A little disclaimer to start: I have no skin in this game. I don’t work for a lithium battery company, I can’t tell you much about lithium chemistry and I haven’t bought a lithium golf cart (yet).
However, I have some great golf cart experts whose wisdom I often pull from.
I also have extensive experience with lead acid electric vehicles, specifically golf carts and golf course greens mowers. I manage and maintain an actual golf course.
I’ve experienced the cons of lead acid options on more than one occasion. As battery life declines, I’m the guy who foots the bill (more than once) of a total battery series replacement.
So with that as an introduction, I can say two things confidently:
1. A lithium ion battery solves many of the problems of its lead acid counterpart.
2. These batteries are the best option on the market today.
Lithium Battery Pros
1. They weigh less. Way less.
Let me give you a specific example. Battle Born’s 100Ah 12v lithium option weighs 31 lbs, while a typical Lead-Acid 200Ah 12v battery weighs a 144 lbs.
That’s huge difference in battery weight!
Most lead acid-powered golf cars have a series of 6 batteries. This is an incredible amount of weight that puts more stress on the cart and requires more energy to move.
A lithium-powered cart is significantly lighter, which means your cart will have more carrying capacity.
2. A shorter and more flexible charging time.
A lead acid-powered cart usually requires a whopping 8 hours to charge.
If you run a lead acid battery when its partially charged, it will sustain sulfating damage. Over time, this decreases its service life.
A deep cycle lithium battery, on the other hand, is at 80% capacity after an hour of charging. A full charge typically takes 3 hours.
If you pull it off the charger early and the battery does not sustain damage.
3. Longer battery service life.
We all know that batteries eventually wear down, but as you may have guessed, lithium batteries go the distance for significantly longer.
- Lead Acid Lifetime Charge Cycles = approx. 500-1,000
- Lithium Ion Lifetime Charge Cycles = approx. 2,000-5,000
4. Faster acceleration and more consistent speed.
Because a lithium ion-powered cart is lighter and has a higher voltage, it accelerates faster and can maintain top speeds, even on hills.
If you like speed and consistency, you won’t be disappointed.
5. Better warranties.
A battery is a big investment. Many lithium battery companies back up their products with 8-10 warranties, which runs in stark contrast to the 2-3 year lead acid warranties.
6. Less maintenance.
These batteries don’t require watering, cleaning or any of the other headaches that come with a lead acid setup.
Lithium Battery Cons
1. More expensive up front.
There’s no doubt that Li ion batteries are more expensive out of the gate. However, that cost is offset by the long term service life.
Do the math…these batteries will provide more value than a traditional lead acid battery.
If you’re working with a used golf cart that utilizes the average lead acid battery setup, converting to a lithium battery may require some extra work. You’ll have to look at battery voltage to determine compatibility.
A retro-fit kit may be required and a lithium battery charger may need to be purchased separately.
Are Lithium Golf Carts Worth It?
Absolutely. The benefits of lithium golf carts clearly outweigh the higher initial price. Lithium golf cart owners will experience better performance all-around and less maintenance over time.
If you’ve read the Lithium vs Lead Acid Golf Cart Batteries post and you’re ready to make a move, check out our write-up featuring the best golf cart batteries.
We highlight both lead acid and lithium options for you to choose from.