September 4, 2011

Should You Pay More For Better Batteries?

We use disposable alkaline batteries for certain things in our home.   For example 9V batteries in the smoke detector last a long time and it doesn't make much sense to try and get rechargeable 9V's for them.  

When I'm shopping for batteries theres always options between a few brands.   The typical name brands I see are Duracell and Energizer.   There is usually a 'cheap' brand as well.   On top of that one of the name brand companies may have a more expensive battery option that is supposed to last longer, for example Duracell has an 'ultra advanced' version of their batteries.

The website Zbattery did some testing of batteries from various brands.    Their testing is a bit old however so it may not be applicable today.    However I found their results to be interesting.    Overall the AA and AAA batteries tested didn't have a large difference in performance from one brand to another.   For the AA's they tested 10 different batteries from 9 manufacturers.   The difference between the best and worst AA battery was only about 17%.   

At Safeway I see 3 options:

Duracell Ultra Advanced 6 pack for $8.79
Duracell Coopertop 8 pack for $7.99
Safeway Select brand 8 pack for 7.19

Looking at these 3 choices at the store it can be hard to know what battery is the best buy and will give me the most performance for my dollar.

Duracell Ultra batteries are $1.46 each.    The Coopertops are 99¢ each and the Safeway brand are 90¢ each.    The Ultra's are 62% more expensive than the Safeway generic brand.    Thats a significant price difference.    If Zbattery's testing is representative of battery performance between brands and batteries then the difference between the best and worst battery is less than 20%.    It doesn't make sense in general to pay 62% more to get at most 20% better performance.   On the other hand it might make sense to buy the Coopertop over the Safeway's.   The standard Coopertop is just 10% more than the generic Safeway battery and it could easily last 10-20% longer.   It would be hard to say which is the better buy unless you were to test them both and measure how long they actually last.   Its even possible that the cheap Safeway brand lasts as long or even longer than the Coopertop batteries.

Dealnews also found similar results in their testing which they discussed in their article Test Results That Will Change the Way You Buy Batteries Forever. They found "The answer is that you're better off buying less expensive batteries, such as Rayovac or generics, or getting regular Energizer or Duracells on sale, because our exclusive tests show there is no measurable difference in quality among these batteries."   They did say that the Lithium batteries from Energizer lasted longer, however the extra didn't warrant their higher costs.

Maxell 723443 LR6 AA Cell 48 Pack Box BatteryI used the Safeway numbers just as an example.  If you have an ongoing need for batteries in any quantity then you'd do a lot better to buy a large bulk pack.   Amazon has a 48 pack of AA Maxell Batteries for $13.92 which comes out to just 29¢ per battery.   Thats 1/3 of the cost you'd pay buying an 8 pack at the grocery store.

Usage differences

The performance you get out of a battery will also depend on how you use the battery.   So the testing for 'general use' may not be exactly equal to what you see if you have a more specific usage for your batteries.   If you use the battery in a digital camera that sucks power then that is a lot different than if the batteries are in a TV remote control that  is only used occasionally for much lower power draw.   If you are using that digital camera then it could make a little more sense to pay 50% more to get 25% longer life.   Having your batteries run out in the middle of your vacation kinda sucks.   On the other hand putting batteries in your remote control or a toy that your child tends to leave on is not a very crucial need.

Not necessarily the same answer for C,D or 9V

Looking again at Zbattery's testing they found a lot larger difference in their test results for the 9V, C and D size batteries.   For the 9V's there was as much as 33% difference between brands.   The 'heavy duty' versions of the 9V batteries had a much lower lifespan.   This is confusing to me so I'm not sure why that is.  I would expect 'heavy duty' to last longer, but its the opposite.  Maybe 'heavy duty' is battery maker code for cheap batteries that don't last as long and are for every day use in toys or something like that.    The Zbattery site only had tests for a couple C and D batteries.  In those batteries the C's had about 33% difference but the D's only showed about 11% difference.   Since they are only testing a few batteries I wouldn't make much conclusion from it.   But without more information I can't conclude that there is or isn't a big difference between brands for the C, D and 9V batteries.

Not all cheap batteries are great

I think it would be going too far to claim that any of the cheaper or generic brand batteries are just as good as name brands.   Personally I myself have bought some batteries at the dollar store before and seen poor performance.  I've also had bought some dollar store batteries that worked just fine.   It was hit or miss, but the end result I learned is that I can't trust the quality of dollar store batteries.   (Maybe thats common sense).   I also found an cheaper brand of battery for sale on Amazon that had pretty bad reviews.   There were 23 reviews and 11 of the people gave the battery 1 out of 5 stars with many people complaining of low power and leaking.  If you're going to bargain shop for batteries then it is a good idea to do some research and go with a brand that has some good reviews.  

Bottom Line :  For AA batteries at least it appears that the difference in performance between brands is not generally significant enough to warrant paying a lot more for.  

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