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An open letter to Towmate: your batteries give me the blues (TM-21 light bar)


someotherplace
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I'm not writing this to shame Towmate; I love the product and absolutely will continue using them.  It's more of a "heads up" for anyone experiencing these issues with their Towmates, I believe I have figured out what's going on.

 

Specific product being used is a TM-21 light duty wireless tow light.  Been using the various models of these light duty wireless ever since you guys came out with them way back in the old days when they were still in the white plastic housing with the rubber covered toggle switch on top so we have some history.

 

In the last couple years the batteries y'all have sourced do not last.  The one part I can't get covered under warranty.  After having bought several replacements from the local wrecker supply (which are sourced from Towmate; they are the same "Outlast" 12V/1.2ah batteries with the pigtail already installed) I have given up on them.

 

Symptoms: (1) the tow lights start flickering off intermittently, particularly when placing them on the towed vehicle.  You'll have the switch "on", the lights come on, you place them on the vehicle and they turn off, or "reboot". Sometimes a gentle smack will make them come on again.  (2) they do not charge reliably anymore as the connection to the battery has become intermittent.

 

Since the batteries come from their makers with a raised pair of terminals, then you guys smash them down flat and solder on the pigtail with the fuse, so that the battery will slide into the housing easily - I think this is damaging the connection to the terminals inside the battery and causing it to become weak and eventually fail.  I've replaced 3 of these batteries in the past year or so.  The replacement lasts for a few months then begins the same behavior.

 

For my latest replacement I bought one from a different vendor and soldered the pigtail on it myself, after smashing the terminals down but not -all the way- down.  They offered up enough resistance and made a slight cracking noise anyway which is concerning; I can only imagine what it's like smashing them all the way flat like the Towmate-supplied batteries are.  It still slid into the housing with minimal effort.  Here's hoping the results are better.

 

Richard

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I probably would have been wise to try test-fitting the new battery before mushing the terminals down at all.  I suspect it would have needed some adjustment regardless.  The "Outlast" brand batteries provided by Towmate have had their terminals smashed all the way down near flat which is excessive.  I carefully bent mine down slowly by hand against a wooden desktop.  I also wonder if the people soldering the wiring pigtails to them are taking care to not heat the terminals too much or too long, as that could possibly also be causing issues inside the battery casing where the terminals attach.  If I have the same type of failure with this new battery I may look at going back to using crimp connectors and simply plugging the thing in, leaving the soldering iron out of the picture.  For the record, the new battery I'm trying is an "AJC" brand bought from a-zon, was $17 to my door.  Have only gone through 1 charge cycle with it so far so it's definitely too early to tell.  I generally have to charge a good battery once a week.  When it becomes more often I know the battery is going South..

 

Richard

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  • 5 months later...

Hello! 

 

Sorry it has taken so long to respond. I apologize you seem to have issues with your batteries lasting. First and foremost, I would like to mention that we recommend leaving the light bar on charge when not in use (unless you won't be using it for weeks at a time, in which case you should charge it fully before storing). This ensures the bar will always be at a peak charge when you go to use it. If the bar is left in a discharged state it can cause premature failure of the cell's ability to recharge. This may have something to do with the issues you are experiencing. Another thought is that sometimes a faulty switch can cause what you are seeing with the flickering. A quick call to our tech team can guide you through some basic troubleshooting to diagnose the issue. They can be reached at 800-680-4455. Further, in regards to the terminals, when they are "smashed down" it is not done so in a manner that damages the battery, nor is the soldering. We have done this for years and years with no negative impacts to the batteries that can be directly correlated to this process. Typically preemptive failure is more on account of the above, or simply a bad egg. One other thing to note is that we go through these batteries all the time and therefore have 'fresh batteries' in stock as a result. Ordering replacements from battery suppliers can sometimes result in receiving a battery that has been on the shelf for a while. These lead-acid batteries will break down even when sitting in stock, so simply a word of caution there. 

 

Finally, I would like to mention that we have newer systems that incorporate removable lithium-ion batteries for longer runtimes and overall lifespans (see the Li26 for an example). We also have come out with a 'super-fast charging wireless tow light' that doesn't even contain a battery. It runs on super-capacitors, which allows for an 8-minute charge time and 4-hour runtime with no need to EVER change a battery or power supply (See the TM-FLUX). 

 

If you have questions or need assistance with anything, we are always just a call away. 

 

Thank you,

 

Chris Anderson

800-680-4455

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

Good response Chris but I don't think it addresses the reality of the symptoms. 

 

There is something getting loose inside the battery casing itself.  You can turn the lights on, attach them to the car, and they will turn off.  I finally discovered it was the battery by flipping it upside down while loose from the light bar and can cause it to fail consistently.  Trust me; in my case it has not been the switch, and more than one Towmate-supplied battery has failed on me in this manner.

 

The batteries were sourced from a supplier that moves a lot of your product - this is a big city with lots of tow trucks - and they have dates written on the top in paint pen.  I don't think old stock is an issue here.

 

Y'all may have been handling these batteries the exact same way for many years, but the quality of batteries supplied to you isn't guaranteed to be consistent.  I will agree that I haven't had this much trouble with batteries until the past few years, and as I said, I've been using your products for a -long- time.  IIRC those white bars with the toggle switch on top came out over 15 years ago.

 

So far with the alternately-sourced battery that I soldered the harness onto myself, no problems, more than half  a year later, with heavy usage.

 

Richard

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