back to article Detroit losing millions because it buys cheap batteries – report

The debate over which battery brands work best is almost as old as dry cells themselves, but one US city has learned that it's definitely not a good idea to skimp when it comes to powering important municipal equipment. Cash-strapped Detroit, Michigan – once the capital of US automobile manufacturing – has been looking for …

  1. Charles Manning

    Only a complete idiot...

    would design a product like a parking meter to use a 9V battery.

    Heck, even 4xAA would have been much better. They're cheaper and have more capacity.

    But anyone that designs with a 9V would also have designed crap electronics. Most likely unbelievably inefficient too. A well designed parking meter (probably cheaper than a crappily designed one) should run for well over a year on a pair of AAs.

    1. Christian Berger

      Re: Only a complete idiot...

      Plus you should design battery operated devices to work on a larger range of voltages. Such parking meters wouldn't work reliable with rechargable "9V" batteries since they often just have 8.4V. Ideally you'd a little step up converter inside and make them work with a single cell. That way you avoid the problem of a single bad cell among several good ones bringing down the whole battery.

      1. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        Re: Only a complete idiot...

        "...design battery operated devices to work on a larger range of voltages."

        Must have been the same EE that designed my battery powered smoke alarms. Low battery alerts at 8.99 volts. Seriously. I'm not normallly an advocate of violence, but somebody needs a spank.

        PS. There's a company in eastern Canada that makes better e-parking meters. Rugged as all get out I hear.

        1. ian 22

          Re: Only a complete idiot...

          Symptomatic of all that has befallen Detroit.

          American automotive industry went all penny wise/pound foolish and built cars designed to fail. When the Japanese began selling quality, Detroit was doomed. Now this.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Go

          @JeffyPoooh

          "PS. There's a company in eastern Canada that makes better e-parking meters. Rugged as all get out I hear."

          That wouldn't have anything to do with Eastern Canadian winters being arse numbingly cold and the local municipalities getting a tad irate if their money collectors parking meters die on them?

      2. Charles Manning

        Re: Only a complete idiot...

        Actually, you'd be using a step down converter (ie. buck switch mode power supply). Using something like that is routine.

        That the thing is running off 9V and fades suggests it is running from a linear regulator which is turning most of the battery energy into heat rather than useful work.

        This suggests it was designed by a beancounter's electronic hobbyist brother wanting to scoop some municipal gravy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Coat

          Re: Only a complete idiot...

          That the thing is running off 9V and fades suggests it is running from a linear regulator which is turning most of the battery energy into heat rather than useful work.

          It's doing useful work… it's warmth is keeping the battery from freezing up!

    2. -tim
      FAIL

      Re: Only a complete idiot...

      There is a chance that current Detroit meters were designed before AA batteries became very popular late in the Walkman era. Before that, 9V batteries were the most sold smaller cells and internal switching power supplies to up the voltage to the needed 5V were very inefficient.

      1. Matthew 4

        Re: Only a complete idiot...

        Back then I doubt they were electronic. I remember most cities had the mechanically timed ones

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Only a complete idiot...

        "here is a chance that current Detroit meters were designed before AA batteries became very popular late in the Walkman era. Before that, 9V batteries were the most sold smaller cells and internal switching power supplies to up the voltage to the needed 5V were very inefficient."

        You mean about pre 1985?

        That was a long time ago.

        Parking meter timer?

        That's a Horovitz & Hill job if ever I saw one.

        1. Andus McCoatover
          Windows

          Re: Only a complete idiot...Horovitz & Hill

          Oh, gawd, that book...mine's 25 years old, and still in regular use!

    3. ckm5

      Re: Only a complete idiot...

      What's particularly stupid about a 9V battery is that the electronics probably operate a 5 or 3.3v, so you are loosing energy in the down conversion.

      Equally stupid is that the device is not using a $0.05 wide-range voltage regulator & a large reservoir cap...

      I wonder who the idiots are that design the electronics for these devices? I'm not an EE and even I know not do do these things.

    4. Stuart Halliday
      FAIL

      Re: Only a complete idiot...

      Used alkaline in the cold? So they've got an idiot in purchasing and even more idiots fitting them that don't know the basics in battery technology?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Smoke Alarms....

    I'll change to branded batteries the day I find the temperature in my house has fallen below minus twenty Celsius.

    Fleece lined coat - natch.

    1. jake Silver badge

      @ Ian Emery (was: Re: Smoke Alarms....)

      Or the day that your house burns down, and your insurance refuses to pay out because your crap batteries didn't signal the alarm.

      Pinching pennys is contraindicated when it comes to safety.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

        Doesn't your smoke alarm have an audible and visual battery condition warning built in, like all the ones I've ever bought? Do you never use that test button either? Perhaps you've been pinching pennies on the smoke alarms you buy.

      2. John Bailey

        Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

        "Or the day that your house burns down, and your insurance refuses to pay out because your crap batteries didn't signal the alarm."

        At least he has alarms..

        But from your statement, you obviously do not, or you would know that the battery low alarm is on the extremely conservative side to say the least, and they not only beep in a way that is annoying enough to not ignore. But they are still functional while complaining of a low battery. I know this, because mine has gone off while complaining of a low battery. Just as deafening as usual.

        They are also quite a small load, so even the cheaper batteries last ages.

        So no.. OP's home will not burn down due to a non functional smoke alarm, because he went with some own brand instead of Duracell ultra pricey PP3s, but he will need to replace it a little more often.

        "Pinching pennys is contraindicated when it comes to safety."

        Over generalisation rarely provides a good argument.

        Smoke alarms test the VOLTAGE of the battery, and complain when it hits a predefined value way above the functional limit. Even the cheap "included" battery that is found in so many devices with a quite comically optimistic brand name is capable of delivering enough power to operate a smoke alarm.

        They do not check the brand, and go into a sulk when it is not deemed to be of sufficient quality.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

          The real question, why didn't they just buy batteries by the hundred from one of the bulk suppliers of the Duracell Procell batteries on eBay? All you need to do is buy once through eBay, and then use the sellers contact details to buy direct with further purchases.

          It costs under £1 each, and you can't sensibly buy a battery that you would expect to work for any less than that.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

            Pretty much everything has been said, low current load, warning siren when it is down to 50% level (the other 50% is reserved to keep the siren going every 2 minutes for the next 6 months)......

            OH!

            BTW,

            I am a electronics tech (retired), with kit I've built fitted to HM Hunter-Killer subs amongst other places; and two Queens Awards (one for Technology and one for Exports).

            No icon - you dont seem to have a "smug git" one.

          2. John Tserkezis

            Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

            "It costs under £1 each, and you can't sensibly buy a battery that you would expect to work for any less than that."

            I'm sorry, were you expecting "sensible" from the council person who ordered a truckload of carbon batteries for a low temperature, long term useage cycle?

          3. Stuart Halliday

            Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

            Doesn't matter what alkaline battery you buy. They don't work below 5°C. You need lithium. This has what happens when you let non-technical people make buying decisions.

        2. John Tserkezis

          Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

          "They are also quite a small load, so even the cheaper batteries last ages."

          No they don't, but due to shelf life rather than purely capacity. Alkalines in smoke alarms are changed every year, even though if you do the math, they'll last two. This is normal practice for mission-critical equipment. Well, even if the "critical" bit came from some backyard factory in China.

          "Cheap" batteries (carbons) are good for about six months before they start whining. But depending on your temperature environment, your milage may vary as the saying goes.

          Simlar reasoning goes for remote controls, power draw is very light, so the batteries last their shelf life. Carbons might have the potential to last longer according to total energy capacity, but their self-discharge will kill them before you do.

        3. Tom 13
          Flame

          Re: because mine has gone off while complaining of a low battery.

          And almost always between the hours of 1 am and 3 am local time. Never 5 pm when it might be convenient to change the battery.

        4. Andus McCoatover
          Joke

          Re: @ Ian Emery (was: Smoke Alarms....)

          Simple solution to the battery-running-down alarm..

          Fit a snooze button!

          (Thanks, Jeremy Clarkson for that gem!)

    2. John Tserkezis

      Re: Smoke Alarms....

      "I'll change to branded batteries the day I find the temperature in my house has fallen below minus twenty Celsius. Fleece lined coat - natch."

      It's not that easy. Choosing the right battery chemistry is critical depending on environment. For instance, at 0C (freezing point) Alkaline Maganese will only present 10% of their capacity verses Lithium Maganese. So even though the lithiums are three times the price of the alkalines, in that environment, they make economic sense. It's all in the datasheets.

      Don't even consider Carbon, they're only good to someone who thinks lottery tickets are good value.

      A fleece coat only works for humans because we make our own heat, electronics doesn't have the luxury of that unless they sacrifice part of their battery charge to self-warm (like satellites).

  3. jake Silver badge

    False economy is an ugly thing, Detroit.

    Stop allowing Money Bags from making Technical decisions, it'll do the city's budget a world of good. As a side note, the corporations of the world could use the same advice.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: False economy is an ugly thing, Detroit.

      Yeah, good luck with that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: False economy is an ugly thing, Detroit.

      3 Money Bags read your post?

    3. dan1980

      Re: False economy is an ugly thing, Detroit.

      The old saying that you have to spend money to make money can be a good guide.

      When you're trying to cut costs, it's important to identify those things that bring in money and separate them from those things that do not. If you are strapped, financially, the last thing you want to do is risk your existing revenue streams.

      Their original decision to purchase poor-quality meters is the core of the problem as it means they have to spend more money running them. Their next bad decision was to roll-out new batteries en masse without testing them first. All it would have taken was a selection of meters around the city to see how they went.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: the core of the problem

        No, the core of their problem was assuming they didn't have to do anything to fix their financial problems long before they got to the point of buying discount batteries for their parking meters. Given that kind of stubborn stupidity, the battery issue was to be expected.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: False economy is an ugly thing, Detroit.

      jake wrote: "Stop allowing Money Bags from making Technical decisions, it'll do the city's budget a world of good"

      Tom 13 wrote: "No, the core of their problem was assuming they didn't have to do anything to fix their financial problems long before they got to the point of buying discount batteries for their parking meters."

      Need I point out that these are both so ridiculously oversimplified that they're useless? Apparently yes, I do need to point that out.

      The battery decision was almost certainly made like this: "Parking Enforcement, you need to cut $X from your budget." "Well, let's see what line items we can trim." My guess is few EEs are available in the Parking Enforcement back offices. (Oh, and Peter2: I suspect the person procuring the batteries for the meters doesn't have authority to buy them from eBay. My guess would be that the city requires a purchase order and other paperwork, not just an email receipt from some random online account.)

      And everyone has been aware that Detroit's finances have been in trouble for decades - long, long before the parking meters became a problem. There are certain complications that arise when a huge chunk of the population abandons your city, leaving you with just as much infrastructure to support but a drastically reduced tax base. Certainly a series of incompetent and corrupt city leaders didn't help, but it's not like everyone woke up one day a couple of years ago and said, "Hey, the city's out of money! Better switch to cheap batteries!".

      But please, continue with your armchair mayoring. I'm sure Detroit would love to hear your brilliant advice.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: False economy is an ugly thing, Detroit.

        "There are certain complications that arise when a huge chunk of the population abandons your city, leaving you with just as much infrastructure to support but a drastically reduced tax base."

        Looks like it could be worth their while getting rid of some of that infrastructure, either by demolishing it, or shrinking the city limits and de-annexing back the surrounding counties.

  4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    FAIL

    But it said, "Heavy Duty"

    It sounds like they switched to 9V zinc-carbon cells. The ranking of their power-to-cost ratio is keeping good company with hamsters on wheels and metal tabs in lemons. The cost of buying and replacing zinc-carbon 9V batteries for a year could have been spent on fancy monocrystaline solar cells and ultra-capacitors that would last as long as the meter they're in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

      You seriously think that replacing the batteries with solar cells is a good idea?

      How much parking or ticket revenue do you think they would get after motorists discover that you can disable the meter with some dirt or a piece of paper covering the solar cell? Once the capacitor has discharged the meter is useless.

      1. petur

        Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

        Dunno, over here most parking meters use solar and probably a rechargeable battery... works pretty well...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

          The clue is in the "rechargeable battery". The OP wanted to replace them with solar cell plus capacitor.

          1. David Kelly 2

            Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

            The clue is in the "rechargeable battery". The OP wanted to replace them with solar cell plus capacitor.

            Not just any capacitor but an ultra capacitor. An ultra capacitor could run the meter for days. Its just a matter of balancing cost of an ultra cap vs rechargeable battery.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

            But is it cheaper to clean/protect the solar cell?

            If it's easy to block a solar cell, it's relatively easy to stop a battery too, though you need to be more inventive with the latter. :P

        2. bob, mon!

          Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

          "Dunno, over here most parking meters use solar and probably a rechargeable battery... works pretty well..."

          How well do they work in cloudy/snowy/sooty environments? Detroit's not the sunniest place in the world.

      2. handle

        solar cells

        AC you've obviously failed to engage your brain today before putting your keyboard warrior hat on, as a simple search for "solar parking meter" will show you. The cells are quite large so "some dirt" or "a piece of paper" is not a trivial solution to apply, and the meters' internal storage means they will work for ages even with the cells blocked - certainly long enough for the sort of amateur vandalism you suggest to be remedied by the wardens who enforce the parking regulations.

      3. Charles Manning

        Replacing with solar cells is a CRAP idea

        A design this bad should not be retrofitted with solar cells.

        It should be completely redesigned - from the ground up.

        Redesign to run off AAs - economically - would need a board replacement.

        Redesign to run off solar cells would need a complete mechanical refit too, since solar cells hanging of the side would get smashed in minutes by people wanting free parking.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

      Indeed, it's probably less to do with the brand and more to do with the chemistry.

      Zinc batteries are only good for remote controls.

      I always buy the cheapest Alkaline batteries and it's never caused me any problem

    3. mark 63 Silver badge

      Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

      i have never seen a battery that dosent say "Heavy Duty" on it

      1. John Tserkezis

        Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

        "i have never seen a battery that dosent say "Heavy Duty" on it"

        Here in Australia, the only batteries that are marked "Heavy Duty" are carbons. Presumably so it'll entice people who think lottery tickets are a good idea to buy them. No-one would be "Regular Duty", or "Light Duty" after all.

        Then again, if you need additional proof that people will buy anything just by looking at the cover, when Energizer E2 Titanium batteries were first introduced here (some time back) we looked at the promises first, and the datasheets second. Double the price for a marginal improvent in capacity.

        1. Michael Kean

          Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

          We used to have those blue "General Purpose" Eveready batteries too, not sure if they're still sold.

    4. Stuart Halliday

      Re: But it said, "Heavy Duty"

      They would have had the same problem with the most expensive alkaline batteries or didn't you know that? Someone didn't ask a technical person about the purchasing decision.

  5. CADmonkey

    "Best is cheapest"

    a rule to live one's life by

    1. David Kelly 2

      Re: "Best is cheapest"

      I agree the "best is the cheapest" but Detroit failed due diligence. Is not cheaper if it doesn't do the job. Is incompetence to buy without testing. To implement without monitoring performance. But then again I'm being redundant as Detroit has demonstrated nothing but incompetence at every level, even down to the purchase of batteries powering devices which only serve to make easy money.

      1. Tom 35

        Re: "Best is cheapest"

        Even if the battery was cheaper Lasts half as long, costs 1/3 the price. They also have to pay someone to go out and replace the battery, and I expect that costs more then the name brand battery.

    2. Francis Boyle

      Re: "Best is cheapest"

      Cheapest is usually crap because there's always a manufacturer out there willing to compromise on a critical component. Cheapest plus 10-20% is a good rule if value is what you're aiming at but as always exceptions. The trick of course is to recognise them and there's no rule for that. (Except reading el Reg comments that is.)

  6. Mystic Megabyte
    Boffin

    sell by?

    Why is it that the big name brands put a "Sell by" date of ten years into the future?

    I don't know the internal resistance of these batteries but that does seem a bit optimistic.

    Any battery boffins out there?

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: sell by?

      For new Alkaline (not Zinc Layer, Zinc Carbon or Zinc Chloride) a 10 year date is feasible. A 7 year date would be fairer. But assumes storage between +5 and +21 C.

      An unaffiliated Battery Boffin site Blaukatz

      Carbon Layer cells are better than regular cylindrical Zinc Carbon or Zinc Chloride and can work out cheaper than branded Alkaline 6LR61 PP3, with only 30% less life at normal temperature and very low current. At higher current or extended temperatures they can be 90% less capacity. Shelf life is much poorer above 15C.

    2. handle

      Re: sell by?

      Mystic Megabyte, I think you mean self-discharge rather than internal resistance.

      I bought a cheap set of Keter electronic kitchen scales from Argos some 20 years ago, which I use a couple of times a week. The four "Tesco Extra Long Life" alkaline AAA cells they contain, in a natty black and gold colour scheme, have a best before date stamp of June 2001, and the low battery indicator hasn't come on yet...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: sell by?

        My old analogue multimeter has a single "AA" battery. It has been a wonder for many years that it worked every time I needed it. Then recently the battery finally had to be changed. The old battery, probably zinc carbon, was bulging slightly but not leaking. From the brand name my belief is that it was the meter's original - probably at least 30 years old. It might even have been over 40 years old. Can't verify that - so no claim for the Guinness Book of Records.

        1. Adrian Harvey

          Re: sell by?

          Depends on the design, but many analogue meters don't need the battery at all. Often the battery is there just to supply power for the resistance (Ohm) tests. If you never use those functions, the battery is idle.....

    3. John Tserkezis

      Re: sell by?

      "Why is it that the big name brands put a "Sell by" date of ten years into the future? I don't know the internal resistance of these batteries but that does seem a bit optimistic. Any battery boffins out there?"

      The "shelf life", is part of a cells' (or battery's) specification that defines the length of time that will need to pass, at the nominated temperature, that the cell (or battery) will lose 10% of its capacity.

      Typically, with good name brands, you're currently looking at 2 years for carbons, 8 years for alkalines, and about 15 years with lithiums. From memory, going back in time, Carbons were 6 months, and alkalines were about 5 years - so their battery chemistry fine tuning is certainly getting better.

      Of course, for this "Shelf Life figure" to be useful, you need the date of manufacture - and this is where some FUD comes in. Sometimes I've seen cells with the month and year of manufacture stamped on the side, sometimes there is only a "Best By" date into the future. This means very little, partly because we don't know if it actually is the shelf target date, and party because if it's a fudged date, it's meaningless. Personally, in long term applications (blackout lighting, remotes etc) I use a labeler to mark the purchase date of said battery, and gamble it it wasn't very long between manufacture and sale. Usually, it's reasonably short.

      The "sell by" date is a little more complex, and ironcially, much more arbitrary. This is a date set by a committee group, that juggles how long they can hold onto a product, and it still be in "salable quality", as defined by either some law or (in the case of batteries) how long you can get away with without the customer finding out. In real life, a battery sell-by date of 10 years will never *actually* be met, because it's simply not the type of product that would hang around that long.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: sell by?

        In my experience, the function of the expiry date on batteries is to convince you that it's now time to throw away the remaining eight batteries in the packet of ten that seemed good value in the supermarket ten years ago.

  7. Mage Silver badge

    Alkaline

    Possibly they were using very cheap Carbon Zinc? No-name Alkaline are as good as branded ones.

    But really 6 x AAA, 6 x AA, 6 x C or 6 x D Alkaline cells are a better choice than PP3 sized 9V as they are six F23 size layer (poor temperature stability, but otherwise better than cylindrical Zinc Carbon or Zinc Chloride if current draw is low). The Alkaline small 9V use 6 off LR61 cells which are almost the same as AAAA cylindrical cells, so don't give a huge increase in capacity over layer cells at normal temperature and low current draw.

    They could save 75% per battery vs no name Alkaline 6LR61 and even more vs Duracell / Energiser (Eveready) by fitting 6 x AA adaptors if there is space. The Zinc Carbon and Zinc Chloride AA are rubbish, even if Eveready, but no-name Alkaline AA are just as good as Ray-o-vac, Energizer or Duracell.

    Is the news story Duracell or Energiser propaganda?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Alkaline

      "6 x AAA, 6 x AA, 6 x C or 6 x D Alkaline cells"

      Has anyone ever seen a B cell? What physical size are they?

      For that matter, what about an A cell? If the AAA is a size down from a AA then an A cell would need to be about the size of a C cell. Or is that a B cell? And now that we don't talk about HP7, HP11 and HP2 (Ever Ready sizes), why do we still say PP3?

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Alkaline

        "A" sized cells are probably pre WWII, 1930s anyway,

        Three "B" cells are still in the 3R12 4.5V torch battery. Old 1289 rear cycle lamp, a size still common in mainland Europe

        "F" Cells are still inside the spring top 6V "996" Lantern battery.

        "A" cells did exist. AA was a 1914 smaller version for "penlights". The AA, B, C, D, E, F and G USA sizes are actually 1947 designations.

        The American 'A', 'B' and 'C' designations for old tube radios (mostly prior to 1938 for 'C') refer to Filament (heater), HT (anode) and Bias (grid) supplies, not particular sizes or voltages of battery.

        E and G seem to have vanished during 1950s (and only inside other packs even then). So today we have AA, B, C, D and F of the pre 1938 batteries. The D and F are before 1900. The Radio 120V packs common before 1939 had 80 of the B cells.

        F is not Flag, a Flag, Bell or Igniter battery (all same size) is very large, but the 7.5V round 90AH Zinc Air Fencer battery has 5 cells the same size as Flag / Bell.

      2. Tom 35

        Re: Alkaline

        I have seen an A cell a 1/3 A cell a 1/2 AA and an F cell (you can find 4 inside a 6V lantern battery). B cells exist but I've never seen one.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battery_sizes

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Alkaline

          Eeek - I had forgotten many of those old battery types (on the wikipedia page). I remember playing with many of the larger everready snap on connector type batteries, but oddly can't remember what they were used for.

  8. Locky

    Why do they need parking meters anyway?

    Just deploy some ED209's with traffic warden hats. Parking problem goes away in around 20 seconds

  9. Truth4u

    hahaha parking meters arent working

    GOOD

    Now if only the cars ran on 9V batteries as well, we could kill two birds with one stone and just get rid of the cars and the meters and all the disgusting driving paraphernalia and have some green spaces back again. woo

    1. JeffyPoooh

      Re: hahaha parking meters arent working

      @Lies4U

      If you'd put down your granola bar and buy a modern car, then you'd be able to venture outside the ugly concrete jungle and visit some lovely green spaces. In fact, you might even be able to commute to a high paying job, save your money, and buy some of your own personal green space. Such as several acres of lake front, with nature and cute woodland creatures, and enough space to park your hybrid or e-car.

      I never did understand why the most virulent environMentals seem to never leave the downtown core; being that the downtown carbunkle-ugly concrete jungle coffeeshop urban hip lifestyle itself has a simply vast environmental footprint.

      1. Truth4u

        Re: hahaha parking meters arent working

        most cars are unnecessarily large 7 person vans used by middle class parents such as yourself to take your one child the half mile to school, causing absolute havoc for traffic and parking in the local area and misery for the non-obese kids who can walk but have to dodge your ugly truck.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: hahaha parking meters arent working

        >> If you'd put down your granola bar and buy a modern car, then you'd be able to venture outside the ugly concrete jungle and visit some lovely green spaces

        and destroy them with the roads, lights, carparks, fuel vapour, noise, out-of-town shopping ....

        Ever heard of feet, bicycles, public transport or even making the cities more liveable and green so there would be less need to escape so often? Or not living in cities?

        Think the anti-"greens" need to get some scientific education and learn to think a bit more deeply and broadly. Being green actually means better, more advanced technology, not clinging to the worst aspects of the industrial revolution of three hundred years ago or the transport modes of the last century or the urban lifestyle of past decades.

  10. ilmari

    8.2V shutdown threshold is very wasteful, the battery will have delivered far less than half its stored energy at 8.2. At 5.4V, that woukd be closer to 95%.

    And as others have said earlier, 6xAA battery holder, or even 6xAAA, would be far more cost effective.

    Carbon-zinc, zinc chloride (Super) Heavy Duty batteries are only useful in the case where the wage cost of replacing them is near zero. Or in the case where the batteries last years anyway, though you run an increased risk of leakage.. Which again you'd want free workers for the cleanup.

  11. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Crowd source

    Design the parking meters to accepts coins, ...or fresh batteries.

  12. Unicornpiss
    Alert

    They may indeed have used alkalines

    Anyone who has used batteries for years, whether in the technology sector or not, can vouch that cheap alkaline batteries just don't hold out as long as name brands. "Off-brand" companies also don't seem to have the QC that the makers of Duracell, for example have. I have gotten dead or nearly dead batteries in a brand new budget pack before, but Duracell and Energizer have been remarkably consistent.

    I've often thought that the company I work for wastes $$$ to save ¢¢, One example would be the 'autoflush' toilets in our restrooms, which they have dialed down to the point that you have to flush them 2 or 3x to be effective, negating any possible savings in water. But Detroit clearly has us beat. Besides the revenue lost, they still have to buy more batteries and pay someone to replace them more frequently.

    The parking meters near me have solar cells to supplement whatever internal battery they have.

    1. P0l0nium

      Re: They may indeed have used alkalines

      My experience with smoke detector batteries

      Duracell : Lasts 7 yrs cost £2

      Branded Alkaline : Last 7 yrs cost £1.50

      Aldi/Lidl Alkaline: Last 7 yrs cost £1

      Poundshop Alkaline: Last 3 yrs cost £1 ("Kodak"/"Polaroid" brand or similar)

      Poundshop Zinc/Carbon: Lasts 18months cost 33p

      German supermarket batteries are your friends UNTIL Mr Aldi senior dies ...

      NB ... Mr Aldi senior HAS just died!!

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: They may indeed have used alkalines

        German supermarket batteries are your friends

        You need also to consider load. My experience is that for toys and other high-drain devices non-branded cells last less time, but are sufficiently cheaper to be worth it. For long-life devices like remote controls the branded cells usually last so much longer that they're worth it.

        1. handle

          Re: They may indeed have used alkalines

          My experience for toys and other high-drain devices is that you need your head examined if you don't use rechargeables. And with today's low self-discharge varieties that argument extends all the way into "pretty low-drain" territory too.

          1. John Tserkezis

            Re: They may indeed have used alkalines

            "My experience for toys and other high-drain devices is that you need your head examined if you don't use rechargeables."

            While I agree with your comment, there are conditions where convenience overrides pure economics. For hand held equipment that is used onsite, I look for devices that use regular batteries, because I can keep a stock of a couple of loads for some dollars, rather than the alternative of purchasing a Li-Ion at $50-100.

            Not only that, "regular" flavours come in not only NiMh, but they're available off the shelf as Lithium Iron Disulfides, which would be better suited to low temperatures than the other chemistries.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: They may indeed have used alkalines

            "My experience for toys and other high-drain devices is that you need your head examined if you don't use rechargeables."

            A little R/C forklift truck used several AAA Alkaline batteries. The instruction sheet specifically said that rechargeables must NOT be used. No reason was given. My thoughts were that it was either to do with rechargeables only giving1.2volts - or their potentially high current capability.

            It's surprising how many people apparently don't understand rechargeable batteries. You fit a nice PP3 low leakage Ni-Mh PP3 to an R/C controller - and give them a nifty dedicated PP3 2 hour charger. You explain the reasons to them. Next time you see it there is an exhausted alkaline PP3 inside. Their reasoning - "an alkaline battery is cheaper to buy than a rechargeable".

            The most egregious case is multiple "AA" cells in R/C cars. Originally fitted with a labelled matched set of low leakage Ni-Mh - the car comes in for crash repairs with a mixture of rechargeables of various capacities plus a couple of alkalines.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: They may indeed have used alkalines

      "Anyone who has used batteries for years, whether in the technology sector or not, can vouch that cheap alkaline batteries just don't hold out as long as name brands. "

      The Gadget show did a test a few years back on a bunch of different brands - and the zinc chlorides _all_ died long before any of the alkalines.

      There was a 4:1 lifespan difference across the alkalines but they were all eclipsed by lithium cells.

      http://gadgetshow.channel5.com/gadget-show/videos/news/news-batteries

      Given the power and temperature range requirements of parking meters, I'd be dropping lithiums in them. At -20 most alkalines will give up and go home, with Zinc Chlorides having long since already cooked dinner and gone to bed.

      GS's most recent tests shows GP (GoldPeak) as best value for money - which I agree with, but watch out for fakes. (I've also found fake Energisers on sale in B&Q, so it's not just dodgy suppliers selling dodgy batteries)

  13. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Is it a false economy

    or just a stupid knee jerk reaction from management?

    Did they get rid of the post where someone who knew what he/she was doing in the provisioning of the same?

    I remember showing an accountant newton-raphson as a method of calculating the minimum cost of something with a few parameters. He promptly spent most of his time trying to get me fired for showing him up as an ignorant wasteful prat and loosing him a bonus that was more than my salary.

    1. handle
      Happy

      Re: Is it a false economy

      He might have had qualities that you don't possess though, such as an ability to spell...

    2. Mephistro
      Thumb Up

      Re: Is it a false economy (@Tom 7)

      Related anecdote: in my first job, shortly after V.A.T. was introduced in my country, I had to explain the accountant honcho how to calculate the original price from the price+V.A.T., because he was doing it consistently wrong. Didn't get much sympathy from him either. :-)

    3. Tom 13

      Re: Did they get rid of the post

      Nah, the post is still there, pays well too. It's just never been occupied by someone who was competent.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hook the meters up to the mains?

    Probably cheaper in the long run.

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: Hook the meters up to the mains?

      "Hook the meters up to the mains? Probably cheaper in the long run."

      This is something that makes perfect sense, but is actually a complex issue. And by "complex" I mean it comes down to money.

      Some time back, I was dealing with someone from a government department (won't say who - you know who you are!), who was testing some equipment before perhaps rolling it out. He mentioned that the solar/diesel generators out there at the time were expensive and troublesome, as there are cost, council placement rights, noise issues etc to deal with.

      I mentioned the same thing you did. Once he decides on the right (permanent) location, you can get grid power into it, and the solar/generator issue will no longer be a problem.

      Here he rolls his eyes and cites even greater cost and administrative issues with dealing with the troublesome power companies. So I casually mentioned no-one seemed to be having any trouble rolling out speed cameras everywhere, and they're on the grid...

      He responded with a non-descript Humm and Hawg, but I got the gist of how it works: When you have a device that is documented and guaranteed to generate MILLIONS of dollars a year FOR EACH CAMERA, as long as everyone gets their cut, all and any problems magically disappear.

      Likewise, we have many parking meters here on mains, and you can be whole heartedly assured, that everyone involved has their pockets suitably lined with a part of that booty.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sometimes you need to spend money

    to save money.

  16. Stuart Halliday

    Should have read the Battery review Web site

    http://stuarthalliday.com/reviews/alkaline-batteries-part-1/

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Self promoting?

      Anyway, you are just proving what I guessed. Thank you for it!

      The AAs and AAAs I use today are all low discharge rechargeables,

      Not only they a rechargeable, but last double with low discharge currents and 4x or more in high discharge.

      They cost about 2 pounds each.. and if you have a good charger, that is the way to go.

  17. Chris G Silver badge

    Renewable energy

    There's a lot to be said for the old fashioned parking meters of my yoof.

    I remember we had to put a sixpence in then turn the little handle that wound up the clockwork, that was back in the sixties. A mate of mine who ran a light transport company was asked by the local council to take away a load of clockwork meters from their yard and to dispose of them.

    While we were loading them onto his truck we noticed a lot of them rattled, on getting them back to Den's yard we managed to break the rattly ones open and got nearly £300 in sixpences and old shillings out of them, since I have seen them on sale as 'curios'.

    Den scrapped them in the '90s after being in a council shed for god knows how long and they all still seemed to work battery free.

  18. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Free parking at a dead meter?

    Oh, I wish. It used to be like that here. Then many years ago, on my first trip by car into London I thought my luck was in when I found an empty parking space, the meter being covered by an "Our of Order" bag. I got back to a parking ticket, lucky not to have had the car towed. Sadly, that "no parking if meter not operating" system seems to have spread to the rest of the UK now.

    1. Tom 35

      Re: Free parking at a dead meter?

      Same in Canada, people would stuff the slots with crap, then park for free so they went to broken meeter = no parking.

    2. P. Lee
      Mushroom

      Re: Free parking at a dead meter?

      That's what happens when government starts to operate as a company instead of the collective will of the people: it becomes more important to keep a free resource scarce, rather than allow a temporary, possibly slightly unfair allocation of something that is free.

      Worse, the city is relying on people breaking the law to fund itself. I'm sure that wouldn't skew any planning, would it?

      What is it that causes so many institutions to think that its ok to spend money they don't have? Capital projects are one thing, but if you can't fund services, you have to raise taxes. There should be legal disqualification for fiscal irresponsibility in public office. That goes for central government too.

  19. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    WTF?

    A couple of points.

    First, any design that can partially fail in service is a no-no, especially something relatively simply like this (but takes money off people). It should be able to operate fully until it reaches its defined endpoint voltage then shut down completely (and should have built in hysterisis so it doesn't try to restart if there is a minor battery recovery).

    The other thing is how old are theser meters? Presumably they would have some form of DC-DC converter rather than simple voltage regulator for the sensitive parts of the electronics, in which case they should be able to handle a far wider voltage range. Having said that, there are also microcontrolers tha directly work over a 2:1 ratio and the old CMOS logic worked from 18V down to 3V!

    1. Unicornpiss

      Re: A couple of points.

      Ad DC-DC converter or regulator would waste far too much power--that little 9V would run down in no time flat. But I also agree with you about CMOS--I think the parking meters were just poorly-designed for their intended purpose.

      I totally agree that it's an enormously stupid design to run these off a 9V battery. Detroit was dumb in cheaping out on the batteries, but even stupider in considering this model when there are solar-powered ones available. Probably they were a few bucks cheaper and either no one factored in changing batteries or were pressured from above to cut initial costs.

  20. DanceMan

    Sounds like they cheaped out on the meters as well. Purchasing depts that put low bid above all else will produce these disasters.

    I haven't bought batteries for decades. Wireless microphones and body packs must also be like those meters. The batteries are replaced before the voltage drops much, meaning the castoffs are useable in other equipment for a long time. Mics use 9V and AA, body packs use AA and AAA. Just recently discovered that the new washroom auto paper dispensers use D cells and the maintenance people just replace them all. Used a battery meter on the recyling bin discards to get some of those for one odd tool that requires them.

    And yes those used 9V go into my smoke detectors and will easily last a year.

    1. Unicornpiss

      @Danceman:

      I do the same--when we replace the batteries in our wireless mics at work, which we do whether they need them or not before we do a webcast or the CEO speaks to the huddled masses, I take the castoffs home for use in my cordless mouse and other equipment. They are not fit to go in other equipment at work, but it's wasteful and silly to recycle them when they have usable life left.

      For smoke alarms, mine must be touchy, but used batteries don't last too long in them and it's enough of a pain to change them (after you find out which cussed one is nagging you) that I only use new batteries in them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Danceman:

        My big Maplin LCD clocks go for about two years on a new alkaline "AA" battery. However - they also seem to be happy to run for several months on a scavenged "dead" one. As they are radio controlled they don't even need adjusting - although sometimes they need the "reset" button pressing to start them off.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Danceman:

        "after you find out which cussed one is nagging you"

        Usually they start that warning just after you have crawled into bed. Then you have to stand underneath each one in turn - waiting for that occasional bleep to work out which it is. Sometimes it then turns out to be the dying gasps of the mobile phone in your trousers on the bedroom floor.

    2. Unicornpiss

      @Danceman:

      I do the same--when we replace the batteries in our wireless mics at work, which we do whether they need them or not before we do a webcast or the CEO speaks to the huddled masses, I take the castoffs home for use in my cordless mouse and other equipment. They are not fit to go in other equipment at work, but it's wasteful and silly to recycle them when they have usable life left.

  21. -tim

    Where they are made matters more than brand

    I've found that the Chinese made Energizer batteries don't last as long as the USA made ones so I've stopped buying them and Duracells. Both those brands have idiots in marketing that decided a pack of 10 AA was a good idea rather than 12.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where they are made matters more than brand

      10 AA instead of 12 ARE a good idea...for the battery manufacturers (if you need them in 4s you'll have to buy a second pack after the second batch of 4)

    2. Tom 13

      Re: 10 AA was a good idea rather than 12

      My remotes only take 2 cells each. Works for me.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have some

    "Flying Bomb" brand 9v/PP3 batteries for em.

    Going cheap also!!!!

  23. beast666

    Heads up!

    I have had to sort out ionization smoke alarms because they 'bip' recently.

    I thought there batteries were low.

    Not so! They were linked mains-powered devices with battery back-up.

    I saw the little replace-by sticker.

    All the smoke alarms are in the process of being replaced.

    Heads up! It's not just batteries!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Heads up! It's not just batteries!"

      Presumably the radioactive ionising source has a predictable half-life. To be disposed of in a recycling centre.

      1. Alan(UK)

        432 years

        It would sound sensible to recycle the source but removing it from the smoke detector is not allowed (presumably this depends on where you live) so they just finish up in household waste.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Detroit?

    Rust belt Capitol of America? Betting on penny wise, pound foolish? No! Impossible! It's also the most Muslim city in America. What is right about this picture?

  25. Dave 52

    The battery is not the problem...

    ... the law is.

    You mentioned in the article that Detroit can't give out tickets to cars parked at broken meters, and that 70% of tickets go to non-residents. Well then the solution is simple: change the law so you can give out tickets at broken meters, and let residents who get tickets mail them in to the city for a refund!

  26. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Maybe... Crowd Source!!

    How about they design the meters to accept both coins or fresh batteries?

    There'd be a slot, the user inserts a fresh 9v battery (optionally, instead of coins), they turn a handle, the machine measures the newly offered battery and issues appropriate credit. Inside, the crowd sourced batteries would be in a revolving tray that turns as required to keep the meter powered.

    Only problem in Detroit would be buying batteries in the burned out downtown core of a burned out city.

  27. Johnny Canuck

    cheap shit

    Having spent a good deal of time being utterly poor (divorce, if you must know), I can testify to the futility of buying cheap. Instead of buying decent shoes for $100.00, that last a couple of years, I bought cheap $30.00 dollar shoes that failed after a couple months.

    Also. cheap computer crap is just that - cheap! And it will fail soon after buying it.

    I have used my knowledge of the cheapness/failure ratio to convince my bosses (2 brothers) to forget about the cheapest price.

    You sell better shit to your clients, and they will give you repeat business.

    Of course, even though this is fairly obvious, it continues to escape the noitice of the idiots who actually run things.

    Idiocracy!! FTW!!

  28. Gene Cash Silver badge

    obvious question

    Why the hell do they have meters that need batteries? That's their own damn fault.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Parking meters' fussy circuitry?

    "In icy conditions, they may give out significantly less than the full 9-volt charge, which can play havoc with parking meters' fussy circuitry. On an 8.2-volt charge, a meter might take money but not give out any parking time, and at 8 volts it will stop working altogether"

    Perhaps the fault lies with the built-in voltage regulator, as in it should be able to cope with a voltage drop of at little as 1 volt.

  30. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    Boffin

    Li ion

    The ONLY 9V batteries for use in unheated applications like parking meters are Li ion 9V batteries. Alkaline & carbon zinc don't work in winter. Same with 1.5V D, C, AA & AAA applications.

  31. Richard Conto

    More facts

    For more specifics about the Detroit Parking Meter Battery issue, see this Aug 5, 2014 article:

    http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140805/LIFESTYLE/308050023

  32. Bry-Itech

    Autonomous Parking Meters

    Fully autonomous Pay & Display meters from Schlumberger work fine in the Glasgow climate. Not noted for its sun, clear skies or lowrise buildings

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    learn to spell........ Like harry Potter?

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