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 ways to cut corners since even before it was legally declared bankrupt by a US District Court judge in December 2013.
According to a report in the Detroit News, the city’s finances are so tight that every little savings counts – even something as trivial as finding a cheaper supplier for the standard 9-volt batteries that power the city’s 3,404 parking meters.
But such frugality has a price, city sources say, because the discount batteries that Detroit is using now don’t do the job as well as the name-brand alkaline cells the city used before budget cuts took effect.
As a result – according to the office of the emergency manager, whose thankless job it is to oversee the city’s ongoing fiscal crisis – on any given day, nearly half of Detroit’s parking meters aren’t working.
It’s not just that the cheap batteries don’t last as long. Apparently, they’re also more sensitive to temperature, particularly when Detroit’s frigid winters hit.
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, one meter repairman told the Detroit News.
Dead meters mean Detroit loses more than just coins. Legally, the city can’t give parking tickets to cars parked at broken or nonfunctioning meters. Each parking ticket ordinarily brings in $45, and 70 per cent of tickets go to nonresidents.
Add it all up, says Detroit chief operating officer Gary Brown, and the city is missing out on as much as $6m in revenue per year – all because it doesn’t cough up the coin for decent batteries.
Consider that, the next time you’re shopping for batteries for your smoke alarm.