Do Cheap, Generic Batteries Make Financial Sense?

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In a previous post, we were able to uncover that buying rechargeable batteries does make both 1) environmental and 2) economic sense. Another logical question also on the topic of batteries involves whether or not buying generic batteries makes economic sense.

Several years ago, I made the mistake of buying a 30 pack of generic AA batteries from an Oops Outlet Store. When I got home and started installing the batteries in to my various household appliances, I found that the electronic devices only lasted about 2 days with the charge that the generic batteries contained. 
Generic batteries are very tempting to buy since they are often several levels of magnitude cheaper than the name brand Energizer and Duracell batteries.

However, even with them being cheaper, do you actually come out ahead in the long run financially by “biting the bullet” and buying the more expensive batteries from the beginning? 

This analysis will be the subject of today’s post.
Background and Approach to the Analysis


Yesterday, when I started researching this topic, I was very excited because I was expecting to be able to 1) obtain pricing information on Amazon.com, 2) look at the technical spec sheets of each battery, 3) compare the capacity of each battery, and 4) arrive at a conclusion about which battery is most worth the money.

However, due to differences in the fundamental construction of each battery, I soon realized that I would have to conduct a physical experiment to drain the batteries and test how much capacity they contain.

While it would be very fun to conduct this experiment, since this is a finance blog (and not a engineering blog), I’m going to use the finance-approach and piggy back off already existing information.


Experimental Setup



After doing some searching online, I stumbled upon the experiment at the link below conducted to determine if generic batteries give you more Amp-Hours (let’s just call it “total power”, in Lehman’s terms) per Dollar cost.

Generic vs. Name Brand Battery Experiment
In the experiment, a machine is hooked up to 6 different branded AA, 1.5V batteries (one at a time), a 0.5Amp current is drawn from them, and the time (in hours) at which the battery no longer functions is recorded.

The current drawn (0.5Amps) is then multiplied by the time recorded to obtain the common unit of Amp-hours.

Experimental Results

The results from the study above are shown below and ranked from #1-#4 in the order of yielding the lowest cost per Amp-hours of “power.”

  • #1 Thunderbolt Magnum: 
    • The cost is $5.99 for 26.4Ah = $0.2269 per 1Ah
    • $5.99 ÷ (24 x 1.10Ah) = $0.2269 for 1Ah

    • #2 Duracell CopperTop: 
      • The cost is $10.39 for 26.24Ah = $0.3960 per 1Ah
      • $10.39 ÷ (16 x 1.64Ah) = $0.3960 for 1Ah

      • #3 Rayovac: 
        • The cost is $5.99 for 13.68Ah = $0.4379 per 1Ah
        • $5.99 ÷ (12 x 1.14Ah) = $0.4379 for 1Ah

        • #4 Energizer: 
          • The cost is $7.49 for 16.64Ah= $0.4501 per 1Ah
          • $7.49 ÷ (10 x 1.66Ah) = $0.4501 for 1Ah

        As you can see the results above, the best deal as far as getting the most “power” for your money is in fact, a generic battery. 
        However, I feel these results proves not that generic batteries in general are a better deal than name-brand batteries, but that only 1 type of generic battery, Thunderbolt Magnums, are definitely a better. 
        Evidence for this conclusion can be seen in the fact that of the 6 batteries tested, only the Thunderbolt Magnum batteries are the only generic battery that made it in to the top 4 (I do not consider Rayovac to be generic since they are priced so closely to Energizer and Duracell.
        Key Takeaways
        For me, I will take-away the following actions items from these results.
        • Continue to avoid buying generic batteries, in general, because they do not yield as high of capacity per Dollar spent than name brand (Energizer and Duracell batteries)
        • I will purchase some Thunderbolt Magnum Batteries @ HarborFreight.com (only $4.99 for 24 batteries) to see if they work as well the study claims.
        • Currently, I am in the habit of buying Energizer batteries over Duracell, because I have thought that they performed better. However, the results of this experiment prove that Duracell are in fact a better value and give you more output.

        How about you all? Do you all use generic or name-brand batteries? Have you found any generic batteries that work well and you enjoy using?


        Share your experiences by commenting below!

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        Related articles about generic batteries and their financial viability at several of my favorite personal finance blogs:
        Wallet Pop – 10 Products to Always Buy Generic

        Comments

        1. DAVID McCORD, P.E. says:

          As a consulting railroad electrical engineer, I have used several generic batteries including some from Radio Shack and Walgreen's. The loads are both low current (Garmin hand held guidance system, meters) and higher current (flash lights, kids toys, signal generators). The Walgreen batteries definitely lasted a shorter time. They also varied in capacity noticibly from battery to battery. (Poor quality control, I would assume.) As far as I could tell, the Magnum batteries seemed to last about as well as any of the major brands and seemed to have consistent ampacity. Although I never really compared their operating time, the difference was not enough for me to notice as I did with the Walgreen and Radio Shack batteries.

          Harbor freight often has coupons that price 24 AA batteries for $4.99. That's only a little over 20 cents each. For half the price, even if they have a little less capacity, I have no problem with replacing them a little more often, especially if it isn't enough difference for me to notice.

          • Thanks for weighing in David. I've been super satisfied with my Harbor Freight batteries so far. I've had the 24 pack of them for several years now, and they seem to last quite a long time! I should probably restock on them pretty soon.
            My recent post Saving Money on Your Health Insurance

        2. Thanks for the article. I was considering purchasing a considerably lager battery from Thunderbolt Magnum, but was wondering the same thing “from a cost saving point”.

          I have always bought and used quality brand name rechargeable batteries with good luck. As we all know there are some brands that are junk.

          So thanks again for the article..Have a great day!!

        3. Ron Ferrel says:

          Thanks for the info. I already buy the Thunderbolt Magnums (on sale) and am glad to hear they are cheaper based on ampere-hour capacity. However, I have a number of devices that give me a low battery indication when there are still 1.2 to 1.3 volts left in the cells. I have to change them since the device will no longer work at the lower voltage, yet there is still unused power left in them. So far, the only down the road use I can find is I have a clock that will run on the lower voltage and I can use the cells to power LED’s. The clock will run for months on a battery with voltage too low to run the other devices. I have a fistful of the low voltage batteries laying around, hate to throw them away, but what good are they?

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