Nyloc Nut Rant….
I hear and see it stated quite frequently on the interweb not to use Nyloc nuts on batteries. The supporters then trumpet this around then net as fact without doing any sort of critical thinking. Unfortunately they line up to defend this sentiment without doing any sort of research or examination of actual facts. Okay fine, it’s the net, can we examine this a bit..?
The Nyloc nuts I use are rated to 140C for the safe working range. This is 284F. The best marine UL1426 battery cable you will find is rated to just 105C. There are still thousands and thousands of boats out on the water, built in the 70’s & 80’s, using 60C rated battery cable, sad but true. If the Nyloc in the nut will melt and cause a failure then I suppose we may all need at least 140C rated marine wire too?
Of course we can’t just look at the safe working range if we want to see when an actual failure might occur. Where would that likely occur? Probably somewhere close to the melting point for the nylon.
The actual melting point of the nylon used in Nyloc nuts is approximately 425 degrees, but for a seat of the pants examination we can still use the safe working temp of 140C/284F. What if you have soldered battery lugs? If you do it is quite probable that you a solder that actually melts at between 360F and 425F. You read that correctly, many electrical grade solders melt at approximately the same temp as the nylon used in a Nyloc nut.
What about the plastic used in the actual battery cases? Battery cases are made of polypropylene, not nylon. Polypropylene, or the battery case, actually melts around 100F lower than the nylon in the Nyloc nut does. Yes, we are seeing exactly that right here in this case. The Nyloc nut survived with plenty of locking still intact, yet the battery case had begun to physically melt.
Oh my Gawd fellow inter-netters we’d best get rid of those unsafe plastic battery cases and replace them with STEEL… Oh wait steel & acid, hmm better think this one through a bit more……..?. (wink)
Let’s also look at the way the vast majority of inexpensive batteries for marine use ship to us? Many marine batteries, even today, and I install hundreds of them, still ship, believe it or not, with hex nuts but no locking washer. Yep you guessed it there is no lock washer to be found with many of the price-point brands. Heck there are still some brands shipping with wing nuts and no locking mechanism.
There are however a good number of premium battery battery makers, who actually do supply locking washers, such as;
- Full River
Plus just about every LiFePo4 prismatic cell manufacture I know of. All the batteries brands I just mentioned can deliver MASSIVE amounts of short circuit current into a dead short.
How many folks that DIY do you suppose add anything additional beyond what the battery manufacturer supplied with the battery? A nut only may be okay, if the nuts are properly torqued, and cable properly strain relieved, and the battery physically can’t move, but I rarely see that, and the ABYC standards actually allow for batteries to move slightly.
So, would using a Nyloc nut be worse than what the factory shipped the battery with, if it is only a wing nut or standard hex nut? Answer = no
Remember most marine batteries ship with either wing-nuts or regular nuts but nothing at all to “lock” them with. Fail….
In this case, the Nyloc nut was still well “locked”, despite the battery case physically melting due to high resistance. I’d have to vote for the Nyloc certainly being better than no locking aid at all.
Why does all this matter?
Before your Nyloc nut can melt, the battery will have likely already begun to melt, as it did here. So even if you somehow exceeded the 284F, and the Nyloc nut failed to perform its locking feature, and this can only be considered a secondary failure, we would still need to have a primary failure or a nut torque failure first..
In this case we had a primary failure mode, lack of proper nut torque, which lead to high resistance and then to the battery case melting. A physically melted battery case and yet a secondary failure of the Nyloc still did not occur.
We would need two failure modes to have the actual failure of a Nyloc nut. A melted Nyloc and an improperly torqued nut to begin with.
Based on the factual data, including melting points, this suggests that before this Nyloc nut would have failed the battery case would have been so melted the owner would have been alerted to something, such as a fire or acid all over his vessel, well before the Nyloc nut became an issue.
The way most batteries ship, without any locking washers, your failure mode is just one failure. Add a Nyloc and you now need two failures before anything bad could happen. Add a locking washer on top of a Nyloc and now you’d need three failures.
I see thousands of battery posts every year with no locking mechanism. Do I carry lots of 5/16″ and 3/8″ lock washers and 5/16″ and 3/8″ nuts, & wire ties, you bet I do. I also however carry a lot of 5/16″ and 3/8″ Nylocs too adn in cases of short battery posts, such as trojan batteries, I also carry flanged self-locking nuts.. I go through multiple boxes of 100 each of lock washers and Nyloc 5/16″ and 3/8″ nuts every year.
My personal preference here is to use a locking washer when ever I can, but when it won’t fit, I have no issues using a properly torqued Nyloc nut on a battery terminal.
How often do I see regular hex nuts, like price-point sensitive battery manufactures ship the product with, that lack a locking washer, actually come loose? Not all that often but I do.. When I do, there are often signs or evidence they were tightened by a pair of pliers, as was the case here.
When tightened with a wrench, & properly torqued, it is actually pretty rare to see a loose standard nut, even without a locking washer, come loose. When I do see this the battery installation has been sloppy, allowed too much battery movement and had sub-optimal strain relief for the large gauge wire. The key words are “properly torqued“. Properly torqued is the reason the ABYC, USCG & marine industry has moved away from wing-nuts in favor of hex nuts..
Boaters and techs far to often opt to not to use a wing nut wrench and improperly believe proper torque means with thumb and fore finger. It’s simply not possible to properly torque a wing nut with your thumb and fingers. It is also not advisable to torque standard nuts with a pair of cheap pliers. Would you torque your lug nuts with pliers………..??
I can personally point to numerous instances of loose wing nuts, but not a single case where a Nyloc came free because it melted and then vibrated loose. In almost every case of a wing nut coming loose it was because the installer made the nuts “finger tight” which is a far cry from wrench tight..
It’s interesting to note that the ABYC safety standards specifically prohibit wing nuts above 6GA wire but they make no such prohibition for Nyloc nuts.
My only point here is to suggest that I would prefer to see a Nyloc used rather than the option of a regular nut with no lock washer or a wing nut with no lock washer. My first preference, if it will fit the post, is for a Nyloc nut and locking washer, second choice would be a nut and locking washer, as many premium battery makers ship with, third choice a Nyloc only and fourth choice a regular nut, all of these of course properly torqued. Unfortunately there are situations where a regular nut is all that will fit on the post and in this case proper torque is a must regardless of what you choose.
Just some points to ponder… Rant officially over…. (smile)