Losses and Lessons: Burned-out bikes ignite firestorm over trickle chargers

VEHICLE INVOLVED: 1945 Harley-Davidson EL

WHAT WENT WRONG: Losing everything in a house fire is a nightmare that you can never fully prepared for. The owner of a 1945 Harley-Davidson EL and 13 other classic motorcycles had been accumulating project bikes, tools and spare parts for years. He enjoyed repairing and restoring the motorcycles as time and money allowed, and he typically left a half dozen or so connected to trickle chargers in his garage. One night, one of the battery chargers sparked a fire that destroyed his home and all of its contents. Then things actually got worse …

DAMAGE/LOSS: Thankfully, no one was injured in the fire. But then the owner learned that he was underinsured, and his emotional and financial burden grew. Although the Harley was insured through Hagerty – and the owner was paid its $30,000 Guaranteed Value® – only two of the other 13 motorcycles were covered on a separate auto policy. And although the victim’s home insurance policy covered his house and its contents, the remaining bikes, spare parts and tools were not.

LESSON: First of all, whenever you use a trickle charger:

  • Stick to “smart chargers,” which shut off automatically whenever the battery is full and turn back on when they sense a drop in voltage. They also shut off whenever a short is detected. If you don’t have a smart charger, unplug it if it will be left unattended for an extended period.
  • Don’t overload plugs or circuits.
  • Avoid using extension cords, but if you have no other option be sure to use a dropdown UL Listed cord reel as opposed to a small-gauge cord that runs along the floor and can be stepped on.
  • Disconnect the battery from the car’s cables. Only the trickle charger should be connected to the battery.
  • Periodically check the charger and make sure it isn’t overly hot to the touch.

And when it comes to insurance, never assume anything. Unsure what’s covered? Ask. In this case, the motorcycle owner properly insured three “finished” bikes and assumed that his homeowner’s policy would soften the blow if anything else in his garage was damaged. He was wrong. Do your homework and ask questions when it comes to what coverage is required. Hagerty offers additional coverage for automobilia, spare parts and tools, as well as vehicles under restoration.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article described the battery charger referenced in the above article as a “battery tender.” It has been brought to our attention that Battery Tender is a registered trademark of Deltran. Hagerty has no reason to believe that Battery Tender branded chargers are unsafe or were the cause of the aforementioned fire.