Did you know that in the cold weather months your car battery is more susceptible to failure? This post is all about squeezing every last drop of efficiency from your car battery. We’ll cover common causes of a flat battery and provide tried-and-true tips for seeing your battery through rough winter conditions.
Turn the lights off!
First things first: most battery failures are due to user error. Motorists who leave their lights on by mistake are asking for a flat battery. Under normal operating conditions, the battery is charged by the alternator, and the alternator works best when the car is in motion. Never turn your lights on when the engine is off.
Other Common Causes of a Flat Battery
- Leaving your car parked for several days or weeks. Today’s cars have on-board computers and alarm LEDs that drain power. If you go too long without driving the car—turning the alternator—your battery will go flat.
- Using the wrong battery. Some vehicles require more power than others. If you use an underpowered battery, your car won’t be able to crank the engine and power the electrical system for long. VRLA batteries are quite common. These batteries are sealed, and so are not serviceable. There are two types of VRLA battery: gel and AGM. Ask your mechanic to check your battery if you suspect you have the wrong type for your vehicle.
- Extremes in temperature will deform your battery. When any material goes from extreme heat to extreme cold repeatedly, it changes shape. There isn’t much you can do about this, however, and it’s one reason you must replace your battery every few years.
- Old age. Most car batteries don’t last more than 5 years. When your battery begins to fail, you will see spotty, inconsistent performance. The shop should be able to provide you with a specific replacement date for the battery you purchase.
- Too many short-distance trips. If you make too many short distance trips in a short span of time, your alternator may not have enough time to charge your battery.
- Naturally, a bad alternator will affect battery life. Signs of a bad alternator include:
- Dimming the lights.
- A burning smell emanating from beneath the bonnet.
- Battery warning light visible.
- Grinding sound emanating from the engine.
- Corroded battery terminals and acid build-up. As you use your car, dried acid can build up on the battery terminals. Over time, this can prevent the battery from receiving energy from the alternator.
- Poor maintenance. Check your battery every for signs of corrosion every time you look under the bonnet.
- Loose cables. Your car battery connects to the electrical system of your car through a series cables. If these cables become loose, your car battery won’t work.
Avoid a Flat Battery
- Buy a high-quality battery. In many cases, generic products save consumers money. But such is not the case with generic car batteries. You want two features in a car battery beyond all others:
Finally, a generic car battery rarely comes with a comprehensive warranty.
- Prolonged sun exposure can damage your car battery. Garage your car whenever you can.
- Cold temperatures make your car battery less efficient. The cold means your car will have to use more energy to crank the engine which means the battery will age faster in cold climates. Garage your car if possible.
- Start your engine before using features that drain the battery. This goes for lights, radio, AC, etc. Similarly, turn these devices off before you shut off the engine. These devices will quickly drain your battery if you use them with the engine off.
- Purchase a portable car battery charger if possible. Nothing beats having a charge handy for peace of mind. But more importantly, recharging a flat battery quickly will minimize damage. Remember to drive the car for a while after a charge so the alternator can do its work.
- Use your car at least once per week. If you intend to drive your car at all, you’ll must “exercise” the battery regularly.