Automotive Advisers: Car battery care in winter and beyond
There are few feelings worse than when you hear the clack-clack-clack of a dead battery and an engine that won’t turn over — especially when it is freezing outside, you’re already running late and the little one in the backseat won’t stop fussing.
Battery failures are one of the most common automotive issues we see and, fortunately, they’re one of the easiest to prevent or resolve.
When temperatures drop, so can the effectiveness of your battery.
Batteries work by producing a chemical reaction that creates electrons which run through the anode (negative) and cathode (positive) connections.
In severely cold weather, these chemical charges can actually slow down, resulting in a lack of electricity needed to power all the electrical components in your vehicle.
There are many telltale signs that your battery may be on its last legs — in cold weather or otherwise.
We all know the horrible clacking of a bunk battery, but there are warning signs that can save you from having to call that Uber to get your kids to school.
First and foremost, look at your dash. Many cars have a battery warning light. I
f that’s on, it’s safe to say you should take your car to your technician to be checked.
Additionally, if your headlights are dim or flickering while your car is idling, that may be a warning that the electrical components in your car are not getting enough juice.
There are also physical signs on the battery itself that may suggest impending failure.
If you pop the hood and take a look, there are two things you should look for:
First, how does the battery case look? Is it bloated or cracked? Bloated battery cases are a sign of heat damage and hard freezes can cause a case to crack — both forms of damage may result in a slow loss of charge and a dead battery.
Secondly, is there corrosion on the battery terminals? Corrosion is the result of hydrogen gas leaking out from the acid in the battery and is usually caused by under or overcharging.
Corrosion is one of the most common causes of battery failure.
The good news is you — or the technicians at your auto repair shop — can assess the status and often clean it off to extend the life of the battery.
And then, sometimes a battery just dies, especially in winter.
That said, there are a few things you can do or buy to be more prepared for this.
First, when parking, back your car into garages instead of pulling into your parking spot. That way, if you do need to get a jump, your battery is accessible, and you won’t need to push your car out of the garage first.
If you find yourself jumping cars often, it may be worth investing in a pair of extra-long jumper cables to help alleviate that process even more.
There are also a few items you can purchase to help maintain a healthy battery through these chillier months.
A block heater helps keep your engine and its components warm while increasing the chance that the vehicle will start — as an added bonus, it warms up your car before you get in it.
A trickle charger is a small battery attached to your car battery and plugged into an outlet and produces a low amount of current.
That current slowly charges your battery in a safe manner that you can leave unattended.
If it continually takes a couple cranks to start your engine, you may want to consult your technician about switching to synthetic oil.
Synthetic oil can help your car start faster by reducing the power needed from the battery to turn the car over.
The best way to make sure your battery won’t fail you during the winter is to use it.
If you let your car sit for a week or longer, there is a much greater chance that it will lose its charge.
At the start of the season and during routine maintenance, simply ask your technician to run a battery check to see if it’s outputting a healthy voltage.
If not, that assessment is likely to be the jolt you need to invest in a new battery — and ultimately ensure that your car is ready to start on a journey when you are.