Five ways to prevent battery problems this winter
Most drivers only think about their vehicle’s battery when it goes dead.
“Fortunately, batteries rarely fail without warning and paying heed to their death throes can help you avoid frustration,” said Jim McIlvaine of OPTIMA Batteries, known around the industry as OPTIMA Jim.
Basic automobile batteries have remained unchanged for decades. They contain lead and plastic components along with an electrolyte solution of sulfuric acid and water. The solution interacts with the lead to generate power when you turn the key.
Science behind batteries has remained largely unchanged for more than 100 years. Another constant: Oppressive heat and frigid winter weather sucks the life out of a battery.
“Problems created in extremely hot conditions usually manifest themselves once the weather turns cold,” McIlvaine said. “When it is cold there is lower chemical activity in the battery itself, which would essentially make it a smaller box of energy.”
At zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees F), a battery loses half its charging power. Such a loss quickly puts a strain on the battery, and the rest of the vehicle’s charging system.
“Cold temperatures make engine oil cold and essentially make the engine larger and harder to start,” McIlvaine said.
To help keep your vehicle battery operating properly, McIlvaine offers the following suggestions for winter weather:
- Inspect your vehicle’s charging system every three months or every oil change. Batteries that are more than three years old should be tested more frequently.
- Maintain charge levels using a battery charger as needed, especially in regions facing extreme temperatures. However, any battery that needs such assistance to start a vehicle should be fully-recharged with a quality battery charger as soon as possible.
- Always get the battery checked before taking a long road trip. Have a professional mechanic inspect battery cables, posts and fasteners. Cables should have no fraying and must be secured firmly to the battery. Also look for cable corrosion, which reduces power from flowing from the battery. Proper voltage maintenance is the key to long battery life and peak performance.
- Make sure replacement batteries meet or exceed manufacturer recommendations for your specific vehicle. Battery ratings and size are particularly important to assure enough power for harsh weather conditions.
- Store your vehicle inside during harsh weather or invest in a battery heater to prevent loss of power.