The car battery is an often overlooked component of any car, but it is essential to check that it is in good condition. Only in this way, in fact, this component and the vehicle equipping it are destined to last longer.
This was confirmed by recent research carried out by Johnson Controls, one of the largest global companies in the production of batteries for the automotive sector with 146 million batteries supplied in 2016 alone, which discovered that 26% of the 67,000 vehicles examined through a VARTA battery test had a car battery in poor conditions.
So what can you do in order to prevent your car from having an issue with its battery? After reading this article you’ll know everything you need to preserve your battery and extend its life expectancy. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What a Battery Really is…
Car batteries are devices for the accumulation of electrical energy (which occurs through a chemical process) and work in all respects like a normal battery: the main part consists of two electrodes, one positive and one negative, immersed in an electrolyte (substance which in solution breaks down into ions).
The purpose of the battery is to accumulate electricity and release it in the form of direct current: in our cars the function of the battery is to allow the starter motor to be turned on through a small discharge and to keep the electrical system active.
Batteries are usually made up of lead electrodes immersed in sulfuric acid diluted in water and, luckily for us, can be recharged once the charge is exhausted.
… and Why Does it Die When not in Use?
However, batteries are not eternal, and can run into operating problems.
The first problem: sulphation
When the battery is in operation a current develops between the electrodes, which over time changes its chemical composition, converting lead into lead sulphate: the latter will eventually cover the negative electrode with a white patina. This phenomenon, called sulphation, in the long run, can make any battery unusable.
Fortunately, car batteries deliver a short discharge of a few seconds to allow the starter motor to be turned on, and then are automatically recharged, while the car is running, by the dynamo to which they are connected.
In theory, therefore, the sulphation process could be avoided, were it not for the fact that we often adopt the wrong behaviors (such as keeping the electrical system on for a long time while the car is not running).
A second problem: battery self-discharge.
The batteries can also be damaged as a result of another phenomenon, the so-called self-discharge: in practice, the level of the electrolyte liquid drops too much (often due to evaporation), favoring oxidation and deterioration of the conductors due to a higher concentration of acid. In these cases, short circuits can occur which make them unusable.
So, what can be done in order to preserve the optimal status of our car’s battery? Here I collected some tips you can adopt in order to avoid surprises and assure that your battery will last many years ahead.
Tip 1. When Your Car is Stationary, Always Turn Off Lights And Radio
The first suggestion would seem trivial, but “forgetting the lights on” is one of the main causes for which the car battery runs out. Here’s my first recommendation: always turn off lights and radio when your vehicle is stationary, in this way you will avoid draining your battery and preserve its efficiency.
Tip 2. Check the Battery Electrolytes
Battery electrolytes only work efficiently when immersed in distilled water. Precisely 1 cm below the top of the cathode. Due to leaks, evaporation, or overload, the water level could drop, exposing the metal part to the open air causing damages in a few days.
For this reason, about once every 3 months, I recommend that you check the water levels, following these simple steps:
- First make sure the car is turned off
- Open the hood of the car, locate the battery and clean it with ammonia-soaked paper
- Take out the battery by removing the caps
- With the help of a torch, check if each all the holes have a sufficient level of water
- If you see a metal part that comes out fill it with the help of a funnel only with distilled water (no more than 1 cm from the cathode and the anode)
- Dry any residual water in the battery, reapply the caps and install it back in the car
If you are going to do this by yourself, equip yourself with all the necessary safety tools, including safety glasses, gloves, and sleeves up to the wrists: many of the acids present in car batteries are corrosive and it is advisable to be careful. Better be safe than sorry…
On the other hand, if you don’t feel safe just take the car to your trusted mechanic. The check is often done quickly and free of charge.
Tip 3. Avoid Excessively Low or High Temperatures
It is a fundamental rule for all types of batteries, and that of the car is no exception. If you live in a particularly cold place or winter is approaching, you need to protect the battery with a thermal cover (such as a blanket) which is able to protect the battery from low temperature spikes. Also, parking the car in your garage, especially at night, will shield your battery from the effects of the cold.
On the contrary, in case of very hot summer temperatures, a suggestion would be to try to park your car park in the shade of a tree or of a building, especially during the hottest hours of the day.
Tip 4. Keep Terminals Always Well Cleaned
The battery terminals are those electrical contacts with which it is possible to charge it by inserting the red and black plugs. Although they are inevitably subject to corrosion over time, there is a way to delay this process: always keep the terminals well cleaned. That’s how:
- Prepare a solution of water and bicarbonate
- Dip a old toothbrush in the solution and rub until the corrosive accumulation formed is completely removed
- Clean the battery carefully and reinstall it
- Repeat this once a month
Tip 5. Avoid Irregular Use
Many motorists believe that the electric current produced by the battery is not used when the vehicle is off. In reality, and especially with newest high-tech vehicles, this is not the case. Some systems, such as alarms and locks, keyless starting and navigation functions, need electricity even when the car is parked, causing the battery to drain.
In addition, even a prolonged non-use of the car could prevent regular ignition. Such a situation can occur especially in case of older batteries. Driving the car once a week for at least twenty minutes can help prevent the problem. This way the battery will always stay charged.
Also read: Solved: Nissan Altima- Dead Battery & Trunk
Tip 6. Buy A Battery Charger!
In case you move away from home for a long time and have to leave the car for months (and have no one to use the car in your stead to keep the battery efficient) your best option is to buy a battery charger that helps the battery maintain optimal voltage.
This is the most effective alternative in case you really can’t make sure to use your car for the minimum 20 minutes a week suggested.
Tip 7. Avoid Short Journeys
If you only take short journeys, the dynamo recharging your battery will not have enough time to fully charge it. Furthermore, and especially in winter, the components that require the most energy, such as heated rear windows and seats, will further drain the battery. For this reason, once a month it is advisable to travel a long way to recharge the battery with the car’s internal alternator.
Tip 8. Check the Age of the Vehicle
Finally, if you have a car that is already several years old, it is likely that the battery charge capacity has decreased. It is therefore essential to carry out the periodic checks that I listed above to be sure that it recharges periodically and functions correctly.
Bonus Tip. How to Connect Cables to Turn Your Car on Should Your Battery Dies off
I wanted to conclude this article by giving you a final, bonus, tip on how to connect the cables to the battery and start the car should you find yourself with a dead battery.
Once you have found someone who provides a car that “lends” energy, position it with the engine compartment as close as possible to that of the faulty car and proceed as follows:
- Turn off the engine and open the engine compartments of the two cars
- Turn off anything that can absorb voltage (radio, lights, windshield wipers, and remember to disconnect any devices that are charging)
- Check both vehicles’ batteries for damage, such as leaking fluid or ruptures. In this case, the only solution is to call the tow truck or your mechanic. Any other option would be too dangerous
- If everything is okay, take the cables and being careful not to cross them, connect them in this order:
- The first red clamp to the positive pole (+) of the discharged battery
- The second red clamp to the positive pole (+) of the charged battery
- The first black clamp to the negative pole (-) of the charged battery
- The second black clamp to a non-rusted and unpainted piece of body metal, possibly away from the battery, of the broken-down car
N.B. Do not connect the second black clamp to the negative pole of the discharged battery, as closing the circuit can cause dangerous sparks
- Start the rescue vehicle and let the engine idle for about 5 minutes, after which you try to start the engine of the broken-down car as well. If that doesn’t work, wait another 5 minutes and try again
When successful, disconnect the cables in the reverse order to that of connection and keep the rescued vehicle on for at least 30 minutes in order to allow for a partial recharge, consequently it would be advisable to have your battery checked in order to avoid this inconvenient to happen again