A car’s battery takes a beating during what can often be a long life; but they don’t last forever. Not too many years ago, the battery was an item that received regular attention from car owners, having the electrolyte topped up and terminals cleaned. These days they are sealed units and that’s why motorists tend to forget about them. That’s a mistake.
The Tell-Tale Light
Batteries will usually let the owner know when something is wrong but by then it’s often too late. There’s a red battery warning light somewhere on the gauges in front of the driver that will illuminate when there is an electrical problem, although this may not be caused by the battery alone; other factors can come into play, like faulty alternators. The fault might be obvious or it might be one of those mystery problems that leaves frustrated drivers scratching their heads. Whatever the reason, it’s time to get the electrical system checked by the local servicing garage.
When It’s Too late
When the battery itself fails it is usually at the most inconvenient time. A car with a flat battery will have dim or low headlights, starting may be difficult or maybe the car will not start at all: All the drivers hears is the clunk of doom as the starter motor fails to turn over.
In the past, owners would remove the battery and power it up using a charger. This is still good advice but modern batteries, provided the car is working properly, should be routinely charged when the car is operating so it is more likely that the battery has reached the end of its useful life. That’s when it is time to buy a new one. It is a DIY job (bearing in mind electrical safety) but most folk these days get one fitted by the local motor factor or garage.
How To Get The Best Out Of A Battery
With all the electrical accessories and technology installed in modern motors there can be a tiny, yet constant, drain on the battery, keeping devices going. That’s normal and the battery will be refreshed anyway in regular use.
That said, the car needs to be used regularly. During 2020, with restricted movement imposed upon the public, cars have perhaps not been used as much or indeed at all. This is detrimental to the battery. Here are some ideas to maintain battery health:
Perform routine checks
In the same way that a car owner will regularly check oil and fluid levels and tyre pressures, the battery should get a visual inspection. Are the terminals clean and tight? (Note: Do NOT attempt this with the engine running). If not clean them up and tighten with a spanner. A little petroleum jelly will help prevent corrosion.
Reduce Cold Start Strain
When starting from cold and especially in chilly weather, turn off all other ancillary equipment; heaters, infotainment and the like. That way the battery can get on with the job of starting without undue strain.
If leaving a car unused for an extended period of days consider buying a trickle charger. This will keep the battery topped up when not in use. It’s a simple job to attach and can be safely left. If the car is to be left for a longer period then it’s a good idea to remove the battery fully. This will prevent any slow drain but check the handbook first.
Some folk will drive to the shops even if they are only several hundred metres away. Short journeys are a drain on batteries as are unnecessary stop/start episodes. If using the car, do try to run it for fifteen or twenty minutes to get it fully warmed up; just like an athlete.
Cars failing when least expected or when time is of the essence can be a real problem. A good battery regime is essential to make the most of it but, if in doubt, the solution is to get a new one fitted pronto. Ask your local automotive professional.