There are many car parts that are vital to the smooth running of a vehicle; brakes for example should be in perfect order, but there is one component without which that car is going nowhere and that is the humble and much ignored battery. We are so used to reliable motors these days that a lot of folk might not even know where it is. It’s in there somewhere; the car starts, so what is there to worry about?
Well, a few things: In fact the battery is such an essential ingredient in the mix of happy motoring that it warrants further investigation and attention.
What A Car Battery Does
The starter motor requires electrical energy. The car battery is a little chemical laboratory in its own right. Chemical energy becomes electrical energy and that energy is stored in chemical form and is converted into the electricity that enables the vehicle to start. Once it is up and running the alternator powers the systems and surplus energy is saved to the battery.
How To Prevent Car Battery Problems
The first item to point out is safety. There’s a lot of juice in a good battery and, as everyone knows, electricity is not something to fool about with. If in doubt, don’t. Before touching the battery, make sure the car is turned off and, as an additional safety measure, that the ignition key is removed. The days are gone when serious amateur mechanics would fettle their batteries, testing and adding electrolyte. These days they are sealed units, thankfully but here is still a need to keep the exterior in good order.
Electrical current to and from the battery is distributed by the plus and minus connectors, attached to the terminals. For a battery to work effectively these need to be tight. If a car won’t start, then this is one of the first things to check. Any play at all and they should be tightened up using a pair of spanners. Finally, smear a little grease or petroleum jelly which helps prevent corrosion. If this all seems to daunting then get in touch with the local car servicing garage and get it seen to, possibly as part of an interim service.
Batteries do not like extremes. When it is very cold the battery and starter motor need all the help they can get. Do this by turning off all ancillary equipment like air-con or climate control, the audio, heated seats, headlights and the like. This reduces strain on the battery, and prolongs useful life.
The battery doesn’t much like it too hot either. So on those infrequent days when the mercury rises, try to park under cover or in a shady spot.
There’s the old story about American car users that says they would sooner load the family up in the car and drive one hundred yards to get a burger rather than walk. Are we getting like this? Cars don’t like short trips, they never really get warmed up and start working at peak efficiency.
Short journeys are no help to a battery either. It takes a lot of punishment from starting and doesn’t really get a chance to top itself up. On an older unit, this might spell the beginning of the end and ultimately lead to a flat battery. It should go without saying, but ensure that everything, including headlights are switched off when not in use.
If many short trips are essential then try to regularly, at least once a week, give the car a good run of at least half an hour to feed the battery.
The Worst Case Scenario
If a battery goes flat and is known to be old then the best answer is to replace it, having first established that it is not caused by a fault elsewhere. An illuminated battery light on the dashboard is a hint. Otherwise, battery chargers are inexpensive and worth keeping in the shed just in case. Put the car on charge overnight and all should be well. Similarly, a set of jump leads are also a handy accessory as it is straightforward to start a car using another vehicle’s battery. Note: There’s a safety procedure here so make sure the method is clear.
If these solutions don’t seem to make any difference longer-term then it is time for a change. Why not consider changing the battery every three years as part of a service plan?