Everything You Need to Know About Your Car Battery
Written by DriveAxis.ca August 02, 2023
Cars have an enormous number of parts necessary for operation, but few are as misunderstood as the battery. This large, bulky and heavy part of the car is also one of the most important, because without it, you aren’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, car batteries sit under the hood where they’re often forgotten about, and that can spell trouble at the worst of times.
To prevent annoying breakdowns and costly replacements, it’s good to know how your car battery operates, and what you can do to keep it in tip top shape. This will keep things running smoothly, and you’ll gain extra peace of mind knowing that your battery will remain reliable for years to come. Read on to learn more.
HOW A BATTERY CHARGES
In contrast to regular throwaway batteries, the one in your car is constantly recharging itself every time you drive. Your daily to-and-from workplace commute goes a long way towards keeping the battery topped up and at peak efficiency, but the less you drive, the greater risk there is of the charge depleting completely. Once that happens, your car battery is as good as dead, and will require a replacement, which can cost a hefty sum.
HOW LONG DOES A CAR BATTERY LAST
Typically, car batteries last anywhere from 3-5 years without requiring a replacement, providing you are keeping it in peak condition. That being said, some batteries will run for longer than 5 years, although this is not recommended, as the chances of a battery failure go up considerably after that time. If necessary, ask your mechanic to give your battery a quick checkup to see if it’s running correctly from time to time, so you have some idea of how things are operating.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR STARTUPS
Unsure if your battery is on the fritz? Try paying attention when you start your car, especially after it has been sitting overnight. Does the startup feel or sound more sluggish than normal? That means your battery is working extra-hard to turn the engine over, which could be a sign of trouble. Those who drive their cars infrequently may notice this phenomenon more than others. When in doubt, take your car out for a good, long drive at least once a week in order to top up the charge. If, however, you’re experiencing a sluggish startup even under optimal operating conditions, your battery may need replacing.
INSPECT AND CLEAN YOUR BATTERY
Batteries are not to be trifled with, so make sure you’re being careful so as not to injure yourself. Always remove the battery cables from the terminals as instructed in your operator’s manual to avoid shock and potential damage to your car. Next, examine the connection terminals themselves. If they appear to be suffering from a buildup of crusty material, clean them off so the contacts are spotless and uninterrupted. These material deposits do possess conductive properties, which means they will drain your battery little by little over time. Always clean your battery after it has been disconnected from the car - no exceptions!
USE A TRICKLE CHARGER
Do you store your car for the winter months while you escape to a Florida timeshare? Keep in mind that your battery is still running, even while the car is off. This will cause a continuous drain as the car’s electrical components access the battery to maintain operations. When it’s finally time to take the car out of storage and hit the road in the spring, you may discover that the battery is completely dead.
To prevent this, invest in a trickle charger which connects to the battery and a local power outlet. This little device will feed a charge to the battery, keeping it topped up and consistent when the car is out of action for a prolonged period of time. It’s healthy for the battery, and better for the car. It’s also a much cheaper solution than buying an entirely new battery.
HOW TO JUMPSTART YOUR BATTERY
If your battery does die, chances are it’ll happen when you’re on the road, and typically when you’ve turned the car off. This can be problematic when you stop for gas during a long trip, only to discover that your car won’t start afterwards. Thankfully, most people will gladly assist you in jumpstarting your car so you can at least make it home, to a mechanic’s shop, or an automotive store to purchase another battery.
Jumpstarting (boosting) your dead battery may seem a little scary for first-timers, but it’s far less intimidating than it seems. Simply stick to the following steps, and you’ll be fine.
1) Keep a pair of jumper cables in your car at all times, just in case the other person doesn’t have one. You’ll also need to know where your battery is situated under the hood. Most manufacturers make it easy to get to, but others hide their batteries under roll bars, engine covers, etc. Before jumpstarting your car, make sure to turn your hazard lights on so other drivers know something is up.
2) Locate the positive and negative terminals on your battery, marked with a + and - for easy reference. Next, attach the red (positive) clamp to the + terminal on your battery, then connect it to the positive terminal on your donor’s battery in the other vehicle. Repeat the process for the negative terminal, but beware to avoid touching the negative clamp to any other piece of metal, including another clamp, as this can cause damage. Don’t be alarmed if the clamp sparks upon contact, as this is a sign of a power connection.
3) Start the donor’s vehicle and leave the engine running for a moment, then turn on your car. This will start feeding power from the donor battery to your own battery, giving it the boost it needs to start the vehicle. This may, or may not require a few tries to get things going. Don’t be surprised if the startup is sluggish or difficult, as your battery is not operating at peak efficiency. If the engine does not turn over after three or four tries, stop and call a towing company, as you’ll risk damaging the start motor.
4) Remove the cables in reverse order, close your car’s hood, and leave the engine running. In normal circumstances, you’ll be able to go for a lengthy drive to charge up the battery, at which point you should be fine. However, do not turn off the car until you’re home, at your mechanic’s shop, or a store where you can buy another battery, or you’ll run the risk of it not starting up again. Sometimes, battery damage is so severe that all you can do is boost your car for one drive before requiring another boost later on.
KEEP A PORTABLE BOOSTER PACK IN YOUR CAR
It doesn’t cost a lot to purchase a decent portable booster pack in case of emergencies. These small brick-like devices replicate a jumpstart, without the need for a good samaritan. This can be advantageous when driving at night, in remote areas, or where timing is a factor. Simply charge up the booster pack and place it in your car, and you’ll never have to worry about a dead battery. Keep in mind that while booster packs do hold their charge for a significant amount of time, they too will need a top up at certain intervals in order to stay reliable, so make sure to read the instructions. Also, make sure to choose a booster pack that is suitable for your particular vehicle, whether it’s a small sedan, or a heavy-duty pickup truck.
Nobody wants to deal with a dead battery, but they do cause issues from time to time. Chances are, you’ll run into this problem, especially if you decide to keep your car for a lengthy amount of time. Adhering to the tips listed above is a surefire way to minimize the risk, while giving you convenient backup options in case your battery decides to call it quits. Be prepared by researching, investing in the right tools, and learning the skills needed to deal with a car battery, and you’ll be right as rain.
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