There are only a few things that can bring more frustration than your car failing you in the morning. Cold weather can cause your car’s battery to malfunction, and some drivers may not understand why. However, by educating yourself on the facts, you will be able to avoid dealing with dead batteries during these frosty months.
In winter months especially, the sub-zero temperatures slow down the rate of chemical reactions required to fire up the battery and start the vehicle. Moreover, cold temperatures also make it hard for the engine to start thus making it require more power from the battery.
Additionally, below zero weather can freeze the battery. While a fully-charged battery is unlikely to freeze, one that is not fully-charged is susceptible to freezing. People also tend to use their cars much less during the cold months than in other times of the year. This is often what leads to a battery self-discharging thus making it that more susceptible to freezing.
When you put all these factors together, it is no wonder that your car is more likely to inconvenience you during winter than in other seasons. This article will discuss the various measures you can take to ensure that your car battery does not fail during this cold season.
So, a Battery Can Actually Freeze?
Yes, even though it takes extreme temperatures, it is still possible. This is why regular car maintenance during winter is recommended so as to ensure that your battery stays fully charged.
Fully charged batteries withstand temperatures as extreme as 76 below zero. However, a fully discharged battery will freeze at water’s freezing point. Though fully charged and fully discharged might sound as if they are on opposite ends of the spectrum – and they are – the difference is quite small. In fact, it is as small as an eighth of a volt.
A regular 12-volt battery usually consists of 6 cells. If either of these cells gets damaged, the entire battery’s voltage drops until it is fully discharged. This is why proper batter care is important to ensure that the batter stays in optimal condition.
Battery Maintenance Tips
1. Consider Your Battery’s Age
An old battery is more susceptible to failure than a new one. Batteries have different lifespans, however, most last between five and ten years. A rule of thumb is to consider your car’s age. If your car is relatively old and is still using its original battery, it is wise to get a new battery before the cold season kicks in. Size, however, is not everything when it comes to car batteries. The most important thing is the make. The battery you purchase needs to be what your car needs. Verify this at your car’s manual.
2. Check for Corrosion
Corrosion happens when there is a faulty connection that allows the battery acid to escape and damage the surrounding areas. This can cause the battery to malfunction and stop working entirely. To prevent this from happening, ensure to perform routine battery inspections. Do this by carefully cleaning away all or any corrosive residue that might have collected. Also, ensure that the battery is seated correctly.
3. Get a Battery Blanket
This is a blanket that you can wrap around the battery before putting it inside the cover. The blanket comes with a cord that can be plugged into a wall outlet. When charged, the battery is able to produce enough heat to ensure that the battery fluid does not freeze. You can also mount a trickle charger onto the battery. This will provide the battery with enough power to prevent it from freezing.
4. Check Your Accessory Usage
Starting the car with the heater or radio on can prevent it from starting because the battery’s power might be directed towards enabling these processes thus compromising its ability to start the vehicle. Also, avoid leaving the radio or heater on when the car is idling. This might cause the vehicle to be unable to put out enough power to the alternator to allow it to charge the battery.
5. Disconnect the Battery
If you are planning on keeping the car inside the garage throughout the winter, it is recommended that you disconnect the battery. This is because devices such as alarm systems and clocks will continue to drain the battery’s power long after switching off the vehicle. Therefore, if you know the vehicle is going to be immobile for so long that it will not be able to recharge its battery, disconnect the battery so that its power is not drained unnecessarily.
Jump-starting the Car
When your car battery fails you, jump-starting it often solves the problem. While it might be a fairly straightforward process, jumping the can be dangerous if you do not take the necessary precautions.
The best advice, however, is that if you do not have experience jump-starting a car or are unsure about your skills, it is best to let a professional do it to avoid damaging either or both vehicles.
Nevertheless, we will let you in on all you need to know about jump-starting a car as it might be a situation where you will have do to it yourself.
Before you begin, here are the tools you require:
- A pair of jumper cables with rust-free clamps
- Rubber work-gloves
- A pair of auto repair-rated splash-proof safety goggles
- Wire brush
- Another vehicle with a battery that has the same voltage as yours and is fully charged.
What You Should Do When Jumping the Vehicle?
Well, to be frank. Read Your Owner’s Manual
Before you attempt a jump-start, first read this manual as it may contain information that affects the process you are about to embark on. For instance, new car models are coming with jump-start lugs where you can attach the cable rather than attaching to the terminals directly.
Moreover, some manufacturers do not allow their vehicles to be jump-started. Doing so could see you void your warranty. Other vehicles come with special instructions on how to properly carry out this process.
- Check the Battery Voltage on both vehicles
- Bring the Vehicles Close to One Another
- Ensure the engine of the car with the fully charged battery is off
- Device chargers and other accessories should be unplugged.
- Have both cars in neutral and be sure to engage the parking brake.
- Radios, headlights, and other signals need to be off in both cars.
- Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves.
What You Should NOT Do
- Do not lean over either battery.
- Do not smoke.
- Do not jump-start a car that has frozen battery fluid as it could lead to an explosion.
- Similarly, do not jump-start a cracked or leaking battery as it may explode.
After following the above steps and precautions, the next step is to locate both cars’ batteries. As mentioned earlier, vehicles today are configured differently, and as such, the battery might not be in an accessible location. In such a case, look for the lugs.
After locating the battery or lugs, examine them carefully to be sure where the positive and negative terminals are in each vehicle. The positive terminal is denoted by the (+) sign and usually has red wires and a red cover while the negative (-) terminals typically have black wires and cover. You might have to move the terminal covers to get to the actual terminal. If your battery has a case of dirty or corroded terminals, clean them using the wire brush.
To carry out a proper jump-start, you’ll have to create a circuit in order to carry over current from the good battery to the dead one. This is the exact order you will follow when connecting the cables:
- Connect the positive (red) terminals of both cars using the red cable. When connecting, first attach the cable on the good car’s battery first then the dead battery.
- Now connect one end of the negative (black) cable to the negative terminal of the car with the good battery.
- Place the unattached end of the black cable to a metal part of the car with the dead battery. That metal part needs to be unpainted and as far away from the battery as it can. The purpose of doing this is to ground the circuit so as to prevent sparking. When you connect that end to the dead battery’s terminal, you be running a risk of the battery exploding.
- Now make sure that none of your jumper cables are touching an engine part that will start moving once the engine is started.
When it comes to jump-starting a dead car’s battery, there are technically two ways you can go about it:
• The Safe Way
Here, after connecting the cables as explained in the section above, start the engine of the car with the good battery and let it idle for a few minutes (five to 10 minutes) so that it charges the dead car’s battery. Once those 10 minutes are over, turn off the car and remove the cables starting with the dead car. While removing the cables, be careful that they do not touch each other as it might result in sparking. Now try and start the engine of the vehicle that had a dead battery.
• The Other Way
Again, start the engine of the car with the fully charged battery and let it idle for the prescribed ten minutes to let it charge the drained battery. Without switching off the engine or removing the cables, try and start the car that had a dead battery. If it doesn’t come to come to life, let the good car continue running for another ten minutes.
If the vehicle with the dead battery still won’t start, readjust the positioning of the red (positive) cable to a small degree with the hope of getting a good connection. Try and start the dead car’s engine again. If it, hopefully, comes to life, remove the cables starting with the previously dead car while being cautious not to let them touch.
If it doesn’t start despite all your efforts, it could be indicative of a larger issue. At this point, you should call a trusted mechanic.
Getting a Good Quality Battery
Majority of your battery issues can be avoided if your car was using a good-quality battery. A good battery will run for longer while being able to withstand extreme conditions. It is a relatively small investment for your car that might save you a lot of trouble. Fortunately, a battery is one of the easiest car parts to replace.
When you go to an auto parts store, you will notice that there is an array of choices when looking for a battery. Their prices range anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on the type of vehicle the battery is meant for as well as the brand.
Nevertheless, apart from the price, there are things to be considered as well when out shopping for a battery. They include:
- Lead-acid batteries have withstood the test of time and are still the most popular battery-type, and with good reason. Lead-acids have built a reputation out of being reliable while being cost-friendly. The lesser-known but arguably superior type is the spiral grid battery that utilizes electrolyte and absorbent glass mats (AGM). Spiral grids last longer, have better vibration resistance, and low discharge. Nevertheless, they can be pricey.
- Cold Cranking Amps (CCA)
- This is a rating that indicates the amount of current that a battery can sustain for 30 seconds at temperatures of 64 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher rating indicates that the battery is better equipped at handling cold weather.
- Reserve Capacity
- This rating is a measure of how long a battery can maintain 25 amperes at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer, the better.
- During your search, you will use the material used, CCA, and reserve capacity to eliminate your choices. After coming down to a few, now check their warranties. Of course. You will go for one with the best warranty. However, ensure that its price is within your budget.
Winter is upon us. However, this does not mean that you should be jump-starting your car every other day. A properly maintained vehicle will be able to handle all the cold weather has to offer.
For over 70 years, Mac’s Automotive Service has been dedicated to providing the best auto care services to the residents of Oregon and Idaho. Using skill and earned experience, our technicians know exactly what to do to make your car winter ready. This will involve evaluating and fine-tuning your heating, window, and anti-freeze systems to make your vehicle cold hardy. Contact us today to schedule a service or to learn more about our services.