A car battery voltage measure that reads zero.

Spot Car Battery Issues in Cold Weather Before They Freeze You Out

The primary responsibility of the battery is supplying cranking power to the starter, which turns the engine. Once the engine gets going, the alternator takes over and supplies power both to run the vehicle and recharge the battery.

Startup is very draining for a battery, however, and it takes at least 20 minutes to recharge it fully. Add these complications to a range of car battery issues in cold weather, and you could be looking at a very chilly stranding. Here’s how to get through the winter without car battery woes.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Batteries tolerate a range of temperatures, but both extreme hot and cold are damaging. The internal process that supplies electricity slows in very cold temperatures, so the starter requires more juice, which can be difficult to supply without a full and strong charge.

When operating a vehicle in severe winter weather, you’re also dealing with the serious beating your battery took during the summer. Excess heat evaporates electrolytes, and overheating reduces capacity, as well. It’s hard to say which extreme is a greater detractor from battery life, but if it dies in the winter, you feel it a little more.

Chill BroHow to Spot Car Battery Issues in Cold Weather Before They Freeze You Out

The cold also thickens your engine oil. Imagine all the internal components of an engine covered in goop and the increased effort it takes to move them under those conditions. This situation requires even more from your battery on startup.

Plus, winter means shorter days and likely more precipitation, so you run things like lights and wipers more. Accessories drain your battery and add to the time it takes to fully recharge. In addition, people are more likely to drive very small distances in the winter, because — let’s face it — it’s cold out.

Well Thawed Out

The good news is, you’re not powerless! Batteries generally last three to five years, so you have some idea of when your time is up. The best thing you can do is watch for signs that your battery is failing, and have it load tested and replaced before the cold weather hits. Keep in mind the cold-cranking-amps rating on the new battery after a replacement. The higher the better, as long as it falls within manufacturer specifications.

It’s also important to monitor the condition of the battery itself, keeping the terminals clean from corrosion, cables secure and electrolytes topped off. Use synthetic oil, which responds better to cold temperatures, and drive the vehicle regularly and long enough for a solid recharge. Don’t leave electronics plugged in when the engine is off, but do connect a trickle charger. This keeps your battery maintained when the engine is off and goes a long way toward averting surprises.

Winter is tough for all of us, batteries included. Even if you’ve taken the necessary precautions, it’s always a good idea to keep a set of jumper cables and a winter emergency kit in your vehicle, just in case. But with the right attention, your battery should provide the reliability you need to get you where you want to go.

Check out all the electrical system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on car battery issues in cold weather, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.

about author

Blair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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