Car batteries work in tandem with the rest of your starting and charging system to ensure your engine reliably turns over when you want it to. But the winter months can be especially tough on a battery. Here are a few cold-weather battery care precautions you can take to avoid unfortunate surprises on freezing-cold mornings.
The battery is primarily used to get your car up and running; after that, the alternator takes over and basically runs things while also recharging the battery for your next trip. But that first start takes a lot of power, and your battery has to be up to the task. Aside from the beating it just took during the hot summer months, your battery loses significant capacity when temperatures start to drop. Add in the extra work needed to get things moving in a bunch of cold, thick oil, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.
Batteries last for around three to five years. If your battery falls in that range and you notice unusual symptoms, be suspicious. Does the engine seem to turn over very slowly when you turn the key? Do you hear clicking or notice the headlights dimming when you try to start the car? Maybe your power windows are sluggish, or you straight-out have a battery warning sign on the dash.
If you notice these symptoms, take your car to your mechanic and ask for a battery load test. Remember, these symptoms can be caused by other problems, so a load test will either affirm or rule out the battery itself.
There are a number of steps you can take to avoid winter battery surprises. If possible, keep your car in a garage, offering at least a small bit of insulation from the cold when not in use. Also, keep the terminals clean from buildup and rust by using battery cleaner and protectant spray. Get regular checks as your battery ages, even in the summer months. Keep an eye out for the symptoms outlined above, so you can catch a problem before it catches you. Not all batteries allow it, but if possible, keep your electrolytes topped off.
Positive Driving Habits
The way you drive actually affects your battery life. It’s your alternator’s job to recharge the battery, but it can’t do so alone. Drive your vehicle regularly and allow enough time for your battery to completely recharge — about 20 minutes of driving. If it’s sitting unused in the driveway for weeks on end or only driven for very short periods every day, you’ll go through batteries much faster, as you’ll never give them a chance to fully cycle. In addition, be careful of the load you’re placing on the battery when it’s not in use. Unplug any phones or other electronic equipment when you’re not driving.
Without a good battery, you’ll go nowhere fast. But if you stay on top of maintenance and remain alert to any potential problems, you can avoid being left out in the cold this winter.
Check out all of the batteries available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on cold-weather battery care, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of 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.