If you’ve ever been stranded because of a dead car battery, you know it’s not a lot of fun.
What causes it?
Age is only one factor that determines how well the battery will operate. What you might not have considered before is how the Colorado climate impacts your car battery.
Think of all Colorado weather can dish out. Just recently, Denver broke a 145-year-old record as temperatures climbed above 100 degrees for the fifth time this year. But warmth isn’t the only thing Front Range residents experience. Looking back through history, temperatures have dropped down as low as 29 degrees below zero.
Think these wild and crazy temperatures don’t impact the performance of your car battery? Think again.
Yet which is worse: heat or cold? Which climate impacts your car battery more?
What hot weather does to a car battery
While most people assume cold weather has the most impact on the performance of a car battery, summertime temperatures can wreak havoc too. That’s because high temperatures weaken the battery because of heat.
As temperatures climb, if you were to reach under the hood and record how hot it is, you would find it rises as high as 140 degrees or higher. Under that amount of extreme heat, battery fluid starts to evaporate, which can damage the internal structure of the battery.
Extreme temperature can also cause the voltage regulator and other charging components to malfunction, ultimately overcharging the battery system. This slows function and ultimately means the battery fails faster than its stated life.
Heat can also build inside and allow the lead plates inside the battery to corrode. Corrosion leads to deterioration, and ultimately failure.
What cold weather does to a car battery
While car batteries can die at any time, with or without extreme temperatures, as winter moves in and the temperatures continue to dive, it can break down the internal components of a battery.
Car batteries aren’t something you replace like motor oil. Instead, car batteries can last three to seven years. That means a car battery will experience heat buildup during summer months, only to turn around and face freezing conditions in the winter. That cyclical beating can take its toll.
Cold weather can reduce the capacity of the battery by as much as 20 percent as temperatures drop to freezing, and as much as 50 percent when we start setting record lows. This reduction in capacity lowers battery output, which weakens the process of starting the car.
Cold temperatures also cause motor oil to thicken and solidify, making it harder for the engine to turn over. That forces the battery to work even harder, even though capacity is struggling for power.
A battery doesn’t power your vehicle. Instead, it’s used as a charge to turn the engine over, and provides power to the accessories like car windows and radio. As you drive your car, it recharges the battery, so it’s ready for your next outing. In cold weather, this recharging process slows down. That means you’ll have to drive further to accomplish the same recharge process. If you only head out on short errands, it might not be enough to keep the battery working efficiently.
The coldest days are also the shortest days. Cold brings out dreary weather, cloudy skies, and sunrise and sunset to shorten considerably. That means you’ll use things like headlights, windshield wipers, and heater functions more than ever. This increases the battery load at a time where the recharge rate is reduced too.
How to keep your car battery healthy all year long
Car batteries are not something you have to maintain; they simply need to be replaced every three to seven years. While you will find some batteries that have a water level indicator, allowing you to see the battery’s water level, most are sealed.
Still, it’s worth your time to pop the hood from time to time and check out the condition of your battery. Make sure that the battery and its posts are clean and free from dirt and engine grease. Dirt and grease act as a conductor, meaning they’ll lower battery power.
You’ll also want to ensure there isn’t corrosion anywhere on or near the battery. Battery corrosion often takes on a blueish tint. If enough corrosion builds up, it acts as an insulator, which prevents current flow in your battery.
To reduce the chances of impact from extreme temperatures, pay attention to where you park. If possible, park in a garage. Look for spots that are shaded by trees or buildings. This keeps the effect of sunlight to a minimum.
How to know if your car battery is weak
In the same way that the human body breaks down in record-setting temperatures, you’ll notice similar impact on your vehicle. High temperatures make us more susceptible to dehydration; the heat dries us out. Inside a battery, the liquid can evaporate as it experiences high heat, especially for long periods of time. This weakens the battery’s charge, and speeds up deterioration.
This isn’t an overnight process. Just like other systems on your vehicle, your car battery will give off warning signs as it starts to fail.
- As you start your car, listen to the engine cranking over. Does it take longer to start?
- The check engine or battery light may illuminate for short periods.
- If you have a battery with a water-level indicator, this fluid level will be low.
- The battery case may appear bloated or swollen.
- The battery posts have corrosion.
- You start to notice accessories like headlights appear dim and aren’t working at top levels.
- Your battery is three years old or older.
Just because your battery stated a specific life span, doesn’t mean you’ll see it. It depends on driving conditions too. As you near the three-year mark, it often makes sense just to replace the battery if you start to notice any of the above symptoms frequently.
Wonder if Colorado’s climate is impacting the way your car battery performs? Bring it in. We can check your battery and determine if it’s still functioning correctly, making it a solid and dependable part of your vehicle. If it needs replacing, we can help there too.
Don’t get stranded – check your battery instead.