10. 9. 8. The temperatures across the Front Range are getting colder.
Do you know if your car battery is charged and ready for the winter?
It’s no secret that Colorado has wild weather all year long, especially in the winter. You can drive to work in sunshine with the windows down, and leave with a full-blown blizzard and arctic temperatures that create dangerous situations.
Yet driving isn’t the only hazardous thing you might incur. If you haven’t checked your car battery in a while, it might not start when you need it. And as the sun sets and the winds blow colder, that can be an uncomfortable situation.
Maybe now is the time to ensure your car battery is working at its best.
How a basic car battery functions
A car battery is like the heart of your vehicle’s electrical system. It works by storing electrical energy in a chemical form and then releasing it when you need to start the engine and power various electrical systems in your car.
This magic happens through a lead-acid battery, the standard in most cars. A car battery has two lead plates soaked in sulfuric acid. One plate is made of lead dioxide, and the other is lead. When the battery charges, it goes through a chemical reaction, converting the lead dioxide into lead sulfate and releasing electrical energy, creating a voltage difference between the two plates.
When you turn your ignition key, your car battery springs into action, sending an electric current to the starter motor. This motor cranks the engine to life. This initial power surge is a significant jolt for the battery, and it needs to be in good shape to do it effectively.
But the battery’s job doesn’t end there; it also provides power to various electrical systems like the lights, radio, air conditioning, and power windows when the engine isn’t running. The alternator, another part of the car’s electrical system, takes over while the engine is running, charging the battery and keeping all those electrical systems humming.
As you use your car and its electrical components, the battery gets depleted, which can affect its efficiency. The recharging process happens while you’re driving, thanks to the alternator. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on the battery’s condition, maintain clean terminals, and ensure it’s adequately charged.
How cold and hot weather affect a car battery
Batteries operate well in average weather conditions. However, Colorado has anything but average weather conditions. Remember how we talked about temperature extremes a few paragraphs ago? That weather can play tricks on your car battery.
When the temperature drops, your battery’s performance can take a nosedive. The cold slows down the chemical reactions happening inside your battery, making it less effective at delivering power. It’s like the battery goes into hibernation mode. As a result, your battery loses some of its juice, and starting your car can become a real struggle.
In extremely cold conditions, the engine oil thickens, which, combined with the reduced battery capacity, makes starting your car an uphill battle. Sometimes, it might not start at all. Plus, frequent cold exposure can take a toll on your battery’s overall lifespan.
It’s not just cold weather that can take its toll. When the temperature soars, your battery isn’t in its happy place either. High temperatures cause your battery to self-discharge faster, meaning it loses its charge more quickly, even when your engine is taking a break. The heat can also speed up a not-so-friendly process called sulfation, where lead sulfate crystals build up on your battery’s plates, reducing its capacity and lifespan over time.
Excessive heat can also shorten your battery’s lifespan. It can cause some serious, sometimes permanent, damage that might mean an early retirement for your battery. In scorching weather, your battery’s electrolyte (the acid solution inside) can evaporate, leading to reduced electrolyte levels and potential overheating.
Most batteries come with a three to seven-year life, depending on the battery you install. It works hard day after day, taking the abuse the weather dishes out. (Yes, there are other impacts. The weather plays a significant role.)
Preventative car battery maintenance as we head into winter
Now that we’ve covered how the weather can mess with your car battery, let’s talk about what you can do to keep it in good shape, especially as we’re heading into the winter months.
First off, it’s a great idea to give your battery a little love before winter sets in. Start by doing a visual inspection. Check for any signs of corrosion or damage on the battery terminals and cables. If you see any gunk or buildup on the terminals, clean them up using a mixture of baking soda and water and a wire brush. This helps ensure a good electrical connection and keeps your battery humming.
Next, have a professional do a battery load test. They’ll check how well your battery holds a charge. If it’s not up to snuff, it might be time to consider a replacement. After all, you don’t want to be left out in the cold with a dead battery when you’re trying to start your car on a chilly morning.
During winter, every bit of power counts. So, if your battery’s on the older side, it’s worth thinking about a replacement before it gives up on you in the cold. Newer batteries tend to perform better in low temperatures, and have less chance of breaking down.
While Colorado isn’t a hub of arctic weather, you might choose to consider where your car is parked at night. Living in the foothills is different from living downtown. Having a garage provides more warmth and protection than if your car resides in a parking lot. If your car lives in frosty conditions, consider using a battery warmer or insulator. These handy devices can help keep your battery’s temperature up a bit, so it’s more willing to cooperate when you turn the key.
Finally, keep in mind that batteries need to be recharged regularly. Usually, this happens by using your car for your daily drive. If it sits in the garage most days, rarely used, a battery maintainer (or a trickle charger) is a great investment. It keeps your battery topped off and ready to roll, even if you rarely drive your car.
Is your car battery ready for winter?
A little preventative maintenance before winter can go a long way in ensuring your car battery behaves when you need it most. If you haven’t thought about your car battery yet this fall, maybe now is the time.
Give it a little TLC yourself. Or stop by, and we’ll test it out here. Either way, your battery will thank you when those frosty mornings roll around!