As a society, we’re busy, busy. It’s hard to imagine surviving in Denver without the use of a car. We start it, stop it, and start it up again as we drop the kids off at school, drive to work, head out to a meeting, stop by the store, and run to a friend’s for dinner plans.
They might only be short trips of twenty miles or less, but we rely on our cars to go at our beck and call.
Yet times are changing.
Maybe you’re like one of many who has decided to move in from the suburbs. Urban living is your thing. You’ve invested in a condo right in the heart of the city to make your life easier. You walk to shops and restaurants. You work from home – who needs a car during the week? So your vehicle sits there in its space, only ready and waiting for when you decide to roadtrip it for a little time away.
2020 has also taught us that the world can stop on a dime. Suddenly, we can go from our normal routines to staying in place overnight. Your car can sit there week after week, never starting up.
Which brings up the question: What does it take keeping your car battery charged if you don’t drive very much?
If you search online, you’ll find a host of answers.
One site will tell you to start it up every few days and let it idle in the driveway or parking space for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Another tells you you’ll have to drive it to get the full benefits of keeping your battery healthy and charged. Still another says today’s technology has improved enough, you really don’t have to worry about your battery much – just start it up once a month.
What do you believe?
How a car battery works
Even if you don’t know much about cars, you probably realize that a car battery is different from the battery you pop into your television remote, or into your smartphone.
The purpose of a battery is to translate chemical energy into electricity. A battery is made up of cells that hold chemical energy. When a connection is made, it moves stored chemical energy into electricity. That’s what powers up your devices.
Car batteries are a bit different as they rely on a lead-acid chemical reaction. Most vehicles come standard with an SLI battery, which stands for starting, lighting, and ignition. Instead of a steady stream of electricity, it provides short bursts of energy to power up your engine and jolt it into life.
If you were to look under the hood of your car and find your battery, you’d notice that it’s made up of six cells. Each cell has two plates attached, one of lead, the other lead dioxide. Each cell produces about 2 volts of energy. Six cells – two volts – that makes it a 12 volt battery.
These plates are submerged in sulphuric acid, providing a catalyst between the two to trigger a chemical reaction. Electrons race around each plate and generate electricity. It flows out of the battery terminals and into various parts of your car. Like the starter to kick your engine into gear. Or your headlights or radio.
Why car batteries die
Your car battery dies for one of three general reasons:
- Problems with your car battery
- Electrical system problems
- User error
If you run your vehicle properly and on a regular basis, keeping your car battery charged isn’t something you have to think much about. But over time, that changes. And that’s where problems begin.
Leaving the lights on – if any interior lights or your headlights stay on for an extended period of time, they drain the battery down.
A weak battery – batteries only last three to five years. The older it is, the weaker it is, the easier it can stop working.
Extreme temperatures – too hot or too cold conditions further weaken a battery, especially if it is already weak from age.
Corroded or loose connections – if the battery isn’t connected properly, or there is corrosion on the connections, it can weaken the battery.
Keeping a car battery charged
All of these lead us back to understanding why your vehicle may have trouble keeping a car battery charged.
Your car is designed to run. It’s designed to have the engine started, taking it out on the road, and having each system operate to its fullest capacity while you make your way from place to place.
Your vehicle has thousands of parts that all work together to keep your car running well. When a piece isn’t working at its optimal level, it compromises the system. And that’s when your problems begin.
The battery is the key to making sure everything works. When you turn the key or press the start button, it kicks all of the systems into gear. But it isn’t everything. It may start the engine, it may start gas flowing, but it doesn’t allow each part to perform its job.
That only comes when your car moves.
And that’s the reason it’s important to operate your vehicle once in a while.
Idling your car in the driveway is bad for two reasons. First, you’re not really using the battery as it’s designed. It doesn’t recharge it, so it actually weakens the battery overall.
Second, as the engine runs, gas combines with air through combustion and creates water vapor. If you don’t move your car and allow it to heat up through movement, that water vapor sits there and can start to damage many other parts.
What you should do to keep your car battery properly charged
Starting your car battery regularly doesn’t have to be a long process. Schedule it like you do other home maintenance projects, every few weeks is sufficient. Once you start it, operate it as intended. Drive ten to twenty miles to really give it a chance to work.
This charges the battery and removes water vapor. It also moves every part, keeping potential problems at bay.
Keeping your car battery charged when you don’t drive very much isn’t difficult. Just make plans every few weeks to save yourself the headache of having your car not operate when you need it most.