Given the extreme temperatures, electrical loads, and constant vibration average car batteries are subjected to everyday, it is a miracle they last as long as they do. However, in the automotive world, nothing is designed to last forever, or even a reasonable amount of time for that matter, and the battery in your car is no exception. If you find that you have to replace your battery every two years or so, we have some great news for you. With some basic care and preventive maintenance, you can extend the life of your battery for several years beyond its guaranteed lifespan (typically 2 years). All you need is some basic tools, about ten minutes of free time every couple of months, and the determination to make your battery last. Here is how to do it…
Monitor the Electrolyte Level
All lead-acid batteries require the correct amount of electrolyte to function properly. Consisting of a mixture of distilled water and sulphuric acid, some is inevitably lost through evaporation and complex chemical reactions. The correct electrolyte “level” means both the volume of electrolyte in the battery, which should be full, and the specific gravity (SG), which should be 1.265 when fully charged and at room temperature.
The state of charge of a battery bears directly on the specific gravity of the electrolyte, so by checking the density of the electrolyte in each cell, it is possible to deduce the overall state of health of the battery. If the electrolyte reaches too low a level, this can potentially cause the lead plates forming the cells of the battery to buckle as the electrolyte is heated excessively during charging. When this happens, the battery will die, and can happen without warning. Be sure therefore to have the electrolyte level in your battery checked at least once a month. The SG can be measured with a hydrometer or by simply having it checked at your nearest petrol/gas station.
Note: Even so-called “maintenance free” batteries need to be checked regularly, but this is best left to repair shops and specialist battery dealers.
Park Your Car Under Cover
Extreme temperatures on both ends of the scale will reduce the life of your battery in dramatic fashion, with high temperatures causing more battery failures than even freezing and sub-zero winter temperatures will.
Bear in mind that the CCA, or Cold Cranking Amp rating on any battery only holds for specified temperatures, and also during laboratory conditions. In the case of low temperatures, the rating refers to 0°F (-18°C). At this temperature, a battery must deliver a constant current for thirty seconds without the charge in any individual cell falling below 1.2 volts. However, this is required of new batteries, so if yours is already a couple of years old, it may not perform as well as expected this coming winter.
Parking your car under cover can help reduce the effect of temperature fluctuations. If you don’t have a roofed area to park your car under during winter, however, cover the car with a nylon car protector. Limiting temperature fluctuations experienced by your battery will reduce the strain placed on it and thereby improve its longevity.
Avoid Short Trips
Starting a car takes more out of a battery than you might realize, and if you only do short trips, the alternator may not have enough time to replace the lost capacity. Moreover, lead-acid batteries tend to develop a “charge memory”, and after a while, the battery will refuse to accept a charge that is higher than the highest charge it has “learnt” to accept.
What this means is that if you suddenly go on a long trip, the alternator will attempt to charge the battery to its full capacity, since that is the limit the voltage regulator is designed to deliver. However, if the battery has “learned” to accept only say, 11 volts, instead of 12.6, the battery will in effect overcharge, even though the alternator is in perfect condition.
Batteries that have developed “charge memories” are damaged batteries, and they can never be fully charged. There is also no way to repair them, and they hardly ever last for longer than about 18 months or so. The only way to prevent this from happening is to undertake a longer than usual trip at least once a week to keep the battery fully charged. So head on out to the country and relax – it will do both you and your car battery some good!
Keep the Battery Clean
In humid climates, the dust and grime that collects on a battery can become moisture-laden, and cause a constant drain on the battery when the car is switched off. This moisture-laden layer in effect causes a short-circuit between the poles, which can potentially destroy a battery in a matter of days.
Keep the battery clean by making a solution of baking soda and water and carefully scrubbing the battery and terminals, followed by a thorough wipe-down with distilled water. This will not only neutralize acid accumulations, but will also remove the layer of grime and dust that is draining the battery.
Keep the Terminals Clean
There are many causes for acid and copper-sulphate accumulations on battery terminals, which, if not removed, will eventually reduce the contact area between the terminal and the lead battery post. When this happens, the battery will either not be fully charged (which could damage the alternator), or it will become unable to supply enough current through the reduced contact area.
In both cases, the terminals may overheat, and cause even more damage. Poor contact between the terminals and the battery posts damages a battery because it impedes the flow of current, which in turn causes extremely high electrical resistances that batteries are not designed to overcome.
Baking soda will clean off the accumulations as described above, but ideally, the terminals should be removed from the posts, and cleaned with a stiff wire brush to restore full contact. However, this should NOT be done unless you have memory saving device that will keep the critical systems in your car powered up when the terminals are removed.
If you do not have a memory saving device, you could cause the car’s computer to lose some of its memory, which means it may not start again, so rather take the car to a repair shop or a specialist battery dealer to have the terminals cleaned. Once the terminals are clean, and full contact has been restored, prevent a recurrence of the problem by coating the terminals and surrounding area with a purpose-made protective spray that is available from all auto parts stores.
Keep the Battery Bolted Down at All Times
One of the leading causes of battery failure is excessive vibration that can sever internal connections. Make sure your battery hold-down device is in perfect condition, and that it holds the battery firmly in place, but without buckling or deforming the casing.
There should be no movement when you try to move the battery – if there is, replace the hold-down device immediately, before the battery’s internal components shake themselves to pieces.
Use the Correct Battery
All cars require batteries with specific ratings and capacities to supply sufficient power and also to prevent damage to critical systems. It is therefore essential to use a battery that is recommended by the manufacturer. Saving a few dollars by fitting a smaller battery can run you the risk of destroying both the battery and the car’s sensitive electrical system if the battery cannot supply the current demands the electrical system needs to function properly.
And there you have it – seven top tips for getting the most out of your vehicle battery. Follow these as closely as possible to avoid both the frustration of being stuck with a flat battery and also the added cost of needing to replace your battery more frequently than necessary. Keeping a portable jump starter in your car for an unexpected situation, however, is a very good idea. Forgetting the lights on, or just having a “dud” battery cannot be prevented by any degree of maintenance. JumpStarterExpert.com will help you find the perfect jump starter to match your needs.