Boost your Battery Life

Battery maintenance

You know the feeling. It’s a dark, wintry morning and, shivering, you hurry out to your car on your way to work. You crank the engine… but all you hear is “click,” followed by your groan!

Flat batteries are one of the most common reasons AA road patrols are called out to assist stranded motorists. They attend to more than 80 000 battery-related calls each year and in 40% of these cases it is necessary for the battery to be replaced. In chilly winter weather, motorists’ tendency to accidentally leave their headlights on make flat batteries an all too frequent problem. Batteries tend to give more problems during winter because of the increased amps drawn by the starter to crank the cold engine.

What steps can you take to avoid this frustrating experience? One of the best ways to avoid winter car trouble woes is to ensure your car battery is in good working order - here are some tips to help you prolong the life of your battery.

  • Check the water (electrolyte) level – make sure the level is not too low (it must cover the fluid plates) and, if necessary, top it up. Use distilled water only (boiled and allowed to cool). Avoid overfilling and mop up any spillage. It’s wise to check the levels monthly in summer because a high temperature under the bonnet can cause the water to vaporise or boil off.
  • Keep the battery clean – clean the terminals regularly and remove with warm (not hot) soapy water any acid or dirt which may have accumulated on the battery case.  This can cause the battery to self-discharge more rapidly.  Also ensure that the terminals are well connected. 
  • Secure the battery – make sure the battery is carefully secured and the hold-down clamps are tightened.
  • Charge the battery regularly – take a one-hour, daylight drive each week to help ensure the battery stays charged. This is especially important if you usually only drive short distances or take infrequent trips. Running the engine at idle or taking short (less than 30 minutes) stop-and-go trips is not sufficient to recharge the battery and can shorten its life.
  • Turn off before you turn on – make sure the lights and other accessories (heater, rear-window demister, radio, seat-warmers, windscreen wipers) are turned off before you start the car. In cold weather a fully-charged battery provides less than half of the power it does in warm weather, and switching on the lights and other accessories before you start the engine will drain the battery even quicker.
  • Inspect the drive belts – check the belts for any signs of fraying or cracking. Also, they should flex no more than one-half inch. A loose alternator belt is a common cause of battery failure and ensuring it’s correctly tightened could save you the inconvenience of a flat battery later.
  • Park in the shade – an increase in temperature under the bonnet can shorten the battery’s life and reduce its capacity, which in turn will make the car harder to start in cold weather.
  • Service your car – poor engine condition can overload the battery, so ensuring your car is serviced regularly (as recommended by the manufacturer) will prolong the life of your battery.
  • Check the battery’s charge rate – undercharging and overcharging reduce battery life, so it’s a good idea to ask your car dealership or repair workshop to check the charge rate when you have your car serviced.  Service checks should include the charge rate at the alternator and the general condition of the battery.

If your vehicle won’t start - remember not to crank the engine continuously as damage can be caused to the starter, battery, and other electronic components. A flat battery is annoying and inconvenient, but belonging to the AA will lessen the frustration and get you back on the road in double-quick time. They’ll give you a battery boost to get you going again, or diagnose the problem. With the AA, the winter chills needn’t get you down!

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