If you’ve ever had your car battery die on you, you know the pain of regret—regret that you didn’t do more to give it the long and happy life it deserved. But life gets in the way, and not everyone makes time to pay that all-important welfare check to make sure everything’s going okay under the hood. So take this as a reminder: Winter is coming, and it’s time to pay that visit. Contrary to popular belief, cold weather is the number-one reason car batteries die. Here’s how to save yourself a woeful winter wakeup call.
The Proper Care and Feeding of a Long-Lasting Battery
Car batteries are a lot like smartphone batteries. Not because they’re lightweight and (sometimes) easily removable, but because they last about as long. The average lifespan for smartphone and automobile batteries is three to seven years. Not bad, right? But that’s only if you take good care of it.
In a recent study by Battery Council International (BCI), it was reported that the average car battery life in North America is only 48 months. Not even close to three years, and about a million miles away from seven. Of course, there are a lot of factors that play into this shortened lifespan. Factors like vibration, overcharging, and deep discharging can influence the speeding up of the chemical process in the battery that causes the positive-charged plate to “flake off,” which leads to sediment buildup. In case you didn’t know, sediment and batteries don’t play well together. In fact, they’re enemies. Better to keep them apart.
Anyone who’s ever worked in car repair will tell you cold fall mornings are notorious for calls to jumpstart or outright replace dead batteries. In places like the northeast, where temperatures can fluctuate as much as 50 degrees from one day to the next, dead batteries are even more commonplace. If you want to avoid adding your name to your local repair shop’s roster of emergency calls, be proactive and get your battery checked out by a professional before the cold weather strikes.
Getting a Battery Checkup: What to Expect
A qualified technician can perform a quick visual inspection of your battery terminals for corrosion. This is one of the leading causes of battery failure. Because car batteries contain acidic components, corrosion happens, and a battery’s life can be greatly extended by keeping those terminals clean.
Next, a tech will employ an electronic measuring tool called a multimeter to “stress test” your battery and find out how close it is to kicking the bucket. A standard, healthy battery will have anywhere between 500 and 800 cold cranking amps. Anything less than typically means you should replace your battery.
Finally, a service technician will run a check on the output of the alternator and charging system. Most car batteries these days are 12 volt, so the output should measure about 14 volts +/-. That extra 2 volts of current tells the technician the battery is being charged when the engine is running, which is also key to its longevity.
Last Call Before Snowfall
Winter’s upon us, so consider this your last-minute reminder. But even if it stays warm all winter where you live, you’re not invulnerable. If your car battery is more than three years old, be sure to have it checked. It’s not just about saving time. With service calls requiring new battery installation running upwards of $200, it’s also about saving money.
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Written by Rob Grant, Automotive Service Manager at Openbay. Rob is an ASE Certified Technician and frequent contributor to this blog, specializing in all things automotive service and repair.