While everyone understands that a drop in the mercury can spell trouble for vehicle batteries and other types of batteries, many people do not realize that extreme summer heat is actually even more detrimental for batteries than extreme winter cold. This is an important factor to keep in mind during the summer driving season for your vehicle and for any jump starters that you may own.
When summer temps near triple digits, the underhood temperatures of your vehicle can reach 140-200 degrees, placing great stress on your battery. According to Interstate Batteries, “Summer heat kills batteries 33% faster than winter cold, and more batteries fail in July than in January.” Heat accelerates the natural chemical processes that take place in lead acid batteries, causing the battery’s electrolytes to evaporate. This increases the likelihood and severity of sulfation, which creates corrosion on the battery’s plates and robs a battery of its energy capacity.
There are things that you can do to improve your battery’s performance or at least monitor your battery’s health to know when the time has come to replace it. The list below provides some general guidelines regarding battery maintenance and things to watch for:
Note: Always remember that lead acid batteries are dangerous if not handled and managed properly. Always wear protective eyewear and clothing when working near lead acid batteries, and someone should always be within range of your voice or close enough to come to your aid when you work near a lead-acid battery. In addition, you should have plenty of fresh water and soap nearby in case battery acid contacts skin, clothing or eyes.
- Visually inspect you battery and its connection to your vehicle. Make sure that the battery isn’t cracked, bulging or otherwise damaged. If it is, it should be replaced immediately.
- Is your battery dirty or wet with any type of liquid? If so, it should be cleaned, particularly on the surface where the battery posts exit the battery. Water or other contaminants on the surface of the battery between the posts could cause an electrical path to form, sapping the battery of its power.
- Is there corrosion forming on the battery posts? Is there mushrooming of corrosion from the place where the cables connect to the battery? If so, this should be cleaned using a scouring pad or brush and a baking soda/water mixture. Always use waterproof gloves and protective eyewear when cleaning your battery, and push corrosion away from yourself rather than toward yourself.
- If your battery is a traditional flooded style battery, make sure it has the proper water level as identified in the manufacturer’s guidelines. If the water level is low, add distilled water as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Do not overfill, which could cause leakage and other problems.
- Consider where your battery is in its useful life cycle. Is your battery over 4 years old? If so, it may be nearing the end of its useful life, particularly if you live in an area of extreme temperatures. If this is the case, you should increase the frequency of your visual inspections to be sure your battery has not deteriorated.
- You can use a battery load tester to determine your battery’s state of health or its ability to deliver the sustained energy required to start a vehicle. Basic load testers are available from a variety of manufacturers and can be found for as little as $50. Digital battery testers perform a wider range of assessment and can be found for as little as $100.
Implications for Jump Starters
Most vehicle jump starters utilize lead acid batteries that are very similar to vehicle batteries. As a result, they suffer similar harmful effects from extreme heat. The prescription for counteracting those effects, though, are somewhat different for jump starters. Here are a few tips:
- During periods of extreme heat, it makes sense to recharge your jump starter more often. A discharged battery is at much greater risk for sulfation than a fully charged battery. Therefore, the acceleration of a battery’s chemical process caused by extreme heat will have more adverse consequences for a discharged battery. At Clore Automotive, we recommend recharging your jump starter once per month during periods of extreme heat.
- Consider where you are storing your jump starter during periods of extreme heat. For instance, if you are a homeowner and normally store your jump starter in your garage, perhaps it makes sense to store your jump starter in the basement during periods of prolonged high temperatures. Or, if you are using your jump starter in a mobile service operation (e.g., tow truck or utility service operation), perhaps it makes sense to store your jump starter in the vehicle’s cab, where presumably the vehicle’s air conditioning is keeping temperatures below outside temperatures. The same is true during the coldest parts of winter – avoiding temperature extreme is always better for battery health.
Simple Steps Can Save Time, Money and Hassle
With these steps, you can ensure that you will safely stay on the road and avoid costly breakdowns. In addition to the above steps, many retail outlets that sell batteries will check your vehicle’s battery free of charge or for a small fee. It is wise to remember that your jump starter’s battery is very similar, chemically, to your vehicle’s battery. When you encounter weather conditions that cause concern for your vehicle’s battery, you should also consider the implications for your jump starter. Simple steps for each could increase their useful life and reduce the chance of a costly failure.