It might seem like batteries are somewhat unpredictable, and in some ways, they can be. While the two most common killers of batteries are heat and time, winter cold is often the final straw that exposes underlying battery weakness. And it doesn’t always take a polar vortex to cause battery problems. Plus, the technology-heavy features we all love in late model vehicles can add to premature battery demise.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about the health of your car’s battery as we move into battery killing season. Here’s a quick checklist of things to do and remember to help you get through the winter without a battery-failure related incident.
1. Check for Corrosion While It’s Still Fall
Corrosion on the battery terminals will keep the cables from making contact with the terminals correctly. That might prevent the electricity from flowing and a car from starting. Checking to make sure corrosion won’t prevent a car from starting before the weather cools off might just save you some headaches later on.
Before you scrub it off, it’s probably worth taking a look at the types of corrosion that are forming on your lead acid battery’s terminals. White, powdery corrosion on the negative terminal might be due to sulfation, which means that the battery is undercharged and may have lost a significant amount of its energy storing capacity. Bluish-green corrosion is generally copper sulfide, which is going to greatly reduce the flow of energy from the battery to the starter or from the alternator to the battery.
Cleaning off these terminals is one way to help the battery not have to struggle so hard this winter. Terminals can be cleaned with a stiff wire brush and a mixture of baking soda and very hot water. Remember to clean the interior of the terminal connections, not just the exterior surface. When disconnecting the battery to remove corrosion from the interior surfaces of the terminals, it is best to connect a memory saver, such as a Booster PAC or Jump-N-Carry jump starter with our ESA30 memory saver cord, to the vehicle to preserve learned memory and electronic presets. After you’ve cleaned the terminals, add some grease to help prevent corrosion in the future.
2. Test Your Battery’s Health
Giving the battery a quick test is a good idea as the winter weather approaches. Find out if the battery is weak. If it is, it’s likely worth replacing it sooner rather than later. Because, let’s be honest, it won’t be getting any stronger as the temperatures drop. A quality digital tester, such as our SOLAR BA9 or BA6 models, can provide an assessment of battery health, as well as starter and charging system function. Best to know in advance if you have an issue lurking in your electrical system.
3. Give it a Charge
Even if your battery checks out OK in the above test, we strongly recommend seasonal preventive maintenance charging of your battery using a quality smart charger, like our PRO-LOGIX PL2320. There are a few reasons we recommend doing so.
First, depending on your driving patterns, it is very possible that your battery is not regularly getting a full charge, resulting in it often sitting in a slightly or moderately discharged state. This is very detrimental to your battery’s long term health. Second, it is possible that your vehicle’s charging system is not providing the most beneficial charge possible, especially if you have replaced your original battery. Finally, winter functions such as heated seats and window defrosters combined with slower, longer commutes can put strain on your battery and charging system. A periodic maintenance charge will bring your battery back to full charge in a beneficial manner and restore reserve capacity, potentially even reversing light sulfation build-up on the battery’s plates.
4. Take It Easy on the Battery
Many of the accessories running in our cars today aren’t particularly easy on an already taxed vehicle power system that is pushing battery performance to its extreme. With an abundance of power-hungry devices built right into our cars, it’s easier than ever to use up more power than we should without even noticing it. This is particularly true of “always on” aftermarket devices, such as aftermarket anti-theft systems, aftermarket driving monitors and more. When adding these devices to your system, take care to ensure that they do not create parasitic drains on your vehicle’s battery when it is turned off. Such drains hurt you in two ways: 1. They increase the likelihood of a dead battery if your vehicle sits unused for any length of time, say 2-3 days even, and 2. They bring battery voltage down into the range where sulfation will accelerate, causing long term harm to the battery.
5. Carry a Jump Starter
Having a self-sufficient method of starting your car is one sure-fire way to know that it can handle whatever winter throws at you, whenever and wherever you are. Having a jump starter in your trunk can help you avoid major setbacks and keep winter battery problems from putting your day’s plans on hold. It is a good idea to ensure that all family members have an understanding of how to use the jump starter so that they can safely utilize it when needed. Remember to charge your jump starter per the manufacturer’s guidelines. We recommend recharging every 90 days, regardless of the type of jump starter you own (lead acid, lithium, etc.). You can sign up for jump starter recharge alerts here, even if your jump starter isn’t from us. Signup for our recharge alerts here.
6. Check the Other Critical Systems of the Vehicle
Winter cold is hard on all vehicle systems, not just the battery and starting/charging system. To avoid dangerous breakdowns at the worst time of the year, it is best to check all major systems and perform required preventive maintenance. This includes checking/changing your oil and filter, having your cooling system flushed, checking your tires and brakes and replacing your wiper blades.
7. Have an Emergency Kit in Your Vehicle
Despite your best preparation, you may still find yourself in an emergency situation. It is best to have an emergency kit prepared so that an inconvenient or minor situation doesn’t turn far worse because you aren’t prepared to deal with extreme winter cold. Your emergency kit should include: a jump starter, a work light, flares, gloves, boots and blankets.
Winter is hard on a vehicle battery, but with some effort and planning, you can keep your battery in good shape and your car starting smoothly all winter long. These tips should help you avoid becoming a victim of winter battery issues and enable you to overcome unforeseen problems if they did arise. Safety and preparation go hand in hand when it comes to being prepared to operate your vehicle in harsh winter weather.