One never thinks of the car battery until the day it decides to act up. Batteries are especially important in modern cars. An average car battery has a lifespan of at least four years, but many give up before that while a rare few go even beyond five years without a problem.
With the increasing number of electronics in modern cars, it is important to constantly check on the health of your car’s battery. Almost all cars use standard 12 volt lead acid batteries of different current capacities (measured in Ampere Hours or AH). Here are five points to consider ensuring your car battery serves you without any trouble.
Fortnightly electrolyte check
Most car batteries need a check on their health at least once every fortnight. The easiest thing to check is the level of electrolyte in the battery. Some batteries have a translucent out body shell, and you can shine a torch on its side to see the level of electrolyte in the battery. The battery electrolyte level should be above the plates that are immersed in the battery, just slightly below the level of the filler vent caps on top. Over a period of time, with repeated charging and discharging cycles, some electrolyte evaporates and needs to be topped up with distilled water. There are some batteries that are branded maintenance-free and are gel-filled, but even they need a check on their health by a professional once every six months or so. Also clean the battery terminals of any residue with a wire brush and apply petroleum jelly on them to protect them from corrosion.
Switch off all accessories before starting
Starting the car takes maximum battery power. A fully charged car battery will have 12.6 volts of voltage (2.1 volt per cell), but it takes a lot of power to turn the starter motor, which in turn has to spin the engine. On a cold morning, when the engine oil is cold, this can be quite a task for the battery. In order to ensure that the maximum current from the battery is diverted to the starter, switch off all accessories such as radio, headlamps and air conditioner before starting the car. If you’ve ever started a car with the headlamps on – you’ll notice how they become dim when the starter spins.
Don’t run accessories with engine off
A car’s battery can only provide power to your accessories for a limited period of time. There are some batteries that have a higher AH rating – which may last longer than others, but all batteries will drain out soon enough. Sometimes you may not notice it, as accessories that consume lower power may continue to function with the engine off for quite a while (like a radio or parking lamps), but the moment you start the car, the starter may not have enough power to crank the engine. Always remember to switch off your lights and radio before you leave the car.
Disconnect battery if car is not in use for long period
If you are going out of town and not going to use your car for a long period of time (more than 15 days), it is a good idea to disconnect the battery to prevent it draining out. If the battery is left connected, it will slowly drain out as there are a few systems like the central locking system that consume a small amount of power when the car is switched off. It also naturally drains out as the circuit remains connected through the car’s body. To disconnect a battery, first pull out the Negative terminal of the battery and tie it away from the battery. Then remove the positive terminal and tie that away from the battery. You can then either remove the battery from the vehicle or cover the terminals with tape and let it be.
Check battery voltage and electrical system
A battery should last at least four years in a car that is used regularly and if all the steps of proper battery maintenance are carried out. However, in some cases, batteries could fail earlier for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest culprits is usually the car’s alternator. The alternator is a device that runs off the car’s engine and charges the car’s battery when the car is running. Alternators will usually have a higher current rating than the car’s battery (typically between 90AH to 130AH). They should provide a steady 13.9 – 14 volts of power just after a car is started and settle to a steady 12.9 volts or so once the car battery has charged. This can be measured with the help of a multi-meter at any battery shop or even at home. Once in six months, or during service, ensure the car’s charging system is checked.
Also read: Jump starting a car step-by-step
Follow these five simple maintenance tips and your car battery should easily serve you for at least four years of trouble free motoring. The moment you find the car’s battery failing, get it replaced with a battery of the same current rating or higher – but not exceeding what your alternator’s current rating.
Share any more tips you have on battery maintenance with the CarToq community.
Also see video: How to jump start a car battery