Car batteries can often be an overlooked component of automobile maintenance. However, most of the roadside assistance calls AAA Northeast receives are for battery and electrical issues. Additionally, many of these issues can be avoided with precautionary tests and replacements of damaged batteries. Here are a few tips to keep your car battery in top shape and ensure you’re not stuck in your tracks.
Car batteries all require regular maintenance to provide the longest life. This includes regular driving of the vehicle several times per week in order to maintain a full state of charge. These drives should be longer trips with steady cruise speeds. “Short local trips are not optimal for longest battery life and performance,” said Jason Carrara, manager of technical program training at AAA Northeast. “They don’t provide the complete recharging a battery needs after giving energy to start your car.”
Testing your battery
Batteries become damaged in hot weather and are stressed during cold weather. In other words, battery damage commonly occurs during hot summer months, but does not reveal itself until the winter, when more power is needed to start the vehicle. “If your car needed a jump during the cold weather, you fixed the symptom but not the underlying problem,” said AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul.
All car batteries will eventually die. The average battery life in the Northeast is between three to five years. As they age, batteries should be checked yearly not just in winter.
As noted in most owner’s manuals, battery terminals require regular removal and cleaning in many environments. This will ensure proper performance every time you turn the key or push the button to start your car. Electricity cannot flow properly, and your engine will not start, if terminals are covered in corrosion.
Periodically disconnecting the car battery to clean its terminals with water and baking soda can help extend its life. This valuable service can also be performed by AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities, your regular repair/maintenance shop, or AAA Mobile Battery Service.
Draining a battery
If you accidentally drain the battery and need a jump-start, your battery needs to be recharged properly on a battery charger likely for several hours, sometimes even a whole day. Simply running the car for 30-60 minutes, as was a common remedy years ago, or going for a ride will usually not completely recover your battery and will shorten the life and performance ability of your battery.
“It is the cycling of a battery that causes a shortened life,” Paul said. “If you let your vehicle battery die, such as by leaving the lights on, even after a full recharge the battery will never make it come back 100 percent.” When you get out of your vehicle lock the doors and make sure the lights are off.
AAA members receive a complimentary battery testing and terminal cleaning. AAA also offers mobile battery testing, battery replacement, and disposal and recycling of your old car battery. Learn more at AAA.com/BatteryService.
If you have questions about your car battery, or any automotive issue, ask John Paul at AAA.com/CarDoctor.