About Car Battery
Typical car batteries are lead-acid and maintenance-free. Regardless of brand, most batteries are reliable throughout their lifespan, but this is not to say problems can’t arise sooner. However, you can prevent them and get the most out of your car battery simply by paying attention to it.
The most important thing before you buy your battery is to check the manufacture date. Avoid purchasing one that is older than six months. You will find the date on the battery itself, often as a code. Thus, the letter indicates the month, while the number shows the year. For example, A 1 stands for January 2001.
So, how long does a car battery last ?
The average lifespan of a typical car battery ranges from two to five years, with four years being the most common age when the battery starts showing signs of wear down.
How long it actually lasts depends on a number of factors (see below). Theoretically, a car battery can live past 5 years if you don’t subject it to extreme temperatures or to powering car gadgets, you charge it fully, etc.
What makes your car battery live less
A car battery will end its life sooner if the area you live in has warm weather throughout the year. That’s because extreme heat can accelerate the chemical reaction between the plates and the electrolytic solution inside the battery. On the other hand, extreme cold can slow things down and thus help prolong battery life.
Short trips and long periods of inactivity
Regularly taking short trips of up to 20 minutes will keep your battery from fully charging, and will thus drain it. Not driving your car for long periods of time will also drain the battery. Be careful that routine tests won’t pick this up.
The reason for the drain is that the electrolytic solution inside the battery splits into two halves instead of remaining homogenous when you take short trips; a light acid goes to the top, whereas the heavy acid stays at the bottom. The light acid half causes the plates to corrode, and the heavy acid half to work harder to keep the car going.
A rough driving style, a bumpy road or a battery that is not secured properly can all damage the plates and therefore shorten the life of the car battery.
Recognizing car battery problems
Even if you avoid the above, your car battery will still start to act up once it approaches its “expiration date”.
The easiest way to tell if the battery has problems is to check it from time to time. Remove the insulating case around and take a look at the battery. Seeing stains or corrosion is never a good sign. Also check the terminals.
Aside from looking, you should also smell the battery every now and then. You know you’re in trouble when you smell the battery overheating or leaking sulfur (the rotten egg smell).
Obviously, the most serious problem is a dead battery since it can leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere, but it can also show there may be something else wrong with your car.
In order to prevent this scenario, make sure to always have a battery charger and jumper cables close at hand, as having these will eliminate the need of having to wait for another car to help you out.
How to extend its lifespan
Having to replace your car battery is not that expensive, but it certainly can be a nuisance. There are ways to help your car battery live longer, though:
Maintenance and testing
Whenever you go for an oil change, ask the technician to use an electronic tester on the battery. This simple test will tell you whether you need to replace the battery, as it may still be working, but providing less electricity.
The technician should also check the battery for corrosion and inspect the water level as part of the car’s routine maintenance.
READ MORE : How to recondition Car Battery
Clean the battery yourself
Should you notice some white buildup on the battery when you inspect it yourself, you can either take the car in for service, or deal with the corrosion on your own. You can safely do this only as long as the corrosion is mild.
Safety comes first: Disconnect the negative batter post, and put the wires aside. Put on gloves and safety glasses to protect your skin and eyes from the sulfuric acid in electrolytic solution.
Then, proceed to cleaning the battery proper, by mixing one tablespoon of warm water with three tablespoons of baking powder. Dip an old toothbrush in the mixture and scrub the battery. Remove the mixture from the terminal with a wet towel, and wipe it dry with another towel.
If you think it may help in the future, you can coat each terminal with some petroleum jelly, but only after the battery is completely dry.
- Insulate the battery
An insulating sleeve or blanket helps keep extreme heat and cold in check. Install the sleeve around the battery to keep it from overheating. Note that large batteries often take up much of the available space, leaving little or no room for insulation; if you cannot use an insulating sleeve, your car battery will likely have a shorter life.
- Cut down on car gadget use
There are lots of electronics that most drivers can’t imagine doing without, but that actually drain your car battery quickly. Unplug all car phones, MP3 players, GPS receivers, iPod chargers etc whenever you don’t need them or your car is not running, and make sure not to plug them in all at once.
Avoid using too much your stereo, headlights or horn when you have pulled over and are waiting to pick someone up, for instance. Finally, once you park the car, check that all the lights are off and the doors are closed, especially if you won’t be using the car for at least several hours.
Thanks for the tip that regular maintenance can help me determine if my car battery needs a replacement soon. My husband recently bought my an automatic transmission sedan for our anniversary and I’m still learning the ropes on how different it is to maintain compared to my old manual transmission car. Perhaps car battery services should be included in its bimonthly maintenance.
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