What you need to know about car batteries and winter weather
The battery is one of the most essential components of your automobile, and thus knowing how to keep your car battery from dying in cold weather is important. The chemical reactions that keep an automotive battery functioning don't handle cold temperatures well, but there are a number of tips you can follow to protect its health. There are many effective tools for sale at local stores and online, or you could go the DIY route by using household items while following the advice of online blogs or tutorial videos.
Knowing exactly how the internals work may help you to understand how cold weather can affect a car battery. While this discussion doesn't focus on the battery packs in hybrid and all-electric cars, the premise is the same: icy temperatures aren't ideal for a battery. Standard car batteries generally function through lead-acid chemical reactions. Lead plates submerged in sulphuric acid generate ions, hydrogen, and lead sulphate. The electrons produced this way supply the power for your engine starter, headlights, and onboard devices. What makes these batteries so useful is that the aforementioned process is reversible, and energy developed by the alternator is redirected to the device to maintain the chemical balance and keep it alive for great lengths of time. The voltage capacity for most regular new batteries is typically around 12 volts.
Automotive technology has progressed over the years, to the point where we now have a choice between different types of batteries for cars:
With multiple options available, you may be wondering which is the correct choice for your vehicle. As a general rule, a cheap run-of-the-mill car will be fine with an SLI. These have been used for decades now, and recent enhancements have helped to make them practically hassle-free. However, if your car has slightly more advanced needs, you may need to consider an alternative. Engines that feature a stop-start function generally require at least an EFB. Since they have higher outputs, they are also preferred on vehicles with more demanding components. The high-performance AGM options are required for the most advanced cars on the market. With far more power production capacity, they are able to run a number of high-spec systems without the risk of failure, and their extremely low-maintenance and long lifespan only add to their desirability.
In most circumstances, you should not run into compatibility issues when using a higher-level battery regardless of the vehicle you own. However, utilizing anything less than the recommended device is not advisable, or even possible in some cases.
Heat excites atoms, which, in turn, speeds up chemical reactions. However, the opposite is also true. In particularly low temperatures, this can have a detrimental effect. The reason why car batteries die in the cold is because they cannot initiate the reaction that produces electricity to start the engine. This is usually only a problem in older devices or those that have been damaged and, therefore, have reduced energy generation capability and overall battery capacity. When in pristine condition, a battery should be able to supply sufficient power even at -58°F, but if the overall charge of the battery is weak, even between 20 and 30 °F is enough to cause it to freeze. Thus, it is clear that temperature does affect battery life and we advise you to ensure you keep your battery charged at all times and take note of the tips listed below.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to keep your car battery charged in winter and reduce the possibility of issues. Here is a quick breakdown of the ways to avoid car battery problems in cold weather:
The first thing to do is determine if it is, in fact, frozen. If the liquid inside is still fluid, the battery may simply be drained. If that is not the case, though, you should plug in the car to activate the block heater, assuming it is equipped with such. If this is not sufficient enough to get the job done, you can either tow the car to a heated garage or remove the battery and store it somewhere warm to thaw. Once you are satisfied that it has properly defrosted, you will need to charge the battery. If you don't have a charger, you could jump start the car and take it for a long, uninterrupted drive, to recharge the cells. However, keep in mind that anytime a battery freezes, its overall lifespan and charge capacity are severely reduced.
While a damaged battery does not cause any direct harm, repeatedly trying to start a car with a flat battery can. Even when the starter is not supplied with enough voltage, there may still be enough amps passing through to cause wear, and the longer you try to force the reaction, the more damage will be done to the mechanism.
Most standard batteries should last five or more years, but there are some warning signs to look out for that may be indicative that it is time to buy a new one. These include corrosion around the connections, a slow start, frequent need for jump starts, and sheer age.
Of the three types mentioned, the AGM category is best suited to prevent your car battery from dying when cold. This is because they supply more power, have higher cold cranking amps, and lower discharge rates. While these devices can last for up to six years, the standard warranty for a car battery is only about two years, regardless of type.