Car Batteries – Winter Awareness

This piece is intended to explain what issues face the battery in your car. What can help to alleviate them and what can make them worse. Some elements are entirely out of your control, but those that are you can think about changing your approach where possible – or at least you can be more aware that a problem might be affecting your battery now!

Your battery is a vital part in keeping your car working, and it powers a lot of things. Obviously, it powers the starter motor to actually start your car, which is a bit of a big deal – if that doesn’t work, your car doesn’t start. But it also powers the other electrical systems in your car, such as your audio/entertainment, your heating and your lights.

So how does the battery work? Well it is basically a big energy store that powers the electrical systems within your vehicle – but it’s not as if it is a big version of a Duracell AA (other brand of AA battery are available) that sits in your car and works until the stored electricity is gone.  The battery works by discharging electricity to the parts that need it but it is also charged by your vehicle as you drive along. Therefore your driving habits will dictate the life of your battery just as much as the technical proficiency of battery itself.

What does this mean? Well in short, your car battery gets charged the best during long runs, like a motorway journey of 50 miles or more. Regular runs like this will ensure the battery is topped up and performing well. Shorter drives, like a wholly urban journey to the supermarket and back, where the car is lucky to get to 30mph never mind stay there for any length of time, will have a very different effect on the battery.

The problem with this is that the battery never gets to the chance to return to the state of full charge, which leads to a process called sulfation.  Sulfation is the build up of lead sulphate crystals on the terminals of the battery (the bit the leads attach to).  It can lead to a loss of power from the battery and it makes it take longer to fully charge the battery. Anyway, this is one of the leading causes of a loss of performance in batteries and can lead to battery failure.

Another reason for the battery leading a shorter effective life than it might is the amount of drain put on it by the user. Charging your phone or using the AUX input is hardly likely to pull too much power, but if you have an amplifier for your stereo, this needs extra power to come from somewhere. Couple this with shorter journeys and the problem is exacerbated.

Another common cause of battery failure is called ‘Acid Stratification’. What is acid stratification? You may well ask. Well it is when the acid within a battery is concentrated at the bottom of the battery, leaving the top part light on acid. This is a two pronged attack on your battery – firstly the acis poor ‘top’ of the battery will be able to provide less power to the demanding electrical components. Secondly the stronger concentration of acid in the bottom part of the battery can lead to sulfation – again making it harder for the engine to charge the battery fully!

This image shows the battery has good health and an equal distribution of acid around the battery.

This image shows the acid in the battery is concentrated at the bottom of the battery, meaning the top is ‘acid poor’. This will mean less power will be available. Notice that sulfation has begun on the lower parts of the battery plates also.

Weather also has a huge impact on the health of a battery. Batteries like warm and dry climates, so basically they are not very well suited to the UK for the vast majority of the year! Where this becomes a bigger problem though is during winter. Firstly the job of starting your car is that much more difficult in winter as the fluids are that bit thicker because of the cold – so the starter motor has more to do. The chemical reactions within your battery that actually make the electricity are slower in colder temperatures too. So we find the majority of battery failures, in our experience in this country at least, occur during the winter months. If your battery has become stratified, then expect an increased chance of it failing in the colder periods.

Not great news I’m afraid! However remember that the A1 Clutches are only a phone call away and can offer advice and assistance whenever you need them.  If your battery fails this winter (or any other time), give us a call.