We often take for granted that our vehicles will start without a problem, and that’s especially important when the temperatures drop and we need to stay safe from the cold. In this blog post, Matthews Tire Green Bay Manager Tom Winninghoff shares why it’s important to have your maintenance team check your battery power regularly.
What to Know About Your Car’s Battery Health
Your car’s automotive battery is the rechargeable source of power used for starting your vehicle. Its main purpose is to power the starting motor, which starts your vehicle’s internal combustion engine. Second, the battery also powers the electronic components of your car, many of which continue operating even when your car is off. So, when your battery is not operating optimally, there’s a chance your car won’t start.
“When the car is running, the alternator recharges the battery as you drive,” Tom said. “If your car is just sitting there, it’s basically not charging at all. If you drive only very short trips, it never really gets the chance to recharge the battery completely.”
Driving your car frequently helps keep it charged up, Tom said. “Letting it sit would be the worst thing.”
Even a couple of weeks without operation can be enough to drain the power of your battery. “With all of the electronic components that come in today’s vehicles, even when the car is turned off, there’s still energy drained from the battery, given all of the things the vehicle is monitoring,” Tom said.
Even fully electric vehicles still use a separate battery to operate certain functions, including starting its main high-voltage battery pack. This battery is not charged by the alternator, however, but rather by a DC-to-DC converter.
Make Sure You Have Your Battery Checked Regularly
Matthews Tire technicians will check your vehicle’s battery power when you bring your car in for regular maintenance. “We test the battery, and that test will tell us whether the battery failed or passed. We’ll recommend replacement based on the amount of amps in the battery,” Tom explained.
Vehicle owners usually can’t test their own batteries. Often, batteries are located in hard-to-access areas of the car. “They’re not always right under the hood like they used to be,” Tom said. “Some of them are under the seats, or in the trunk, back seats or front seats.”
On average, automotive batteries have about a five-year lifespan, but it depends on where your vehicle lives. Wisconsinites actually have an advantage as “heat is far worse than cold,” Tom said. “We live in a climate where batteries actually last longer than a lot of places.” Residents of hotter states—like Florida, Texas or Arizona—may see a shorter battery life because the heat can strain them.
Automotive batteries are more expensive than they used to be, partially because newer batteries contain a gel instead of water. Prices may start at $160 and go up from there, depending on the type needed.
What to Do When Your Car Won’t Start
When vehicle owners run into issues with their car starting in cold weather, it may be because their battery had marginal power to begin with. “If it’s weak, that might put enough stress on the battery to make it fail,” Tom says. That’s why it’s important not to delay a replacement when the battery is running low.
“When batteries get old, they’re just unable to keep recharging to the point where they used to,” Tom said. Similar to your phone battery, after a certain amount of time and a certain number of charges, it just starts wearing down faster, “and then the battery dies of old age.”
The problem is car batteries don’t often give drivers an indication that they’re getting low, Tom says. “You might not have any issues at all, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t start. You can’t expect that you’ll see ‘symptoms.’”
Keeping jumper cables in your car can help you get your vehicle started again, at least long enough to get to Matthews Tire for assistance.
Another thing to watch out for is corrosion on the battery connections, which is caused by moisture and salt. That can also cause a disruption to the current that keeps it from operating at an optimal level.
Bringing your car in for regular maintenance is really the best way to avoid problems with your car failing to start in the cold.
“When you get your oil change, we check the batteries to make sure they’re operating ideally,” Tom said. “That’s what we do.”