How to Prevent Your Car Battery from Dying This Winter
If the thought of dragging yourself out of bed for a chilly winter commute gives you the shivers, you’re not alone. Your car’s battery is right there with you, longing for the balmier days and nights of spring and summer.
It’s true, car batteries don’t like the cold and they aren’t big fans of winter. Especially in parts of Canada where the temperature can really drop down into “wear your long johns” territory. It’s not just about poor performance either. Cold snaps can really mess with a car’s battery, even damage it beyond repair or kill it entirely.
If you live in a seriously cold part of Canada and want to avoid dealing with a dead or frozen car battery this winter, here’s what you need to know.
Why your car battery dies in winter
Car batteries can die any time of year but they mostly tend to kick the bucket during winter. This is due to the way electric charges are created in a car battery: Liquid electrolytes mix with lead plates inside the battery, producing a reaction that creates an electric charge.
When the battery is warm, the rate of that reaction is increased. This means less power is required to deliver voltage to the starter (which starts the car) and keep that voltage stabilized (so the engine continues to run).
When the battery is cold, the opposite happens. The rate of reaction is slowed, which means a higher charge is required to start and run the vehicle. At 0℃ a typical car battery loses about 35% of its strength. At -17℃ it loses about 60%.
Over a battery’s lifespan, as it naturally deteriorates from internal corrosion, it becomes more difficult for the battery to deliver that higher charge during cold snaps. When this happens, the battery is more likely to die.
How to prevent your car battery from dying this winter
Fortunately, there are several things Canadian car owners can do to keep their car batteries in tip-top shape throughout winter.
1. Park in a garage or underground parking
First and foremost, if you have the ability to park your vehicle in a garage or underground parking, that’s the best thing you can do. This isn’t an option for everyone but if you have the choice between parking in your garage and parking in the driveway, choose the garage. Don’t park on bare earth as your car can be exposed to moisture and contaminants. Your vehicle should rest on a level surface and be left in neutral (manual) or park (automatic) with the parking brake disengaged.
2. Don’t just idle
To keep your battery in good condition throughout the winter, you should be driving your car for 10km or more a few times each week at least. When you drive your car, the alternator is busy working to charge the battery, replenishing the power that was drawn to start the engine.
If you’re only turning on your car to idle it in the driveway or take very short trips, you’re actually shortening the life of your battery as it never fully recharges. Starting the car draws around 100 amps, for example, while idling it for 15 minutes will only recharge about 3 or 4 amps.
3. Regular battery checks
The battery is a vital component of your vehicle, so treat it that way. Just as you get your antifreeze levels checked regularly, you should be getting your battery checked by a professional (or do it yourself) routinely—especially before and throughout winter. By getting the battery checked, you’ll know what kind of condition it’s in and whether or not it might need to be replaced.
4. Use a battery charger
If you can’t take your car for lengthy drives regularly but still need to use it for short trips here and there, you should consider using a battery charger. Like a block heater, a battery charger is installed under the hood and a plug hangs out the front of your vehicle. You simply plug it into a standard electrical outlet to charge your battery and keep it from draining. There are two main types of car battery chargers to choose from: trickle or tender.
Trickle chargers vs. tender chargers
If your car or battery is on the older side, you might want to consider purchasing one of these devices for extra peace of mind.
Trickle chargers continually provide a small charge to your battery. They don’t know when your battery is charged and will continue to deliver this small charge for as long as they’re plugged in. They’re intended to be slow to avoid overcharging the battery, which can happen if they’re left plugged in for too long.
Tender chargers, sometimes called smart chargers or maintainers, deliver a much faster charge to a car battery. They also know how much power is in the battery and how much it still needs. Once your car battery is charged, the tender charger turns off, preventing overcharging.
Is my car battery covered by warranty?
If you have a brand new vehicle your battery may be covered for a certain number of years by the vehicle manufacturer’s bumper-to-bumper warranty, or by an extended warranty if you opted for one. However, car batteries are generally viewed as wear-and-tear items, which means they are not usually included with warranty coverage.
Fortunately, your battery may be covered by its own manufacturer’s warranty. Typically these warranties are good for two or three years. If you have a battery that’s only a few years old, pop the hood and check the manufacturer. It might still be under warranty.
Does cold weather affect electric vehicle batteries?
Batteries in electric vehicles aren’t immune to the effects of winter either. In fact, because they rely on their batteries to directly power their engines, electric vehicles are more impacted by cold weather than gas-powered vehicles.
This means the range of an EV is impacted, and significantly so. A study done by the American Automobile Association in 2019 found that when the temperature drops to -6℃ and the car’s heating system is on, the average driving range of electric vehicles decreases by as much as 41%.
If you’re living in a cold climate and considering an electric vehicle, you should look at models with a higher driving range than you might actually need, in order to offset the decreased performance you may experience during winter.
Drive safe this winter
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