Battery issues are a common complaint from car owners during the Winter months when temperatures drop. Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), says the cold can be tough, especially on weak batteries. “As it gets colder it becomes harder for the engine to turn over because the oil inside the engine thickens which demands far more current from a battery, and the battery cannot produce its normal amount of energy because of the cold,” he explains.
Along with that, the ability to accept a charge drops so the battery doesn’t recharge as quickly when the vehicle is being driven. Another consideration is the load increase when heaters, blowers and lights are switched on.
“There are warning signs to look out for that may point to a battery on its way out. A grinding or clicking sound when you start the ignition is an indicator of a weak battery, for example. Others include headlights dimming when idling but brightening when the engine revs and if the vehicle cranks slowly when attempting to start it,” he says.
While three to five years is a typical life span of a battery various internal and environmental conditions impact on a battery’s long-term health. Ranft says that the climate, how far and often you drive your vehicle, and the length of time electronic accessories are plugged into your vehicle are all contributing factors.
“It’s important to remember that when your car is not running, the battery continues to supply power to the clock, the anti-theft system, and the other conveniences. Accessories like smartphones and tablets also add to the drain. It therefore makes sense to unplug mobile phones, tablets, chargers and other electronic devices when you don’t need them, especially when the car is turned off. While the car battery won’t run down immediately if a device is being charged while the engine is not running, the battery’s capacity over time will be affected from multiple devices drawing current from it,” he explains.
Along with removing devices, Ranft offers these other tips to reduce the chance of your battery dying in the colder months:
- If the battery is more than five years old and there's any sign of it struggling to start the car, get it replaced. Some batteries will struggle on for a bit longer but many won't. It's much better done at your convenience than as a roadside emergency.
- Check that everything electrical is turned off when you park overnight – even an interior light, boot light, or radio left on overnight can kill a battery when it's cold.
- Switch off everything electrical when you start a cold car.
“If you are unsure about the state of your battery, drop into an accredited MIWA workshop and speak to a mechanic. There is a simple battery check that will let you know whether your battery is weak and needs replacing. Don’t wait until you breakdown to find out your battery is the issue,” he advises.