Your car’s battery is the lifeblood for many mechanical and electrical components that are responsible for its overall performance. When something goes wrong with your battery, your car is not going anywhere fast – if at all. Without a healthy battery, your car’s engine may not start, and most electrical accessories will not function adequately, if at all.
It goes without saying that when there is a problem in this area, things can get stressful. The lifespan of a car battery can vary depending on several factors including how often it’s used, overall vehicle condition, battery quality and the battery’s suitability to the application.
The real concern is if you have a relatively new battery that starts showing signs of trouble. This post will outline some of the most common issues associated with a relatively new(ish) battery that fails to deliver consistent, reliable starting.
Too Little, Too Often
Cars are a fantastic way to get around, however their convenience makes it a little too appealing to drive when you could have walked. Car batteries struggle with frequent use in the form of short trips which can eventually deplete the level of charge. Cranking the engine to start your car can draw hundreds of amps from your battery. Once the engine is running the alternator begins charging the battery, but car batteries only accept charge at a relatively slow rate, so you may need to drive for some time to fully recharge / replace all the power used to start the engine.
If you have frequent stop-starts or short trips you could be stopping your vehicle before the alternator has had a chance to recharge the battery. This can result in a drained battery which is much like a drained fuel tank – not necessarily faulty, but won’t work until you top it up again.
Too Hot, Too Cold
Whether it is too hot or too cold, your battery might be struggling with extreme temperatures outside. Car batteries are happiest operating in the range of 5 to 30 degrees Celsius. Car engines require more cranking power in cold weather, at the same time your battery’s cranking ability drops in line with lower temperatures, increasing the likelihood of battery failure on cold, frosty mornings.
On very hot days the under-bonnet temperature can be extreme, leading to loss of electrolyte (evaporation) and increased corrosion damage inside your battery. Batteries in hot regions can be expected to last about half as long compared to those used in cooler climates.
Faulty Charging System or Starter Motor
Your car’s alternator is responsible for keeping your battery charged. So, when your battery is not holding sufficient charge it might be an alternator issue. If your alternator’s output voltage is too low, you’ll end up with a flat battery. If the voltage is too high (faulty regulator) then your battery will over-charge, over-heat and eventually fail.
Starter motors, like batteries, don’t last forever. A worn or faulty starter motor will draw excessively high current from the battery, so should be attended to promptly to avoid the expense of having to replace both starter motor and battery.
Incorrect Battery Type or Size
An ever-increasing number of late-model cars are equipped with special batteries designed to work in conjunction with fuel-saving systems such as ‘Idle-Stop-Start” and computer-controlled charging systems. These high-tech batteries will usually be designated AGM, VRLA or EFB and must be replaced like-for like to avoid premature battery failure.
Replacement batteries in all cars should meet or exceed the OE manufacturer’s recommendations.
Loose, Worn or Dirty Terminals
Battery terminals and cables must be clean, dry and tightly secured to perform at their optimum.
If you can twist or turn the terminal on the battery post, then it’s too loose and there is an increased risk of melting the battery terminal or even explosion caused by spark at the loose connection. Corrosion on the terminals or inside the battery cables will increase resistance and prevent full power from being delivered to the starter motor. Exercise caution when removing battery terminals – some later-model cars may require a “back-up” power supply to be connected to maintain power to the vehicle’s electrical systems. Consult the owner’s manual before removing terminals for cleaning.