A dead battery, left the car lights on overnight? If not, it could be battery failure.
Car batteries don’t warrant much thought until they start failing. That horrible noise as you turn the ignition, or worse just an ominous clicking sound telling you the battery is truly dead. Winter always causes extra strain on a vehicle battery; car light, heaters and wipers seem to be on for every journey.
Temperature does play a big part on the performance of a vehicle battery and should factor in when choosing a replacement. Cars used in warm climates, especially prolonged days of hot temperatures, should select a battery with a good service life. Hot temperatures evaporate electrolyte and increase plate corrosion.
Car Batteries have a Cold Cranking Amp (CCA) rating. The Cold Crank rating is determined at a maximum temperature of 32 F. By upgrading your battery by 100 amps more then a manufacture has recommended could rid you of dull starts. Drivers in cold climates where temperatures frequently drop below freezing would also benefit from a battery with a higher CCA.
Our driving habits can influence the efficiency on a car battery’s life. When choosing a replacement consider how you use your car. If you’re making lots of short trips, look for a battery with a good service length because short trips restrict time for the battery to recharge. Our trucks need good strong casing to cope with our robust driving and help prevent lead plate failure.
Batteries usually come in two categories, maintenance or non-maintenance batteries that require hardly any attention once installed. A novice driver would benefit from a maintenance-free battery, they cost more but that’s the price of convenience. A battery requiring maintenance is not over complicated just needs checking regularly. Look at the electrolyte levels to ensure that fluid levels are over the top of battery plates. If you need more fluid top up using distilled or demineralised water. Never top up fluid levels with acid.
It is always worth casting an eye over the battery regularly. A dirty battery can discharge across the grime on top of the battery casing. Ensure the battery top is clean and dry, free of dirt and grime. Inspect the terminals, screws, clamps and cables for breakage, damage or loose connections. These should be clean, tight and free of corrosion.
If you are a mucky 4×4’er apply a thin coating of high temperature grease to posts and cable connections for added protection. Check it’s still held in securely and not knocked lose. Inspect the battery case for obvious signs of physical damage or warping. This indicates the battery has overheated or has been overcharged at some point. Test the battery using either a hydrometer or voltmeter and charge if necessary. Hydrometers measure the Specific Gravity of the electrolyte and indicate the density of electrolyte compared to water. As this requires access to acid reservoirs, it is only suitable for use with maintainable batteries.
Voltage (V) and Specific Gravity (SG) are measurements used to determine a battery’s state of charge. Voltage is a quick and easy way of measuring charge levels and is measured by connecting either a multi-meter or voltmeter and obtaining a DC reading. Always connect the multi-meter parallel to the circuit being tested, observing polarity; otherwise the result will be negative.
Unloaded Test is performed with either device when there is no current draw on the battery. A specific gravity reading of 1.275 to 1.290 shows a full charge whereas a reading below 1.240 indicates that the battery should be recharged. If the stabilised open circuit voltage is below 12.55V, this also indicates recharging is required.
Low Load Test this is conducted using a multi-meter or volt-meter whilst running an accessory, such as the headlights, and taking a voltage reading. The battery in a 12V system should have at least 11.5V DC with the lights on. If the voltage drops below this level, the battery needs charging.
A car battery has a recommended life of four years. Ask a mechanic to meter test the battery at the same time its in for an oil change if you don’t have a meter. This will help keep you informed and hopefully avoid an unexpected cost of a new battery.
So if you’ve had your battery on charge every night for the last month, risking breakdown every outing, you need a new one. Before parting with your money check the placement of the battery terminals and if it has connectors, because it’s a long walk back to the shop if the leads don’t reach. Avoid purchasing a used battery that’s more than six months old. Be responsible and make sure to dispose of old batteries according to local regulations. If you’ve gathered a few dead batteries and yes more then one is not a doorstop, then phone up the local metal dealers and ask them if they buy and what’s their price.
Finally, if you’ve ever wondered what those numbers on a battery reference, they are the shipping dates. Numbers are either heat-stamped into the cover or written on a sticker stuck to the cover. Some manufacturers use a letter plus a number to indicate month and year. For instance, a battery shipped in January 2014 would have an “A” for January and a “4” for 2014.
Other manufacturers use a single-digit number for year followed by a three-digit number for month and date. Using this method, a “2” for 2012 would be followed by a “030” indicating that the car shipped on January 30, or the 30th day of the year.