Preparing Your Car Battery For Winter

by Don Elliott on September 15, 2011

Maintaining your car during the winter helps preserve your used car value. Interstate Batteries reports that your car battery loses 33% of its power when the temperature drops below freezing. It loses 50% when the temperature drops below zero! A weak car battery won’t have enough power to turn over a cold engine when the temperatures go down.

Car battery problems can be diagnosed well before winter weather comes around. Your automotive professional has the proper tools to diagnose the condition of your car battery and charging components that keep the battery fully charged.

The tool that checks the car battery is called a voltmeter. For the do-it-yourselfer, a medium grade voltmeter costs about $60. Your car battery, when fully charged, will read 12.6 volts. A reading of 12.4 volts or lower indicates that the car battery needs to be recharged.

To check if the car battery is charging correctly, connect the voltmeter while the engine is running. The alternator should produce 13.5 to 14.5 volts while the engine is idling. Anything higher or lower indicates it is time to replace the alternator.

An electronic battery tester (about $45) is needed to test whether your car battery is capable of holding a charge. Conventional load testers require that the car battery is fully charged. Electronic versions are capable of accurately reading a partially discharged car battery. Car batteries wear out over time. Any car battery over five years old may have lost its ability to hold a charge.

To perform at maximum efficiency, connections to the car battery have to be clean and tightly fastened. Corrosion on the terminals can be removed with baking soda and a wire brush. To prevent further corrosion, smear on a coating of grease or Vaseline.

If your car battery is one that has fluid levels that can be checked, top the cylinders off periodically with distilled water to maintain the charge.

Your car battery should be securely fastened onto the battery tray. A loose battery can damage itself as it rattles around. Potholes or fast stops can jar the car battery, making it easy to break connections and terminals.

Your car’s electrical system relies on a very precise supply of electrical current to perform correctly. Low amperage can cause the car’s onboard computer to malfunction. Newer cars have a chip that supports the Keep Alive Memory (KAM). The KAM supports the electronic modules that maintain settings and learned memory of sound systems, clocks, climate control settings, and computer settings for how the car runs and drives. A completely dead car battery may require a trip to your franchised car dealership to have the electrical system reset.

Once you have determined that it is time to replace the car battery, be sure to use a replacement car battery that is rated as high as the one originally specified. Your battery vendor will help dispose of your old car battery, well before the snow begins to fall.

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