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How long does a car battery last? (part 2)

J&H Automotive

Series: car battery | Story 2

This article is continued from The Loop newspaper's Sept. 17 issue.

How can you determine your battery needs replacing?

You can't accurately deem a battery as failed without a load test, which shops use special equipment to perform. This special equipment puts the battery and charging system under loads, meaning it simulates various accessories drawing power from it, at different times. Doing this helps determine if the problem lies in the battery or charging system as they often have similar symptoms.

There are several warning signs of a bad battery. Keep in mind, these can also be signs that the charging system is failing, so you'll want to have a shop perform a load test before replacing the battery.

Battery light is on after a jumpstart

The biggest telltale sign of a bad battery is the battery light - a red warning light in the shape of a car battery - or the "check charging system" warning displays on the gauge cluster after getting a jumpstart. This means the self-diagnostic system detects abnormal power flow in the charging system, and that could mean it's time for a battery replacement.

Car stalls once you remove the jumper cables

The charging system requires a complete healthy circuit to run. If your battery is bad and breaks the circuit, the power can't make it to critical components required for the vehicle to run. Once you attach jumper cables, it creates a new, good circuit. However, once you disconnect the jumper cables, that good circuit breaks, forcing your car to shut down. This is a common sign of a bad battery that needs replacing.

Car runs poorly after a jumpstart

In the same way a car will die after a jumpstart, a bad battery may allow enough power to flow to let the vehicle run, but it'll run roughly. You may experience rough idle or rougher-than-usual transmission gear shifts. These symptoms will likely worsen as you turn on accessories like the air conditioning, headlights, or radio. A "check engine" light oftentimes accompanies this.

Lights dim when you turn on other accessories

It's perfectly normal for your headlights to flicker for a second when you turn on an accessory, like the air conditioning. It takes a second for the alternator to adjust to the extra power demand, leading to that flicker. However, if your headlights remain dimmer when you turn on an accessory, this could be a failing battery.

How can you maximize your car battery life?

While a car battery has a finite lifespan, there are ways to maximize its longevity. Here are some tips to keep your battery in great shape as long as possible.

Battery blanket

As we mentioned, cold winters can freeze your battery. You can protect your battery from freezing by buying a thermal battery blanket. You simply wrap the blanket around the sides of the battery - avoiding the battery terminals - and plug it in. This will keep your battery from freezing overnight.

A blanket works well in the heat, too. Most manufacturers install thin insulation around the battery at the factory, but this often gets thrown out or forgotten about during the first battery replacement. You can buy a replacement online that helps protect it from under-hood heat.

Park in the garage

If you have a garage, park your car in there to keep it out of extreme temperatures. If your garage is cluttered, this is the perfect excuse to straighten it up and make room for the vehicle.

Keep it on charge

You may remember older cellphones and laptops and their overcharging issues, but the lead acid batteries in today's cars don't suffer from that issue. In fact, they thrive on being charged.

If you rarely drive your vehicle or only drive it short distances, a trickle charger or battery maintainer may be a good option to extend your battery life. These gadgets slowly recharge the battery, giving it the small amount of juice it needs to stay alive. When you're ready to drive, just disconnect the charger, and you're on your way.

In extreme cold, these trickle chargers may not be enough. If you frequently endure sub-zero temperatures, you may want to invest in an advanced battery charger. These chargers automatically sense the battery's condition and recharge it as needed. Once it completes the recharging process, it automatically switches to a maintenance mode.

Take a daily wintertime drive

Even if you have no errands to run, plan to take your car for a 10- to 20-minute drive every day during the winter - and don't forget to add in those winter tires.

You need just enough time to warm up the engine bay and get the battery juices flowing again. Maybe plan to grab a coffee at the cafe across town instead of around the block or check out the grocery store in the next town over.

Whatever you do, just make sure you get your car out on the road for 10-20 minutes every day in the winter.

Crush the corrosion

Battery terminals corrode, and there's no stopping it. When the battery charges, it heats, which causes the sulfuric acid inside the battery to turn into hydrogen gas. This hydrogen gas has a chemical reaction with the lead on the battery terminals, causing the whitish corrosion you often see on battery terminals.

This corrosion is mostly harmless, but it can interfere with the power flow, slowing the battery's recharging or its ability to deliver power to start the engine. You can easily clean this with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda to 250 mL of hot water. Dip an old toothbrush in the mixture and scrub off the corrosion.

Check it often

Regular battery and charging system checkups are crucial for catching problems before they leave you stranded. Many auto repair shops will perform a free starting and charging system analysis during an oil change - you simply have to ask for it. If they don't offer it for free, it'll be relatively inexpensive and well worth the peace of mind.

For more information please consult the knowledgeable technicians at J&H Automotive. The shop is located at 501 W. Tehachapi Blvd. and can be reached at (661) 822-9171.