We generally don’t pay any attention to our car battery until it dies or starts giving us problems. Old car batteries with a poor state of health can contribute to many issues in modern vehicles, and when combined with a low state of charge, this puts additional strain on the charging system and increases fuel consumption.
Up to 43 per cent of breakdowns the AA attends are battery related. Older car batteries are also more likely to start creating problems and less likely to recover after going flat. There will be a number of warning signs for a weak battery, so keep an eye out for them.
One of the most common signs of a poor state of health is a slow cranking engine on start up. A battery that’s too weak to provide sufficient voltage to the starter motor will create a distinctive clicking sound and the engine won’t crank over. The clicking can indicate the battery isn’t fully charged, but the only way to really find out the cause of the problem is through further diagnostics.
In this situation it’s important to contact a battery specialist to have a full diagnostic test on the battery and electrical system. A battery service centre can perform a battery test to determine if it needs to be replaced. If your battery is more than three years old or is not capable of holding a charge, it’s likely that you’ll need a replacement. Sometimes a fault in the charging system such as the alternator may be the culprit, but if replacing the battery is necessary, a professional will be able to advise you on the best option for your vehicle. It’s important your replacement battery meets the manufacturer’s specification.
To get the best value from your battery, we’ve come up with some top tips on how to look after it.
Check your electrical connections
Ensure the battery terminals and cable connections are clean and tight to keep everything in good working order. Corrosion at the battery terminals can prevent a car from starting by adding electrical resistance, so it’s important to clean the terminals periodically using water and a wire brush. Always wear the correct protective gear (gloves and eye protection) when doing this as the white powder (lead sulphate) is toxic if inhaled, ingested or comes into contact with your skin.
Also, check the battery isn’t loose as vibration can cause damage to the battery case and plates.
Keep batteries clean and dry
A dirty battery surface can lead to a discharge and corrosion, therefore it’s vital to avoid spilling oil or grease on the top of the battery.
Keep your battery charged
It's important to keep a battery fully charged. Under-charged or under-used batteries will slowly go flat over time, ultimately reducing the life of your battery. If you have a home charger, make sure it’s compatible with your car’s battery, or it may not fully charge. An AGM battery for example requires an AGM specific charger.
Handle with care
There are some important things to consider before you decide to handle your car’s battery:
- Avoid placing metallic objects on top of a battery as it could cause the battery to short.
- Batteries produce hydrogen gas which can be highly explosive so keep flames and sparks away.
- Batteries can be very heavy so always use the correct lifting procedure. Some batteries come with a carry handle to make this easier.
- The electrolytes in lead acid batteries contain sulphuric acid, which can cause burning to sensitive skin and damage to clothing. If you come into contact with this acid, use lots of water on the affected area and wash clothing as soon as possible.
- Keep children away from batteries.
Handling a battery can be hazardous so if you don’t feel confident enough to carry out these checks, we recommend getting your battery checked and tested by a professional.