Car battery care during lockdown

By Saoirse McClure Fisher
on February 08, 2020 09:00:00 AM BST

Car Battery Care During Lockdown

By Saoirse McClure Fisher
on February 08, 2020 3:16:18 PM BST

Due to the current restrictions, everyone is feeling just a little flat and rundown. But we aren’t the only ones. It is completely understandable that you haven’t been using your car quite as much in the current climate. As a result, your car battery may be a little under the weather. Car batteries have a drain demand on them, even when your car is parked. In this article, we’ll look at battery care during the lockdown and how you can give your motor a shot in the arm.

What is Powered by My Car Battery?

Well, that’s an easy one. Pretty much anything that uses electricity in your car will be powered by the battery. Here are some things that will be powered by the battery: -

  • The lights
  • Your stereo
  • The windows
  • The wipers
  • The seat heating (alright, don’t boast)
  • The displays for things such as navigation

We actually missed a big one out, and it’s kind of crucial. The starter motor is powered by the battery. That leaves us in a bit of a dilemma actually (a worse dilemma than whether a bottle of wine is truly ‘essential’) …

To charge a battery, a car engine needs to run. This turns an alternator, which in turn powers the battery. If you can’t start the car, you can’t power the alternator, and you can’t charge the battery. We haven’t seen a circle this vicious since the last conservative party leadership race.

However, don’t worry. It’s normally a long time until your battery is completely flat…

How Long Can a Car Battery Sit Unused?

This all depends on several factors. The battery’s age is one of the biggest factors in how long it will hold your charge. As a battery charge goes up and down in cycles, it becomes gradually less and less efficient in holding a charge. As a result, older batteries tend not to hold their charge for quite as long.

As a good average, we’d say that between one and two months is about the maximum time a battery can be left without charging before it goes completely flat… Now you know why you always see repair trucks at the airport!...

Why Does a Car Battery Drain When Not in Use?

Just because your car isn’t running doesn’t mean that it isn’t using any battery power. Several smaller systems are continuously powered. They may not use a lot of charge, but they all take their toll over a long period.

Think about it. The clock in your car uses a minuscule amount of battery 24/7. The immobilizer is a miniature computer required to be ‘on’ all day, every day. The alarm too, is constantly running. And we won’t even mention the electronic handbrake! Live on a hill? Chocks away!

Your battery doesn’t have to be entirely flat either. As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of juice to turn a starter motor. If you are on the wrong side of enough charge, the engine will refuse to start.

If you were doing your normal half-hour commute, this wouldn’t be a problem, but lately, short journeys are about as far as you can go. Your battery never gets back up to ‘full’, so you are starting (or not) from an unfavorable position.

Looking After Your Car Battery

So now we know the reasons, let’s look at some ways you can keep your motor ticking over, even in the cold depths of winter (and lockdown)

Guard Against Battery Corrosion.

Lockdown’s aside, winter is never a batteries friend. Cold and moisture can cause corrosion on a battery’s terminals. This degrades both the effectiveness of charging and power flowing from the battery to each system.

Corrosion normally looks like a blue-green ‘rust’. Be sure to clean it away to ensure optimum battery contact.

Disconnect your Battery

Ok, it might seem a little extreme. But if you are really committed to ‘staying safe’, you might not be using the car for a while.

If the battery isn’t connected, then it can’t discharge. (Otherwise, Duracell would be in deep trouble.)

Be sure to make sure you aren’t relying on an electric parking brake. It is quite easy to disconnect a battery. However, they can give a nasty shock, so it might be worth calling the help of a professional.

Be aware that some cars require continuous power to some systems. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

Keep Your Car Battery Warm

Did you know that when a battery is cold, it discharges quicker? If you’ve been out for a long walk in the cold (which is about the height of our ‘fun’ at the moment), you may notice your phone battery dies quicker. The same is true of car batteries.

The way to keep your battery warm is to keep it indoors. A heated garage or even just out of the way of the elements may serve to keep your battery warmer and prolong its life.

Drive Twice a Week

Well, when we say ‘drive,’ we mean to have your engine ticking over as a minimum. We appreciate that a zealous policeman may not accept that ‘charging your battery’ is a reason for ‘essential’ travel (or we could have just given you a great excuse?). But what you can do is run your engine twice a week for around 15 minutes.

An important thing to note is that you mustn’t do this in an enclosed space. Outside only! (it’s not often nowadays you get someone telling you to ‘go outside’ we know!)

Jump-Starting Your Car

If the engine doesn’t turn over, we’ve got a couple of top tips.

First, don’t keep trying. If the engine struggles to turn over (or nothing happens at all), you’ll only flatten your battery further.

Our second isn’t a fix, but it is a solution. Invest in a pair of jump leads. They are really cheap, and, provided you can find a socially distanced neighbor who is willing to help, you’ll be able to ‘borrow’ the power of someone else’s battery to get the engine started. From there, you’ll have to leave it running to let the alternator do its work.

You can see a really simple video on how to jump start your car right here.

Time to Invest in a New Battery?

Sometimes you need to know when to give up.

If you have a battery that is losing charge quickly, is heavily corroded, or is just old, your best bet might be to invest in a new battery. They aren’t particularly expensive, and when you consider how much use you get from them, a new car battery might just be a worthy use of your time and money.

Final thoughts

Like most car components, your car battery needs care and attention. It is one of the systems that suffer most when the car is idle for a long time. Hopefully, better times are on the horizon, and a flat battery (and lockdowns) will be a distant memory. Until that time comes, look after your car battery and yourself. If you are worried about COVID, see our article on disinfecting your car here!

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