Know your car battery, help it make it last!

In preparation for the colder months ahead, now’s a pretty good time of year to check your car battery.

Did you know that 70 percent of batteries don’t last 4 years? And that excessive heat, as opposed to cold weather, is what really shortens a battery’s life? While in the old days you had to top up the battery’s fluid level, today’s batteries are sealed and usually come with zero maintenance claims, which, it turns out, is only partly true. Although it’s a fairly hands-off piece of equipment, your car battery is not quite as simple to maintain as the battery in your phone.

What you can do

First, inspect your battery for bulges or cracks, a sure sign it’s damaged internally and is ready to fail. A battery in this condition is dangerous and needs to be replaced immediately, or it could explode when you start your car.

Keep it clean

You can squeeze out more battery life by keeping your battery clean. A dirty battery runs hotter which shortens its life. See any blue salt deposits on the terminals? That kind of corrosion damages cables and impedes current flow, meaning less energy gets to where it needs to go…your starter. Have dirty terminals brushed clean, and corroded cables replaced.

Don’t deep discharge your battery

A car battery charges only when the motor is running, so draining power with the motor off – by using your headlights or playing a DVD for the kids – will discharge a battery deeply. A typical battery can only survive about 10 of these deep depletions before it gives up the ghost.

Recharge your battery fully

And just because your engine is running doesn’t mean your battery will fully recharge. When you make a lot of short shopping trips around town, for instance, your battery will not completely recharge the same way it does during a much longer trip on the highway. In fact it could take weeks of city driving before the charge gets back up to proper levels. That’s why some pros recommend getting a battery charger and fully charging your battery once a month in hot months, and once every three months in cold. It’s actually a pretty clean and easy job you can do over night with an inexpensive charger.

Lastly, when you do replace your battery, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s specifications and get the right size for your vehicle. If you run a lot of electrical equipment, you can even upgrade your battery to make sure you never run short of power.

Your local NAPA AUTOPRO service advisor can check your battery’s remaining life as part of a regular preventive maintenance program. If the battery is still good for a while, he can clean up those terminals, tighten up the connections and have you on your way in no time at all.

But if your car is more than a few years old, don’t be shocked if your battery has had its day.