The Battery Factor
By Louis Rumao
It is easy to take the components that keep vehicles running for granted, such as coolant, tyres and especially the battery. We hop in, turn the key, the engine starts and we are off – until there is only a click or dead silence when the key is turned. In the past, we usually had some warning that a battery was getting ready to fail. The vehicle’s engine became sluggish, not turning over fast as it should – a signal that it was time to start thinking about a new battery. Modern ignition and fuel systems can start a car with a minimum of cranking and it is common for a battery to seem perfectly normal right up to the minute the engine won’t start.
Today’s batteries are simple to maintain with regular check-ups during scheduled service calls. With a maintenance-free or sealed battery, you don’t have to check or refill the electrolyte levels. However, there is still acid corrosion that accumulates at the terminals, where the cables are connected to the posts. By removing this corrosion with a wire brush and an effective cleaner, you can be sure to get the longest battery life possible.
If you keep your vehicle for a long time, you will probably have to replace the battery a number of times. Either it gets old and has to be replaced, or it is drained unintentionally when lights or another electrical accessory are left on. There’s never a good time for a battery to die, and a dead battery can be a hassle, especially if you cannot find jumper cables or have to wait for roadside assistance.
Choosing the “best” battery for your vehicle is easier if you are familiar with your options before you need a quick replacement. The time to consider purchasing a new car battery is not when it leaves you stranded on a cold, dark, and stormy night. When you need information about car batteries, independent sources, such as Consumer Reports, are your best resource. These reviews will give you unbiased buying advice that you can trust.
Choosing the right battery
All batteries lose strength over time, even when idle. So choose one no more than six months old. Most have a shipping code on the case. Some use a letter for the month (“A” for January) and a number for the year (“4” for 2014); others may use different date codes. A model with a plastic loop handle is helpful. Such a handle makes it easier to lift and carry batteries, which are heavy, and just as important, aids in lowering the battery onto the tray in tightly-packed engine compartments.
The replacement battery must be the right size and design (or type) for your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual or an in-store fit guide before shopping. Choose a battery that fits your climate and driving conditions. Frequent high temperatures are very tough on batteries, increase corrosion of plates, and more quickly vaporize the electrolyte that is needed for power generation. Long-life battery is also desirable if you make many short trips that don’t allow much time for recharging. Along with good long-life performance, choose a battery which scores well in cold-cranking amps (CCA) and reserve-capacity testing.
(Full Text in PTA April-May issue)