How to protect your car battery from the cold and inactivity

Our winters are relatively mild compared to those experienced in the northern hemisphere, but they can still bite – and linger in some states. Your car’s battery is extremely sensitive to temperature and can run out of juice more quickly in the cooler months.

Most Australians have also been under various COVID lockdown restrictions in the past 18 months, meaning many cars nationwide have been sitting idle.

But as we start planning to get back out on the road (if we’re allowed, of course), how many of us will think about the health of the battery under the bonnet?

Data from the JAX Tyres and Auto Road Safety Report shows that just one-third (32 per cent) of drivers check their battery life before a long drive, putting them at risk of being left in the lurch when their car battery fails.

Read: Motoring experts explain how to ‘hear’ what your car is telling you

JAX notes a rise in the number of batteries in poor condition in recent months.

“Car battery health was a particularly noteworthy concern during expert inspections,” JAX says.

“Four in 10 (41 per cent) vehicles inspected in Q1 2021 required some battery replacement, of which 34 per cent required immediate attention.”

The team says there are a number of things you can do to maintain the health of your car’s battery.

Assess the health of your battery
Take note of the sound and feel of your car when you start it. Does it start smoothly and cleanly? Or does it feel as if it’s working hard to turn over? This could be a sign your battery is in trouble.

Read: What to do if your diesel car runs out of fuel

A fully charged car lead-acid battery can withstand temperatures up to -50 degrees Celsius, while a battery low on charge can begin to have performance issues at just -1 degree. Lead-acid batteries contain electrolyte fluid, which is very temperature sensitive. Higher temperatures will speed up the fluid’s internal chemical reactions (and increase power flow), while lower temperatures slow the reactions, and battery performance gets sluggish.

The first step to take to protect your battery (and car in general) is to make sure you park it in a garage and not outside where it will be exposed to the elements. If not in a garage, then at least under a carport.

If this isn’t feasible, you can still help protect your car battery by making sure any accessories, such as phone chargers, are unplugged from USB ports or cigarette lighters as they can draw power even in standby mode.

Take your car for a longer drive at least once a week, as this helps recharge your battery. Frequent, short drives will take more out of your battery than they can put in.

Read: Most common mistakes made by older drivers

While preventative steps will help you get a longer life from your battery, a car battery should be replaced every three to five years.

“More than 20 per cent of vehicles have a battery fault with up to almost 40 per cent requiring servicing or recharging. For peace of mind, seek professional assistance,” JAX says.

How long has it been since you’ve changed your car battery? Do you include the battery in your car maintenance checks? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer