Did you know summer is actually the season hardest on your car battery? However, most Wisconsinites experience car battery problems during winter—one of the most inconvenient times to experience battery failure. The reason: lubricants in your car turn to the consistency of sludge, which means it takes more energy to start your car. When car batteries are starting to die, they don’t have the energy needed and you’re stuck at home or in a random parking lot. So how can you be proactive before you’re stuck at home? Educate yourself. Recognize these signs of battery failure:
- Know your car battery’s age. You don’t have to throw a birthday party for it every year, but you should have a general idea about how old it is. It seems that everyone has a different idea of the average life of a battery, but most batteries start to give out around the 5-year mark (though we’ve seen customers have problem as early as 3 years.) Another reason to track your car battery’s age: knowing how old the battery is allows you to take the battery back during the warranty period when you have problems.
- Inconsistent starting & consistent recharging. We’ve had personal experience with this: your car starts fine most of the time, but is suddenly dead—but not every time, and unpredictably. If you have to sporadically recharge your battery, even if it starts fine most of the time, you need to replace your battery. Yes, a car battery does die if you leave on interior lights, or some other accessory; but if the battery dies without any reason from time to time, it’s time to buy a new car battery at a local auto shop.
- Slow, rough starting. This is the most obvious sign, the long, painful cranking that never seems to end when you are waiting for your car to start. Eventually, the cranking won’t happen, and you’ll be stranded. Buy a battery now, so your car starts consistently.
With the temperatures dipping below zero, you don’t have time to tolerate your dying battery. Purchase a new car battery now, so you don’t get stranded later. Contact your local auto shop for their recommendations for a new battery that’s right for you and find out about any discounts or battery specials.
Even after you purchase that new battery, always carry around jumper cables and know how to jumpstart your car. You never know if your 5-year-old is going to leave an interior light on, or if your 5-year-old battery is going to die. You can know what to do about it, and the first step is to contact the professionals. They can help you purchase a new, strong battery—but they can’t do anything about the Wisconsin cold, or about your 5-year-old that left the interior light on in your car.
Not planning on breaking down or getting stuck during our Wisconsin winter? No one does, but it’s best to prepared for when (not if, but when) you are stranded with a broken down car. Start by purchasing a plastic container or box to store these items in:
- Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number. Don’t be left scrambling trying to find the number at the last minute. Program these numbers into your cell phone, and carry your card in your purse or wallet. Add a copy of your card to your emergency kit.
- Flashlight. Make sure you test the flashlight from time to time, and that the batteries are still strong. You never know when you need a flashlight, and you don’t want to be left in the dark.
- Blanket. Pack a warm, thick blanket that can keep you and your family warm when you are stranded.
- Jack and lug wrench. Most cars come with a jack and lug wrench for changing a tire, but some of the smaller, more compact car models do not. Make sure you have everything you need when you have a flat tire.
- Jumper cables. Wisconsin winters seem to bring out the worst in car batteries (find out why in our recent post). Carry a set of jumper cables all year long, as summer is actually the worst time of year for weak car batteries.
- Boots. Ever tried to shovel out your car with soaking wet shoes on? Not pleasant. Pack an old, waterproof pair of boots that you can use in case you get stuck.
- Snow shovel. Be prepared for the inevitable snow that comes with our Wisconsin winter, and the winter driving that comes with it. A foldable or small shovel is handy for digging your car out of a full day of snow, or cleaning out around when your tires when you go off the road.
- First aid kit. Wisconsin winters are slippery, and sometimes—any time of the year—people get sick. Always carry a small first aid kit with you for those just-in-case times, and make sure a pair of plastic gloves is included so you don’t come in contact with other people’s body fluids.
- Rags and hand sanitizer. Working on your car can be dirty, so carry a few clean rags and small bottle of hand sanitizer so you can clean your hands when done.
Make sure you know how to use jumper cables (for step-by-step instructions click here) and change a tire. Next, schedule an appointment so experienced auto mechanics can make sure your car is ready for winter driving or that long trip to Grandma’s. Test your tires to see if they can make it another season, and you’re ready to hit the road safely and prepared.
How many of us learned to drive without any education about the part of our car integral to driving, the battery? However, when we’re stranded on the coldest day of winter, we quickly learn the importance of a working battery that starts our car (shocking, isn’t it?). Luckily, learning about your car battery is not as complicated as your high school chemistry class. It just starts with a few simple questions.
Why do car batteries go dead in the winter?
Ironically, the heat of our Wisconsin summers is harder on our car batteries than the winter. However, many cars do not start in the cold of winter because fluids in the engine turn to the consistency of molasses, meaning it takes maximum battery power that older batteries do not always have.
How do I jumpstart my car?
Carrying a set of jumper cables is essential for anyone who does not want to be stranded (ever left your lights on? You know what we mean). When the day comes when you need those jumper cables, park another car near the front of your car and turn the cars off. Make sure the cars are secured, and use your parking brake if necessary for safety. Then:
- BE CAREFUL! Remember, you are touching an electrical system, and you could get hurt. Be cautious.
- Locate the positive and negative terminals on your battery. A “+” means positive and a “-“ means negative.
- Attach the positive clamp of the jumper cable to the positive terminal on the dead battery.
- Attach the other positive clamp of the jumper cable to the positive terminal on the live battery.
- Attach the negative clamp of the jumper cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery.
- Attach the other negative clamp of the jumper cable to a non-moving metal part of the engine. Do not reach into any areas with moving belts or parts.
- Turn on the car that starts for a few minutes. Lightly rev the engine by pressing the gas pedal.
- Start the car with the (formerly) dead battery.
- Remove the jumper cables.
- Enjoy a car that starts.
- Get your battery check and replace if necessary.
How long do car batteries last?
The average life of a car battery is 3-5 years. Unfortunately, you can’t always tell when your battery is about to die, as battery testers do not always detect the signs of battery death.
What other questions do you have about your car’s battery? Contact us with your questions!