Expert advice: How to prevent car battery trouble

Car battery trouble

Battery trouble is the number one reason that Green Flag’s technicians are called out to broken down cars. So it’s true to say that the battery is the weakest link in a car. New research by parts company Mopar shows that every year, around a fifth of car batteries in the UK need to be replaced.

The reason people get caught out by battery trouble is that frequently there are few pointers that it’s about to strike. That’s why Green Flag’s new AlertMe technology is such a breakthrough. It can tell drivers when a car battery is on the verge of failing in sufficient time for them to do something about it. If you don’t have AlertMe, here’s why your battery is the power behind your engine.

How the battery starts your engine

Up to the 1960s, pretty much every car had a hole in its front bumper where you could slot in a starting or cranking handle. By putting your back into it and turning this you turned the engine over and hopefully it fired into life. That job is now done by a starter motor which is powered by the car’s battery. Although the starter motor doesn’t operate for long, it can sap a lot of power from the battery. Turning an engine over does require a bit of oomph. Anyone who’s done the job using a cranking handle will know. And the bigger the engine and the colder the weather, which makes the oil thicker – think running in mud!– the more effort that’s required to get an engine going. Once the battery has done that main job, you might forgive it for feeling a little jaded.

What else does the battery do?

In addition to powering the starter motor, the battery also provides the juice for the vehicle’s other electrical systems such as the numerous computers that control the engine, traction control, ventilation, sound system and sat nav etc on top of basic things like the lights and wipers. So it has quite a big job on its hands. If the battery isn’t constantly being charged while you drive, the car gradually stops working: the radio cuts out; the lights die; and eventually the engine stops.

How the battery is charged

The battery works with an alternator which is attached to the engine by a rubber belt. You may have heard this called the fan belt as in the old days the belt went around the engine’s cooling fan too. When the engine is running, the pulley on the end of the alternator is driven by the belt which in turn produces electrical current. The current is then fed into the battery to ensure it always has plenty of charge for the job it needs to do.

What the battery warning light means

Car battery trouble

Car mechanics have equipment that will tell you the state of your battery

A red light in the shape of a battery should come on when you turn the car’s ignition on. It should then go out almost instantly. This is the car’s computer checking that the battery is in working order. If the battery light comes on while you’re driving, it means there’s a problem with the charging system. What it doesn’t mean is that the battery is dead. In fact, your car will keep driving with the battery light on until all the charge in the battery is exhausted. It’s then that your car will stop. What the battery light usually means is that the alternator, or the link between it and the engine, has failed. So head to a garage and get them to check things out. What you shouldn’t do is simply buy a new battery. If there’s a problem with the alternator, a new battery will run down almost as quickly as the old one. Similarly, if when you turn the ignition on the battery light doesn’t come on, nine times out of 10 this is an indication the circuits inside the alternator have failed. Again, the Alternator won’t be charging your battery.

How to treat your battery

Car batteries are heavy duty bits of kit. They usually have a life span of between five and seven years. However, how they’re treated has an effect on how long they’ll last. For a start, before you fire the engine, don’t switch the headlamps on or the ventilation fan up to max. This will enable your battery to concentrate its charge on the starter motor.

As we’ve seen, once it’s got the engine going, the battery needs to recover. It does this by being charged via the alternator. However, if the car isn’t driven far, the battery doesn’t get enough of a charge. And if a battery is kept at less than 80 per cent of its full charge, the acid will gather at the bottom in a process called acid stratification. To prevent this happening and keep your battery in good shape, you should drive the car for at least 20 minutes once a week to charge the battery.

Batteries for the future

Battery technology is beginning to change. Most new cars now have Stop/Start where the engine is cut when the car is stationary. As you can imagine this happens a lot, particularly in city driving and helps cut fuel consumption. But the constant starting of the engine means a different type of battery is required, typically known as an Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM). A different internal construction to a standard Lead-Acid battery enables a lot more power to be delivered in a quicker time. This helps the AGM battery cope with the repeated demands from the starter motor on vehicles equipped with Stop/Start. The downside is a complex battery management system that may need to be reset by a dealer or garage if you change the battery yourself.

self-driving carsNick Reid is a fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry and head of transformation at Green Flag

What your car insurance premium pays for and how to spend less

car insurance premiums

Whiplash can be a legitimate complaint. But it’s so hard to prove there are calls to make claiming harder to cut down on fraud

Drivers can now work out exactly what their car insurance premium pays for – and it’s probably not what you think. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has broken down the cost of premiums to show the different elements we pay for when our annual renewal is due. It wants to use the stats to encourage the government to speed up reforms which it hopes will cut the cost of cover for drivers.

By far the biggest part of our car insurance is in pay outs for personal injuries. These account for more than a third (37 per cent) of every driver’s premium. With the average driver paying £434 a year for cover, that’s £161 from every driver in the UK going on injury compensation.

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How to transport fireworks safely by car

Transport fireworks safely by car

It’s that time of year when children are getting excited and mums are warning dads not to get carried away buying industrial quantities of fireworks that resemble a bunker buster. But while plenty of guidance is given to help everyone have a safe fireworks display at home or in public, little thought is given on how to transport fireworks safely by car.

Fireworks are extremely dangerous. The Government’s last recorded figures on injuries caused by fireworks, from 2005, showed that 990 people were hurt during a four week period around November 5.

However, there are some sensible tips and several essential steps that drivers should take to ensure that carrying fireworks in a car doesn’t result in a serious accident.

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How to buy a used electric car with a lapsed manufacturer warranty

Warranty wisdom

Nissan’s Leaf has now been on sale in the UK since 2011 (Picture © Nissan)

Electric cars have become increasingly popular among savvy drivers looking to plug into cheaper running costs. With the most successful model ‑ Nissan’s Leaf ‑ now five years old, ever more used electric cars that are no longer covered by a manufacturer’s warranty will be for sale. This guide should ensure you end up with a car that puts some spark into your life rather than leaving you feeling flat.

What is there to look out for?

There might not be much to do beneath the bonnet of an electric car, apart from topping up the windscreen washer bottle, but there are still

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Illegal tyres are behind half the defective vehicles police stop in the UK

Illegal tyres

Experts believe there could be millions of illegal tyres on our roads

Illegal tyres are becoming an ever more regular occurrence when police stop cars for vehicle defects. With winter approaching and the threat of more adverse weather conditions, drivers are being urged to pay more attention to their tyres.

By analysing data from Britain’s police forces, researchers from garage chain Kwik Fit found that half (50 per cent) of the defective vehicles stopped in 2015 had illegal tyres. That’s up by 10 per cent over 2013. Two thirds (65 per cent) of drivers who were given penalty points for a dangerous vehicle had tyres below the minimum 1.6mm tread depth.

A quarter of cars stopped with dodgy rubber (26 per cent) had tyres with the cord or ply exposed. Cords are part of the structure of a tyre. If you can see them it means the tyre is seriously worn and possibly structurally damaged and could be liable to suffer a sudden deflation or blow out.

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Expert tips: how to stay safe driving in the rain

Expert tips: how to stay safe when driving in the rain

It’s been a great summer with long, warm days that have been as appreciated by drivers as they have by those putting up a deckchair or firing up the barbeque. However, the autumn weather is bringing rain to Britain, which makes for more difficult driving conditions.

Despite modern cars brimming with electronic systems that can help prevent an accident, all experts agree that it’s important drivers adjust their driving style to allow for the challenges that wet roads present man and machine. We asked Daffyd Williams, a professional driving instructor and driving team manager at Mercedes-Benz World, for his expert tips on staying safe when driving in the rain.

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Part-worn tyres shock: Second-hand rubber that may cost drivers dear

Part-worn tyres

This tyre is illegally damaged but it was still sold by a dealer as a part-worn (Picture © TyreSafe)

Second-hand or part-worn tyres are a booming business in Britain. But these tyres, often sold under the premise of saving drivers money, could be at best a waste of money, at worst lethal.

Tyre trade experts estimate that every year between four and a half and six million part-worn tyres are sold in the UK. However, when campaigning charity TyreSafe conducted research it found that 98 per cent were sold illegally and 34 per cent had potentially dangerous defects.

What is a part-worn tyre?

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Why October is a great time for a used car bargain – and how to haggle with dealers

Used car bargain

What driver doesn’t love bagging a used car bargain? Saving thousands of pounds can give a warmer glow than spending two weeks on a sun lounger in the Med. And there are few better times of the year than October to buy a great car at a knockdown price.

Every March and September, the registration prefix changes for new cars. It’s a way for drivers and the motor trade to differentiate between the age of cars, and in a nation obsessed about keeping up with the Joneses, the effect is to create dramatic seasonal spikes in new car sales.

This is great news for the canny car buyer. The market is flooded with second-hand cars that have been traded in as a part-exchange, and when there’s more supply than demand, car dealers have to pull together some seriously competitive deals to help sell all that second-hand stock.

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UK road safety: car buyers urged to pick safer cars to cut deaths in at-risk road users

UK Road safety

It’s claimed drivers should buy EuroNCAP 5-star cars such as the Volvo XC90

British car buyers have been urged to choose only top rated cars for safety after new research revealed a worrying trend that could be costing lives. When it comes to sales of new cars that are ranked best for pedestrian protection in crashes, the UK lines up 19th of the 28 European countries. According to the executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), this could be preventing Britain from cutting deaths to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

The UK’s road safety struggle

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Tow car of the year: Best cars for pulling caravans, boats or other trailers

Tow car

You can’t employ any old motor as a tow car. Pulling something heavy such as a caravan, boat or trailer requires a broad range of abilities from a car. That’s why every year the Caravan Club awards its Tow Car of the Year gong.

In the words of the Caravan Club: “Our annual tow car competition puts a variety of cars to the test, to provide members with an evaluation and recommendation on which are the best buys for 2017.” Continue reading