On the face of it, a car battery is a boring piece of equipment that’s often hidden away and rarely given a moment’s thought. But drivers who don’t want to end up stranded at home or, worse still, at the roadside should pay more attention to their car’s battery, or it could go flat.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the battery is the heart of a car. If it goes flat, your car stops working. And flat batteries are the number one cause for technicians from Green Flag to be called out to rescue drivers.
The reasons car batteries are the number one culprit causing breakdowns are simple. Batteries don’t last forever; they typically have a working life of between five and seven years. And batteries are placed under increasing strain, as new cars offer a rising number of convenience features that can drain them with precious little warning.
Happily, you don’t have to be a trained technician to care for a battery. These are the simple steps any driver can follow to prolong the life of their car’s battery.
Know where your car’s battery is
This isn’t as silly as it sounds. Lifting the bonnet on some cars won’t reveal where the battery is kept. Increasingly, engineers position them under the boot floor, often to distribute the weight more evenly across all four wheels, which can help to make the car feel a smidgen more poised through twists and turns.
Drivers in the dark should turn to the vehicle handbook, which will explain where the battery is located. It may seem intimidating, with hundreds of pages, but it should have a helpful index and be written in a jargon-free fashion.
Check the terminals are in good condition
Electrical current to and from the battery is distributed by the car’s terminals. These attach to the top of the battery lead posts, and should be securely fastened. You can check them by pulling on a pair of rubber gloves and glasses, and wiggle them to see if there’s any free play. If they work lose while you’re driving, you could lose power suddenly.
The terminals can typically be gently tightened using a couple of spanners, or a spanner and pair of pliers. They should be clean – give them a scrub with a wire brush if they need sprucing up – and can be coated with grease or petroleum jelly afterwards, to prevent corrosion.
Is it a ‘standard’ or ‘low maintenance’ battery?
A non-maintenance battery does what it says on the tin: drivers don’t need to carry out any servicing of it. But a ‘standard’ or low maintenance’ battery requires checking from time to time, roughly every three months. In which case, there should be an obvious refill hole, which allows drivers to check fluid levels and top up when necessary, using distilled water. You can buy distilled water at many petrol stations or car spares stores.
Reduce the strain on the battery when starting an engine from cold
The most energy-sapping moment for a car battery is when the engine is started from cold, and it needs to operate the starter motor. By switching off the ventilation or climate control, audio system, heated seats and headlights – only until the engine is running – you can greatly reduce the strain on the battery, and prolong its lifespan.
Recognise the battery warning light
And finally, if you don’t know what the battery warning light looks like, here’s a helpful reminder. If it illuminates, any local garage or breakdown provider will be able to help you get to the root of the problem.
Give it a charge when you’re car’s not being used
If you have access to a garage or outdoor power point, it can be worth investing in a battery ‘trickle charger’ for times when the car is going to be unused for days or weeks on end – which is typically when a battery goes flat. Auto Express tested a wide range, here, and the best was named as the CTEK MXS 3.6.