Driving with Jens: Understanding your car battery in the winter

Vehicles have electrical devices and components that can have a large, constant need for power.

Winter temperatures make engines harder to stop and sap your batteries’ power so you want to make sure you have a healthy, fully charged battery.

A battery that’s only 40 per cent charged will freeze at around -26 C while a fully charged battery won’t freeze until well over – 60 C. This is another reason to have a battery blanket on your vehicle in colder climates. A warm battery also has more cranking power than a cold one.

Vehicles today have a lot of electrical devices and components that can have a large, constant need for power. This large draw on batteries has decreased the average life of batteries to somewhere between two and four years. In fact it’s estimated that only 30 per cent of batteries will reach the four year mark.

With this in mind you should have your battery tested every fall when you swap to winter tires. It will be much cheaper to replace the battery then, rather than later, with a tow bill added to the cost and down time without your vehicle.

It’s important to understand that alternators are designed to maintain your battery and run the electrical devices and components. It does not really charge your battery. If your battery goes dead, boosting it, and letting your car run will not fully charge up the battery, you need to put the battery on a charger and fully recharge the battery. If you are not able to determine why the battery went dead you should have it checked by a shop that you trust.

If you are getting a battery charger always get a good one. Cheap battery chargers can have incorrect charging levels and can actually do more harm than good. Make sure you purchase the correct charger to suit your batteries needs.

To be prepared in event that you don’t have roadside assistance coverage or may be out of cell range, make sure you have a set of booster cables in your car.

It can be dangerous when jump-starting a vehicle. Keep a pair of eye protection googles and some gloves in your vehicle. Car batteries contain lead and sulphuric acid. A battery leak or explosion can cause serious acid burns. Your eyes are particularly vulnerable if a battery explodes.

Here’s the steps to follow to safely jump-start a vehicle:

-Wear proper eye and skin protection.

-Check the battery for corrosion, cracks or loose terminal connections.

-Check that neither the battery nor the engine coolant is frozen. Never try to boost a vehicle in either case.

-Don’t be smoking or use anything that may cause a spark when under the hood.

Have the vehicle that will be boosting you nose in from the front or side as close to it can. Never stand in between the two vehicles, especially if one is in gear. There have been instances here in the Yukon where a car was rear-ended while boosting another vehicle and the person standing between them was crushed.

Be careful to hook the cable clamps up properly, and in the right order. Red always goes to positive which is usually identified as + or POS. Black always goes to negative which is usually identified as – or NEG.

Have both vehicles off and start by connecting the red clamp to the positive terminal on the vehicle needing to be boosted. Then connect the other red clamp to the positive terminal on the other vehicle.Next connect the black clamp to the negative terminal on the other car first, and then the other black clamp to the negative terminal on the vehicle needing the boost.

Sometimes batteries are in tight spots or not even in the engine compartment. Check the owner’s manual. There may be locations under the hood other than on the battery specifically for boosting or charging. They will still be labeled as positive and negative.

Once the cables are safely and securely connected, start up the vehicle doing the boosting and let it run for a few minutes before trying to start the other vehicle. Revving the engine a bit may help if the other battery is really dead.

If the cables get hot or you see smoke or sparks, something is wrong. Stop immediately and seek professional help.

Once the vehicle that needed boosting is running, remove the cables in the reverse order you used to hook them up. Don’t let the disconnected ends to touch each other while the clamps on the other end of the cable are hooked up to the other vehicle.

Keeping your battery in good health and keeping it warm on cold nights will ensure that you can depend on it to start your vehicle this winter.

Catch Driving, with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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