The battery is an important component of a vehicle. It is the part that supplies the power to the starter motor, the lights and the ignition system of the vehicle’s engine mainly when the engine is not running. Once the engine is running most of the power is supplied by the generator, or in modern vehicles the alternator. The automotive battery is usually known as an SLI battery(starting, lighting, ignition). Usually, Automotive batteries are lead acid-type, and are made up of galvanic cells in series to provide a 12-volt system. each of these cells provide 2.1 volts for a total of 12.6 volts at full charge.
Composition of the Battery
The automotive battery is made up of plates of lead and separate plates of lead dioxide that are submerged into an electrolyte solution composed of around 38% sulfuric acid and 62% water. At start-up, the electrolyte solution causes a chemical reaction that creates the electricity needed by the other parts of the car or vehicle.
Importance of Battery Maintenance
Battery maintenance is critical to the normal operation of the vehicle. The battery is the component that stores power making sure it is ready for starting up the next time you need it. Or running hazard lights and headlamps in an emergency. Neglecting the battery in your maintenance practice only invites trouble. Car problems related to the battery can and will happen at the most inconvenient time. Just imagine you are travelling a country road, with very little traffic; you pull over for a look at the view and the car won’t start. You investigate why and find out there’s a lot of corrosion on the battery terminals. As a result, you would waste time waiting for another vehicle to pass by and ask the driver if you could hitch ride or worse you have to walk for hours to find the nearest gas station
or auto-shop to get a replacement battery. I must say that I have had these problems many, many times. I have ended up with my hands dirty to meetings, having to madly run to the bathroom to scrub my hands clean. Sitting on the side of the road after bashing terminals to try to get a better connection. I am now a convert to checking and maintaining a good battery along with its connections. Interestingly a failing battery seems to create corrosion. It is something to do with old terminals and low power in the battery, which seems to accentuate the problem. Checking corrosion on battery terminals, ensuring proper charging of the battery and knowing the signs of a failing battery are some of the steps that can help in preventing car problems due to a failing battery. If the battery is beginning to fail or lets you down; my tip is get rid of it and get a new one. Don’t try to nurse it. Make sure that when you are looking at the new battery the technician does a check on your alternator to see that it is providing the right power for charging. If its not the whole exercise will cost you money and you will be back tomorrow for an alternator.
Indications of A Failing Battery
What are the indications of a failing car battery? By becoming familiar with the symptoms, you can plan ahead on what to do and prevent a car-related problem, due to the battery, from happening on a time you least expected.
- The battery ammeter on the instrument panel lights up.
- Starting Problems. Cars with failing batteries usually have difficulty starting. This is due to the battery not having enough power to turn all the components in the engine. Loss or dimming of internal and external lights, slower cranking are also indicators of a failing battery.
- Bench testing. If you take your car to an auto-shop to have an oil change or tyres checked, you might as well have the battery checked there. The people at the auto-shop have the means of determining how much life your car battery has.
- Check also for signs of bulging or deformity on the battery casing as this is an indication that the battery was exposed to high temperatures.
- Bad smell coming from the car, like rotten eggs, after turning the engine off is also an indication that the battery is not good. This is due to one or two of the battery cells getting damaged.
- Any leakage is a sign of death. The added problem is that it will destroy your paint and corrode the metal of your engine bay. So any signs of leakage are bad.
Types of Car Battery Problems
- Connection Issues – this refers to the faulty connection between the cables that run from the battery posts to the starter. Sometimes the screws or the bolts that connects the cables and the starter get loose. When these happens, the car will not start at all as there is no power going from the battery to the starter. When the car won’t start, the first best thing to is to check for loose connections between the battery posts and the starter.
- Corrosion – Corrosion on the battery terminals or posts can also cause connection issues between the battery terminals and the starter. The corrosion weakens the contact between metal to metal making it harder to for the battery to provide electricity and power the car. Checking and cleaning the battery regularly of corrosion build- up are good car maintenance practice that can help in preventing car-battery related down-times.
- Charging/Discharging Problems – this can be brought about by dis-use of the vehicle. This usually happens when the car is made idle for quite a while, maybe around 2 weeks, the battery might not have enough power to start the engine. Doing short drives can also create problems with the battery. When the car is already running, the alternator is recharging the battery, drives for only a few minutes may not be enough to fully charge the battery. Not running the car often can slowly drain the battery over time and shorten its life expectancy.
- Bad Alternator – the alternator is the part that supplies power to the car when it is already running. It is also responsible for charging the battery. If the alternator is having issues, the battery will most likely not be fully charged but there is also a good chance that the car will die down while the car is running.
Tips That Can Help In Making Car Battery Lasts Longer
- Make it a habit to check the battery as part of your car maintenance check up.
- Make sure that the electrolyte is at the correct level. Top up with distilled water if needed to exactly the right levels. If your battery is not a fully sealed no maintenance type and levels are low, it is best to get a replacement.
- Check and make sure the battery terminals are clean and free of corrosion. If there is, buy and use a terminal brush to remove corrosion on the battery terminals. Sometimes a dead battery is caused by having
corrosion on its terminals, once cleaned, it may work again.
- check and make sure the alternator is not charging too high or too low. Charging the alternator too high or too low can make the battery not correctly charged and deteriorate faster.
- Avoid exposing the battery to extreme heat whenever possible. This can damage the positive plates and grids that can reduce the conductivity of the electrolytes.
- Turn off other electrical accessories,like car stereos, as soon as they are no longer required to save electrical energy.
If and when the battery needs to be replaced, here are some useful tips on how to choose the battery.
- Size – This refers to the dimensions of the battery; height, width and length. Always check your car’s users manual for the size of the battery to avoid wasting money and time.
- Battery Brand – You may choose to buy the exact same brand as what was in your car when it was manufactured if it has given good service. Choosing a well known brand can be a good policy. Doing research about the battery brand you are switching to is also a good thing to do. Researching will give you an idea on the reliability of the brand.
- Reserve Capacity – This refers to the standing power. This is the number of minutes the battery can continuously supply power to run the vehicle in case the alternator or fan belt fail. The higher the Reserve Capacity rating of the battery, the better for you and your car because this is the one quality that can keep you from being stranded. There is a catch however, you just cannot select the battery with the highest Reserve Capacity rating, you should
always check the car’s manual to determine the exact reserve capacity rating that the car can handle.
- Age of the Replacement Battery – The age of the battery will give you an idea on how long will it be able to perform. Typically batteries only lasts from 2-3 years. Check the manufacturing date. Usually the date codes are stamped on the label and are represented by 2 characters: Letter indicates the month and the digit which shows the year it was manufactured.
- Cold-Cranking Amps – This refers to the amount of current a battery can provide at 0 °F (−18 °C).