WDEL's Road Scholar: The cold truth of winter's effect on your car battery

Recommended as a preventive measure, a diagnostic test is performed on a vehicle battery. (Courtesy/AAA Mid-Atlantic)

The new year has brought with it a noticeable change in temperatures, which can result in a noticeable change in your vehicle's temperament.

During the first full week of 2016--when nighttime low readings briefly flirted in the teens--AAA Mid-Atlantic reported battery-related calls in Delaware jumped 117 percent.

Jim Lardear, Director of Public Affairs, told WDEL's Road Scholar the continued frigid forecast promises that the issue--much like your car when it fails to turn over--isn't going anywhere.

"As we get into this cold snap this week (January 18-23)," he predicted, "batteries that were weak, we're going to start to see the battery calls again start to spike--just due to the cold."

The season's effect on an idled car can be quite significant.

"Typically at about 32 degrees, your car's battery is going to lose, roughly, about 35 percent of its strength," he noted

Since AAA Car Care described starting an engine during colder temperatures taking up to twice as much current as is necessary under normal conditions, Lardear stressed knowing your vehicle's vitals.

"One of the most obvious signs (for potential battery issues) is just the age of the battery," he revealed. "Batteries today are going to last 3 to 5 years so, if you're in that range, that's something you should be watching for. If you have trouble cold-cranking the car, that's an obvious sign. (And) what, I think, surprises people is just they think batteries are going to last a lot longer than they normally do."

Other warning signs that you are at risk for a battery related breakdown include the following:

  • You hear a grinding or clicking sound when you turn on the ignition
  • Your vehicle cranks slowly when attempting to start
  • Your headlights dim when idling but brighten when the engine is revved

Preventing battery-related stalls can be as simple as using your vehicle frequently in the winter months.

"In the cold weather, you shouldn't allow your car just to sit there for days on end."

Minimal use is another factor that can be a non-starter.

"If you're just driving your car for short trips, that is also not really healthy for the battery," Lardear shared. "If you have the opportunity, drive (your car) a little bit further to allow that battery--as well as the fluids in the car--to warm up and start to circulate. Where the danger is is where the car just sits and that battery doesn't get cranked over and have the ability to get recharged."

Still another proactive step AAA recommends to avoid winter breakdowns is regular maintenance for of your vehicle.

"You should be getting your car checked out, getting the systems in the car, the belts, making sure all that stuff is in working order," he reminded. "And at the same time you're doing that, having your battery checked."


Contact Andrew Sgroi with Road Scholar story ideas to andrew@dbcmedia.com or follow him on Twitter at @Cuse92.