Few things in life can be as frustrating as when you're already late for work and rush out to your car, only to find that it won't start. The headlights are dim and the engine simply refuses to turn over. At that point you realise realize that your battery is dead and you have to make that dreaded phone call to your boss – explaining you will likely be considerably late for work. He may question how you found yourself in this predicament. But even if he doesn’t – it is worth knowing for yourself what causes battery failure and how to avoid these in the future.
The car battery is the most crucial piece of equipment in starting and driving your vehicle. It sends power from the starter motor to the sparks plugs, igniting your car’s fuel, while also providing power to other systems. This includes lights, radio, air conditioning, and more.You may be able to tell when your car battery is beginning to die if you find it difficult to start your vehicle, have flickering lights, or a weakening alarm system.
Your car battery may begin to drain for 8 reasons:
1. Human Error
You’ve probably done this at least once in your life, we all have. You come home from work, tired and not really thinking, and left the headlights on, didn't completely close the boot lid, or even forgot about some internal lights. Overnight the battery drains, and in the morning your car won’t start. Many new cars will kindly alert you if you’ve left your lights on, but may not have alerts for other components.
2. Parasitic Drain
Parasitic drain is due to components in your vehicle continuing to run after the key is turned off. Some parasitic drain is normal – your battery delivers enough energy to keep things, like your clock, radio presets, and security alarm operational at all times. However, if there's an electrical problem – such as faulty wiring, poor installation, and defective fuses – parasitic drain can exceed what's normal and deplete the battery.
3. Battery Stratification
This is a relatively unknown problem, and occurs mainly in luxury vehicles which drive very short distances daily – So the man in the Jaguar, who lives in Sandhurst and works in Sandton. The electrolyte on a stratified battery concentrates on the bottom, causing the upper half of the cell to be acid poor. This effect is similar to a cup of coffee in which the sugar collects on the bottom when the waitress forgets to bring the stirring spoon. Batteries tend to stratify if kept at low charge (below 80%) and never have the opportunity to receive a full charge. Short distance driving while running windshield wipers or electrically heated seats contributes to this.
4. Faulty Charging
If your charging system isn’t working properly, your car battery can drain even while you’re driving. Many cars power their lights, radio, and other systems from the alternator, which can make the battery drain worse if there's a charging problem. The alternator may have loose belts or worn-out tensioners that keep it from working properly.
5. Defective Alternator
A car alternator recharges the battery and powers certain electrical systems like lights, radio, air-conditioning, and automatic windows. If your alternator has a bad diode, your battery can drain. The bad alternator diode can cause the circuit to charge even when the engine is shut off, and you end up in the morning with a car that won’t start.
6. Extreme Temperature
Whether extremely hot (over 38 degrees Celsius) or cold (under -10 degrees Celsius), temperatures can cause lead sulphate crystals to build-up. If the car is exposed to such conditions for too long, the sulphate build up can damage long-term battery life. It may also take a long time for your battery to charge in these environments, especially if you only drive short distances.
7. Excessive Short Drives
Your battery may wear out prematurely if you take too many short drives. The battery puts out the most power when starting the car. Shutting off your vehicle before the alternator has a chance to recharge could explain why the battery continues dying or doesn’t seem to last long.
8. Corroded or Loose Battery Cables
The charging system cannot top up your battery while driving if the battery connections have corroded. They should be checked for dirt or signs of corrosion and cleaned using cloth or a toothbrush. Loose battery cables make it difficult to start the engine too, as they cannot transfer the electrical current efficiently.
9. Old battery
If your battery is old or weak, it will not hold a full charge well. If your car consistently won't start, it’s possible that the battery is worn out. You should generally replace your car battery every 3-4 years. If old, or poorly maintained, your battery may die on a regular basis.
Diagnosing and replacing a battery
Having a battery that won't hold a charge is frustrating, and figuring out what's causing the problem can be tricky. Assuming that the cause of the battery drain is not human error, you will need the assistance of a qualified mechanic who can diagnose your car's electrical problems and determine if it's a dead battery or something else in the electrical system.
If the problem is indeed the battery, and requires replacement, make sure you know what the different battery specifications mean so that you can make good decisions when purchasing a battery.
• Cold Cranking Ability is a rating used in the battery industry to define a battery's ability to start an engine in cold temperatures. Generally speaking, it is easier to start an engine in a warm environment than in a cold one. The rating refers to the number of amps a 12-volt battery can deliver at -17 °C for 30 seconds while maintaining a voltage of at least 7.2 volts. The higher the CCA rating, the greater the starting power of the battery, and the easier to start.
• Reserve Capacity is a general indicator of how long a new, fully charged battery can continue to operate essential accessories if the vehicle’s alternator fails. It identifies how many minutes the battery can deliver a constant current of 25 amps at 26° C without falling below the minimum voltage, 1.75 volts per cell, needed to keep your vehicle running.
• Amp Hour and C20 Battery Capacity is an indicator of how much energy is stored in a battery. It is the energy a battery can deliver continuously for 20 hours at 26°C without falling below 10.5 volts.
A driver in an area with a colder climate will choose a battery based on cold cranking amperes while a driver in a warmer area chooses a battery based on reserve capacity. In South Africa therefore, it follows that buyers should choose batteries based on their reserve capacity.
At Start My Car, we can certainly help you with all your battery related products. We offer an extensive range of maintenance-free, O.E.M quality Exide batteries complete with a 2-year warranty. We also stock battery terminals, battery hold downs, trickle chargers, multimeters, battery water, battery acid and of course booster cables. Have a look at on our website and feel free to contact us if you need any assistance!