The temperature of the air around a battery can dramatically affect how long it lasts. Heat will cause a battery to discharge more quickly, while cold weather restricts its ability to recharge. A car needs to run at least once every two weeks in winter, or the engine can't produce enough juice to keep the battery charged and it will fail.
Drivers have always known that car batteries seem to be temperamental at times and would often refuse to start the engine when it’s too cold outside. That observation is actually backed by science and it’s now a recognized fact that extreme cold, as well as extreme heat, has an effect on its performance. Here are 7 ways the weather can affect your vehicle’s power cell.
Your car’s engine requires more power from your battery to start in cold weather
Half of the reason why cars are harder to start when the temperature plummets is that its engine is harder to turn over. At lower temperatures, engine oil tends to be a lot thicker than normal, just like how oil from bacon easily solidifies if you put it inside the refrigerator.
With this thicker, more viscous oil consistency, the engine will require more power to start - power that it has to source from the battery.
Most car batteries run on lead-acid batteries, specifically the lead-antimony type. As the temperature drops, the amount of electrolyte in these lead-acid batteries gradually decreases.
The solution inside gets thinner and thinner until it becomes slushy at very low temperatures like those experienced during winter. This causes the battery to require more power to switch on, and this can present a problem for starting in cold weather.
This phenomenon is referred to as the 'cold cranking start' and it's caused by three main factors:
1. Sometimes if the battery is already weak, it won't be able to supply enough power for the engine to start at all - even though there's enough power for normal cars in good weather.
2. A worn-out alternator (an electrical device that charges the car's battery). The alternator is supposed to generate electricity even if the engine isn't running, but it can only do so at a certain slow speed. As such, if the alternator isn't generating enough electricity, you're going to have less than ideal battery power when it's really cold.
3. Lastly, you may just have a battery that isn't able to supply enough high-speed power even in warm weather - but in cold weather conditions that problem is exacerbated. The cold weather reduces battery efficiency even more.
The only way you can solve this problem is to make sure that your engine is generating a lot more power than you need for just starting. This would then allow the alternator, and therefore the battery, to have more power than they need - which means they're better prepared for cold weather.
The amount of power required to start your engine is referred to as cranking amps.
But the battery produces lesser power in cold weather
Unfortunately, the other half of the problem lies in your vehicle’s power cell itself. Batteries give power by the chemical reaction happening in the solution inside. The problem with cold weather is that this reaction slows down as well, resulting in diminished power output.
What this means is that during cold days, you’ll get lesser juice from your vehicle’s power cell. However, your engine needs more power than normal just to get started. The result is obvious - it’s harder to crank the engine in winter and, at times, it won’t start at all!
As a result, please make sure your vehicle is well-stocked with warm clothes and blankets and that you keep a large supply of water on hand. In addition, having battery-operated heaters inside the car and in the engine compartment (in case of a breakdown) are good ideas as well.
When in doubt, it’s always best to play it safe. Therefore, have a mechanic check on your battery before taking your car out during winter.
Remember that the chemical reaction that takes place inside your battery always needs heat to work efficiently. As such, you may need to let it sit in the sun for a bit before taking it on long drives. This can’t be done when you’re driving and will require some planning ahead of time.
Of course, sometimes it’s just impossible for you to get your car warmed up before driving. In this case, see if you can stop and let the engine sit in the sun for a little while. This should give the battery enough heat to improve your chances of making it home safe.
Similarly, you may want to consider getting your battery checked out before heading out on a long trip. At the very least, do this any time you’ve been away for more than a few days.
In addition to these safety checks, it’s always good to check your car battery’s voltage and amperage right after you get back from working in the cold. Unsurprisingly, batteries will lose juice if you’ve left them in the cold, even just a few hours.
If you notice that your car battery was losing juice even when it did start, or that it’s just too old to hold a charge anymore, then you should see about getting a new one.
It losses 60 percent of its strength at zero degrees Fahrenheit
If you’ve been wondering just how much the drop in output is during cold weather, we actually have data from AAA’s Automotive Research Center. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, your car’s power cell losses around 35 percent of its strength.
But it worsens the colder it gets. At zero degrees Fahrenheit, the loss of power is a staggering 60 percent. Now, you see just how hard at work your vehicle’s power cell is during the cold months.
Big, heavy cars tend to lose power at a slower rate than their smaller counterparts. With all those wheels working overtime to keep you moving, the amount of signal necessary to get your vehicle’s engine going is far more than what’s required by smaller vehicles.
This serves as a simple explanation for why these cars may be harder on your battery.
The decrease in cold-weather power you’re experiencing is probably inevitable; it’s just the way things are. But there are some things you can do to ensure the amount of power your vehicle drains is as little as possible.
For starters, make sure that all of the accessories you’re using are necessary for your drive. If you’re cruising down a highway in warm weather, there’s no need to have the heat on in the car. It may seem like a convenience now, but it’s going to cause you headaches when winter rolls around and you have to turn the car on again.
Next, make sure your battery is in top condition. If it’s older than three years, consider getting a new one. Making sure your battery is charged and able to hold a full charge as the temperature drops will help you conserve energy.
Lastly, make sure your car’s oil isn’t dirty or old. A thin layer of oil on the engine helps disperse heat throughout the motor, thereby keeping it from overheating during cold weather.
However, batteries will be able to hold their charge for longer periods of time when temperature drops
But there is one surprising benefit to cold weather when it comes to batteries. You probably know by now that a car’s power cell gradually loses the charge stored in it even when it’s not in use. Surprisingly, the issue is not so pronounced in colder temperatures.
Apparently, batteries are able to retain their charge longer when the temperature drops down. This means that when storing an unused but charged cell, it is best to place it in a cool area.
And if you have a new battery, it is best to charge it when the temperatures are cooler as well. In fact, a few energy companies in colder places may require batteries to be kept at low temperatures or off completely during winter months.
However, there are always exceptions. Li-ion cells will retain their charge more proportionally with the drop in temperature. They will only lose 10% of their charge in the cold, while nickel-based batteries can lose up to 25% of its charge in temperatures below freezing.
The cells in your car are fully charged when they have reached the upper limit of their cycle. The chemical reactions in the cell gradually slow down as it gets used. If you're driving the car for long periods, this can lead to the battery losing its charge, which can result in eventual draining of your car battery.
Temperature is also important to how fast a battery charging will restore its charge as well as how quickly you'll be able to get a full charge on your battery. Cold weather slows down battery charging. To keep the charge from dropping, make sure to keep your car in a warmer place.
When a battery is recharged, the chemical reaction reverses itself. The small charger that comes with the car slowly charges the cell and takes a long time because of this slow process. This can be improved by charging the cell faster and more efficiently using trickle chargers or an alternator.
There are a number of trickle chargers out there in stores and on websites like Amazon.
How summer heat could affect battery fluid
Now it’s time to get hot and explore how the summer heat could affect your car battery. If you live in an area where summer can get really hot, you’ll know that the most important thing to do is drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. The same thing goes for your car’s power storage.
In the sweltering heat of summer, things can evaporate pretty quickly. In fact, some of the fluid inside the cell might evaporate, which could impact its performance.
The reason why its casing has a translucent portion is to enable you to easily check fluid levels and refill it with distilled water if necessary. A warning though, care should be exercised during the refilling process as the acid solution is strong enough to corrode your skin easily.
When your car’s battery is completely dead and all you get is a blinking light, it might be time to replace the battery as this can lead to permanent damage. This particular issue usually occurs when the electrolyte in the cell is not properly flowing and clogged up with debris.
If you notice sizzling or bubbling sounds coming from your car battery, this could be very dangerous as it could mean that the electrolyte leaks out of the cell.
When the car battery is exposed to extreme heat, the cells can be damaged. If this happens, you should replace your vehicle’s dead battery immediately as it could catch fire or explode.
When storing your car during the cold seasonal months, make sure that you disconnect the battery from its terminals as it can easily freeze and crack.
As far as replacing a car battery is concerned, it’s recommended that you always have a spare on hand just in case the need arises. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an avid car enthusiast who spends most of his time driving around or are simply a commuter who needs to carry many things.
When the time comes, replacing a car battery is not a major hassle. Just make sure that you have everything needed on hand and you should be ready to go within half an hour.
Car batteries are not as complicated as they seem; they’re handy and easy to use. As long as you know your way around one, you’ll find that installing a new battery is not a hard thing to do at all.
In fact, it can be done in less than half an hour if you have the right tools available. All you need is some basic knowledge about how car batteries work
and you should be able to replace it with ease.
Heat also speeds up corrosion
Excessive heat won’t just lower the electrolyte’s fluid. Too much heat can even cause the corrosion of its internal components to accelerate, a process known as heat deterioration. This damage will prematurely shorten the lifespan of your vehicle’s power cell. Additionally, make sure not to park your car in direct sunlight or near a heat source for extended periods of time.
The best way to prevent this damage is by keeping your battery at the optimal operating temperature between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If necessary, you can achieve this with an approved battery conditioning device.
These devices typically use a specialized chemical formula of water, sulfate-based electrolyte solution and other ingredients to raise the electrolyte’s fluid level level without causing excessive heat.
The temperature of your battery should not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit when charging it; any more than that is an indication of a potential problem.
You can check the pitch of the battery’s surface by running a finger across it; shallow ridges indicate a damaged cell. If you see deep ridges or any sign of damage, contact your local dealership to replace your battery immediately.
Anytime you see a whitish film appearing on the protective coating of your battery, it’s already too late. This is known as sulphation, and if left untreated, the battery will eventually cause irreversible damage to its internal components. If your vehicle’s battery is exhibiting these signs, your best bet is to clean it.
What you need to clean the sulfate coating away: baking soda, water and a carbon brush. Using the brush, apply baking soda onto the terminals of your battery and then spray down the area with water. The mixture will quickly dissolve the white film that has formed on its protective outer coating and restore it back to its original condition.
There are batteries designed for specific temperature ranges
Fortunately, manufacturers have long recognized the effects of temperature on car batteries
. After countless research and technology advancements, they have now come up with products that are specifically designed to work best in certain temperature ranges.
For instance, batteries designed for cold weather use have higher cold cranking amps to offset the effects of lower temperature. On the other hand, batteries designed for use in hot climates have higher electrolyte to lead ratio to help them endure the heat better. You should choose the type of battery suitable for the weather in your location.
Any battery can be used in hot climates, as long as you maintain the right electrolyte level and add distilled water regularly.
And if you are using a battery in a cold climate, make sure it has enough cranking amps to function well under low temperatures. One of the advantages of batteries designed for cold weather is that they have higher cold cranking amps.
Extreme temp can affect your battery life especially if it is stored for long periods of time. For example, you should not leave a battery unused during the winter, as it will freeze and crack. Batteries are manufactured to work under specific temperature conditions and storing them in any other way might damage them permanently.
You should also avoid storing a battery in a very hot environment for extended periods of time. The heat can damage the battery chemically and make it less efficient. Using a compressor to keep the battery in a constant state of low temperature will also speed up the process.
How you use your car can also affect the battery. If you have a very powerful car, it will draw more power from your battery than other vehicles that are less power-intensive.
You should try to avoid running the engine just after leaving your car for long periods, when the battery is still warm from being driven. Make sure to turn off the engine before starting up again and let it cool down for at least 30 minutes before charging again.
After knowing the seven ways how the weather may affect your ride, it’s easier to explain why power-related issues usually tend to happen when the temperature goes to extremes. However, you don’t need to just passively accept whatever problems the weather might throw at you. Head over to our accessories guide
and see how you can prepare for the worst.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How temperature can affect your battery?
In warm temperatures batteries usually function to their fullest capacity, whereas cold temperatures negatively influence the battery productivity. An optimal service life is as a rule achieved at around 20 degrees C (86 degrees F).
Does temperature affect a car battery?
Yes, it definitely does. In warm temperatures batteries usually function to their fullest capacity, whereas cold temperatures negatively influence the battery productivity. For this very reason, car batteries are produced in an environment of a toasty 27 degrees.
How do you keep your battery charged in cold weather?
We would recommend you to follow a couple of rules that will help you protect your car battery:
1. When cold or windy outside, park your car in the garage. If you do not have one, try to park away from the direction of the wind.
2. Wait before switching on accessories. Although it is tempting to turn on the heat on maximum when you jump into your car on a frosty day, wait a couple of minutes before doing that. This will prolong your battery’s lifespan.
3. Keep you battery charged as full as possible. A fully charged battery can tolerate very low temperatures, while an almost dead one will fail at already 30 degrees F.
At what temperature do car batteries fail?
Lead-acid batteries, one of the most widespread types, starts to drop in capacity by 20% at cold temperatures, and when it reaches -22 degrees F outside, the productivity can drop to 50% and even more.
Why does my car battery keep dying in cold weather?
Cold weather has a tendency to slow down the chemical reactions inside batteries, which leads them to drain much more quickly. It's a good idea to check and clean your battery terminals in cold weather. If you see any corrosion on the connections, wipe it clean with a wire brush. If you have a battery terminal brush, use that.
This is especially important if the terminals are covered with grease or oil - grease attracts moisture and can cause corrosion to take hold. To combat this problem, some drivers choose to apply Vaseline around the terminal posts as a moisture barrier.
Can rain drain your car battery?
Under normal conditions, rain will not harm your car battery, especially if it’s a sealed or shallow-cycle pack. If receiving heavy rains over a few hours or if the battery is already at risk of leaking because it’s old, damaged, exposed to low temperatures, or in some other form of distress, then you may want to keep things dry around the battery.
Can cold weather kill a car battery?
Not cold weather in the classic sense, but colder temperatures can actually kill a car battery. You'll know it's the time to change your battery when you find your car not starting as quickly as it used to or it no longer starts at all. A low-temperature warning could also be turned on by your vehicle's dashboard controls.
Can corrosion kill a car battery?
Yes, if water or corrosive substances get into the battery, it can corrode the terminals and cause a short circuit. If the terminals get corroded, they will need to be replaced. This will void the warranty on most batteries.
How often should you start your car in cold weather?
You should start your car every two days when it's cold out to keep the engine primed and running smoothly. The best thing to do in the winter is to simply leave your engine running for five minutes once a week. This will prevent you from having to restart it as much when you do need to start it.
Will a trickle charger help in cold weather?
The answer is no, a trickle charger should not be used in cold weather. Cold temperature batteries could develop a slow leak, which leads to corrosion and eventual battery failure. The coldest weather we experience is 22 below zero. A trickle charger would do no good for a battery in such temperatures.