What does an automotive battery do?

The main function of a traditional automotive battery is to supply a burst of power to the starter when you turn the key to start the car. Beyond that primary function a battery must also have enough power to keep your car running for a short period of time (such as long enough to get you home or to the service station) should your alternator fail. It supplies power when the alternator cannot cope with the electrical demand from the car.

Batteries also supply power to the electrical system when the engine is switched off. Demands made on the battery when the engine is switched off are called parasitic loads. They include anti-theft devices (satellite tracking, immobilizers) and computers.

As vehicles become more sophisticated, the battery is called upon to deliver more and more power to items such as cellular phones, on-board computers and other gadgets that continue to draw power even after the key has been turned off. These power demanding functions mean vehicles require more powerful batteries – sometimes even more than one.

Start/stop batteries provide all the functions of standard batteries but with increased start/stop cycle life. In start/stop applications much more severe cycling demands are placed on the battery which cannot be met using a standard automotive design.

What are the most common causes for battery failure?

  • Positive grid corrosion (can be accelerated by heat and overcharging)
  • Loss of electrolyte due to heat or overcharging
  • Undercharging with voltages less than 13.8V
  • Physical damage due to vibration
  • Sulphation in storage
  • Overcharging when the charging voltage is not well controlled

Can a battery really explode?

Yes, so when working with or near a battery, or jump starting a vehicle, always:

  • Wear glasses or safety goggles
  • Shield eyes and face from battery
  • Keep as much distance as possible from battery
  • Read warning labels on battery
  • Do not cause any flames or sparks, do not smoke
  • Read your vehicle instruction manual before jump starting vehicle
  • If you should get acid on your skin or in your eyes, flush with water immediately and seek medical attention.

How do I know when to replace my battery?

The best way to know when to replace your battery is to go to your nearest Battery Centre for a free battery check. The following are the most common warning signals that can indicate a problem with your battery or your charging system:

  • Your starter motor is experiencing slow or interrupted turnover
  • Your battery seems to lose power quickly in cold weather
  • Your headlights dim at idling
  • The battery/charging system warning light on your instrument panel stays on for extended periods after the engine is running
  • To determine if the battery is failing, take it to a qualified mechanic as soon as possible or try testing your battery.

How long can I leave my battery unused?

Lack of use if one of the greatest enemies of a battery, especially an automotive battery which is designed to be charged regularly by an alternator. Any unused battery, regardless of its chemistry, will self-discharge over time and if allowed to remain discharged, will undergo severe positive grid corrosion and premature battery failure. The rate of discharge will depend on the type of battery and the storage temperature.

Why does my battery start the car sometimes but not at other times?

This is probably not a battery problem. If the problem occurs only after the vehicle sits overnight or for a day or more before starting, the problem is often a low state of charge. If the battery starts the vehicle once the vehicle has been started recently, test your battery to determine its state of charge. Also make sure that the alternator is adequately charging and that all the connections are good. If problem continues, visit your local Battery Centre.

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