If you’re from an area that dips below 0°C during the winter months, this might sound familiar… During the colder months, more and more drivers are faced with a vehicle that just won’t start. Can cold weather kill a car battery? Let’s find out what happened.
Can cold weather kill a car battery?
Yes and no. Cold temperatures put severe stress on your battery, which is why the winter season is often a catalyst for car battery replacements. Cold weather presents your vehicle with two challenges at once: loss of power by slowing chemical reactions and oil/engine troubles.
While the car is running, the alternator charges the battery so it can start your car next time. But car batteries lose power when temperatures drop below 32°F (0°C), and some can even lose half of their power when the temperature drops below 0°F (-18°C).
Cold weather can kill your battery by slowing down the chemical reactions that keep it running. As the temperature drops, a slow chemical reaction can cause the battery to reduce its ability to hold a charge. This can be particularly problematic when the battery is already low or aging.
In colder weather, your vehicle’s oil becomes much thicker. Low temperatures also put a strain on internal components such as the radiator, belts, and hoses. Combined, this slows your engine down, causing it to need an extra boost of power to start. Combined with the fact that your battery has less power to offer, this can prevent your engine from starting.
In addition, the increased battery current demand to start the engine and operate the heating and lighting systems can further drain the battery in cold weather. Cold weather can also cause the battery fluid to freeze, which can damage the battery or prevent the car from starting.
Things That Drain Your Car Battery In Winter
Cold weather kills car batteries for several reasons:
- Freezing Temperatures. In fact, at 32°F, a car’s battery loses about 35% of its strength. And at 0°F, it loses up to 60% of its strength—but your engine requires nearly twice as much power to start!
- Human Error. Make sure your interior lights and headlights are off and unplug all accessories. Avoid running your radio, GPS, or other electronics for more than 20 minutes when the engine is off to help the battery maintain its charge.
- Corrosion Or Loose Cable Connections. Corrosion around the terminals or loose cable connections can interfere with the battery charge and make it harder for the battery to start your engine. A quick terminal cleaning and cable check can help reestablish contact.
- Thicker Engine Oil. Cold temperatures freeze engine oil, making the engine harder to turn. This forces the battery to work even harder when capacity is at its lowest.
- Reduced Charge Rate. When you drive your car, the battery charges automatically. However, the charge rate is slower at lower temperatures, meaning you have to drive farther to fully charge the battery for a successful restart.
Tips for Protecting Your Car in the Winter
Luckily, you can help keep your car battery charged in the cold by taking the following precautions:
- Install a battery blanket. You can buy one online or at a local auto parts store for about $20. Just plug in the blanket, wrap it around your battery and enjoy a smooth start tomorrow morning. Just make sure you follow the instructions that come with the battery blanket!
- Park your car in the garage or away from the wind. Leave your car in a garage overnight to conserve the battery. If you don’t have a garage, park the car downwind.
- Give him a charge. A fully charged battery will not freeze until -76°F, while a fully discharged battery might start freezing at around 32°F. So, it is important to make sure the battery is charged before the cold weather hits. If the battery is already low, consider using a charger to bring it up to a full charge. Learn how to charge a battery by following this guide.
- Oil changes: It bears repeating that your engine oil plays a key role in keeping your battery and engine protected. Make sure that you keep up with your oil change schedule—especially in the winter months.
- Use a battery maintainer: A battery maintainer is a device that keeps a car battery charged at a level that is sufficient to start the car, but not so high that it damages the battery. Using a battery maintainer during the winter months can help prevent the battery from dying.
- Keep the car battery clean: Dirt and grime can build up on the battery terminals, which can interfere with the flow of electricity. Clean the battery terminals and cables regularly to help ensure that the battery is getting a good connection.
- Avoid short trips: Starting and stopping the car frequently can drain the battery more quickly. If possible, try to avoid taking short trips and allow the car to run for longer periods of time to help keep the battery charged.
- Keep a jump starter on hand: In case the battery does die, it is a good idea to have a portable jump starter or a set of jumper cables in your car. This will allow you to jump-start the battery and get the car running again.
To help prevent a dead battery in cold weather, it is important to keep the battery charged, as a fully charged battery is less likely to freeze. It is also a good idea to have the battery tested before the winter months to ensure that it is in good condition and capable of providing sufficient power to start the car.
If you are planning to drive in very cold weather, it may be helpful to have a set of jumper cables or a portable jump starter in case the battery does die.