Car Batteries - Lifespan and Charging

Car Batteries - Lifespan and Charging

Car batteries don’t last forever. The standard lifespan is approximately three to four years. Just like your common household battery or mobile phone, it needs to be charged from time to time. You don’t need to go to your local garage for this – you can simply charge it at home – or even while driving. 

Charging at home

Charge electric car at home

Make sure to check your owner’s manual, as well as your charger manual, for instructions. If you are using a contemporary smart charger that is microprocessor controlled, you do not have to disconnect your battery to charge it. If you are using an older charger, it is recommended to disconnect it prior to charging.

Simple charging steps

Make certain that the terminals are clean and free of any corrosion.

If your battery is dried-out, do not try to charge it. You can, if necessary, add distilled water or plain drinking water to just above the plates, but do not overfill.

Read any instructions provided by the battery and charger manufacturers.

Locate the positive and negative terminals and connect the corresponding charger leads. If it is inside the vehicle, make sure that the car’s system is protected against electrical surges, and that the charger does not have high-charging voltages that could cause damage to the vehicle’s electrical system. If you only need to charge it in order to start your engine, 2-4 hours is sufficient. If it is necessary to have a full charge, expect it to take about 10-24 hours. 

Not using your car? How to keep it charged

Some drivers rely on public transport during the week and only take their cars out at the weekend. Others may decide to avoid driving in the winter due to unsafe road conditions. If your car is somewhat new and in good condition, it will take about a fortnight before the battery goes flat. To avoid this when you need your car most, it is important to note some key points:

  • i Avoid turning your car on and off, this does not help –  but does more harm than good. Instead, take your car out for a short 15-20 minute drive once a week. Doing this will add some charge back.
  • i If you have more than one car, alternate between them, giving each the chance to charge during use.
  • i Do not keep your car out in freezing cold temperatures. 
  • i Make sure that your lights are off when you aren’t driving. Most cars will remind you of this with a signal when you open your car door. 
  • i If you have a dash cam, unplug it. Leaving it plugged in can drain the battery when your car isn’t being used regularly. 

Charging while driving

Charging while driving

Here we have another option – charging your car without a charger. Since it is charged by your alternator, it can be charged at a much faster rate while driving. 30 minutes is all it takes to charge it while cruising on the motorway. It will take more time if you are driving in the city, perhaps an hour or two.  

My battery is completely dead. What now?

If you didn’t have the opportunity to charge it by driving or other means, it will most likely be “dead”. Don’t worry, you can bring it “back from the dead”. Jumper leads and a functional car with a full charge are all you need to get your car on the road again.

Charging a completely flat battery

Take a close look and check that there are no cracks and it isn’t leaking any acid. If you see either of these, do not try to jump start your car as you could injure yourself or others.

Wear rubber gloves and safety goggles before you touch the dead car battery to avoid harmful sulphuric acid that could be discharged. If there is corrosion on your cables, clean them as thoroughly as possible with a stiff-bristled brush.

Carefully drive the functional car next to the one with the flat one. Position the cars either next to each other, nose-to-nose, or facing head-on. Make sure that the jumper cables are long enough to reach from one car to the other. Do not be tempted to connect two jumper cables together if the first pair is too short. This could cause the cables to melt and ignite a fire. 

Open the compartment of each car where the batteries are located. Note the positive and negative terminals of each. A plus symbol (+), or sometimes red, symbol indicates the positive terminal –  a minus symbol (-)  indicates the negative terminal.

It makes a difference in which order you attach the jumper cables so make sure to follow the correct sequence. Connect one end of the positive jumper cable to the dead one first, only then connect the positive end of the jumper cable to the charged one. Now connect one end of the negative jumper cable to the negative terminal on the charged, working battery. It is important to “ground” the car that contains the dead one when jump-starting so now connect or attach the ground cable to any part that is clean and free of any oxidation or paint.

Next, start the engine of the car which has the charged battery. When you start the engine, the charging system will begin to charge the dead one. After starting the engine, wait at least five minutes allowing it to build up its own charge. If you need to get a full charge, it will take longer.

Now attempt to start the engine. The engine should turn over effortlessly. If this isn’t the case, let five minutes more pass and continue charging. 

After charging is completed, disconnect the jumper cables from each car in the opposite order you connected them. Not doing this could result in sparks, or even an explosion. 

The grounding cable should be disconnected first, then the cable on the negative terminal of  the one that you used to charge yours. Last, the cable connected to the positive terminal on the formerly dead battery. Leave the car which had the dead one to continue running for a minimum of five minutes, allowing the alternator to recharge it.

You can now allow it to idle for another 20 minutes, or take your car out for a short trip. It is likely that it will become fully charged in this time. It is possible, however, that if it has not charged all the way, you may need to purchase a new one.

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