It seems a paradox, but in reality it can happen that modern cars, despite being increasingly reliable and powerful, sometimes become weaker as a result of the ever-growing number of their electrical functions. Up until the 1980s, a car would often break down because of a punctured tyre or a mechanical failure.
Over recent years, however, a battery malfunction has become the most common problem when a car comes to a stop on the road. There are some indisputable analyses: today a spent battery is responsible for four times more malfunctions compared to what was happening in the mid-1990s. The reason is often inadequate maintenance or an over-delayed replacement. And the starting point is to check the charge level.
Check how well the battery is charged
Whatever the type of battery used by the car, you must always keep an eye on the charge level in order to guarantee maximum capacity for as long as possible. If the vehicle remains immobile for a prolonged period of time, it is possible to avoid a drop in the level of charge and a harmful flat battery by using a suitable battery charger, provided that this is of a good quality, because it “recognises” the capacity of the battery and feeds through an automatic level of charging current.
In any event, if you only use the vehicle sporadically, by recharging the battery every two months you can guarantee a constant state of charge and consequently you extend the unit’s useful life.
Limit short journeys
One small problem lies in the frequency of short journeys, particularly during the winter months. When temperatures are low, the performance of a battery is reduced because of certain specific chemical processes. As a result, the alternator is unable to recharge the accumulator sufficiently, when the car only travels a few kilometres.
And once again it becomes important to check periodically the level of charge in the battery: you can do this on an empirical basis by checking the car’s headlights. If, when the engine is turned off, they rapidly lose intensity once you turn them on, you need to recharge the battery as soon as possible. It is an even better idea to carry out the check periodically in a specialised workshop.
Manage energy during long journeys
The performance (and therefore the lifespan) of a battery also depends on the way in which energy is used during a journey. Turning off certain electrical applications such as seat or steering wheel heating brings positive benefits: it is especially on smaller models that it makes sense to turn all these electrical components off as soon as possible – as they have solely a comfort function – when they are not absolutely necessary. In this way you can ensure an improved management of the vehicle’s energy reserves by increasing their availability for recharging the battery. Another reason is that you need to prioritise everything which relates to safety, ranging from the lights to the driving aids which some people insist on de-activating. Furthermore, you should remember that for long journeys the battery gets recharged more quickly, even if you are not driving very fast. At only 2,000 revolutions per minute, the alternator provides the battery with two thirds of its maximum capacity.
Clean the battery around its terminals
One final remark. It is true that almost all lead/acid batteries – whether we are talking about the traditional ones containing liquid acid or the modern AGM ones – no longer need to be topped up with distilled water. But this does not dispense you from handling them in a way that keeps them in tip-top condition. When you are charging a battery, clean surroundings help to minimise the loss of charge, insofar as grime in the vicinity of the terminals, in the presence of damp, can facilitate the formation of stray leakage currents. Cleaning the terminals and connections therefore prevents the formation of corrosion on the contacts, minimises their internal resistance and improves the battery’s ability to charge and start-up from cold.