car battery conundrum
This weekend, while freezing my tail off cheering for the Griz in Missoula, I received a text message from my mom saying her car was, well, less than enthusiastic about starting in the sub-zero temperatures. I use the phrase “less than enthusiastic” because, as most of us Montanan’s have experienced, there’s that funny sound your car can make while starting up in these freezing temperatures. Even though it starts, it just “feels” like it doesn’t want to. It’s the automotive equivalent of me getting out of bed in the morning – which generally goes something like “No! I don’t want to get up… Go away… I’m staying in bed where it’s warm… [moans and grumbles] Ugh… Fine… I’ll get up…”
The first thing I think of when a car doesn’t start in winter is whether or not the battery is ok. And while a car not starting in winter can be a variety of problems, now is still a good time to get the battery checked.
After I sent my mom to the Grand Ave MasterLube to get her battery tested, I had to wonder just why it seems like so many car batteries die during the first cold spell of the year. So after slip-sliding my way into work this morning and treating my co-workers to one of my “I hate winter” rants, I turned to one of my favorite magazines, Popular Mechanics, to find answers to the Cold Weather vs. Car Battery case.
According to the article by Mike Allen, winter is tough on batteries for a couple of reasons. One being that the cold engine is harder to turn over because the oil inside is thicker during icy temperatures. The thicker oil makes the parts in the engine have to work harder to start and therefore demands more current from the battery. (With holiday baking season coming up, my mind pictures an analogy of stirring molasses in a mixing bowl versus warm maple syrup.)
The second reason comes down to simple chemistry. The chemical reactions required to generate electricity are slower at colder temperatures. (I can’t say I blame them - I work slower when I’m cold too!)
Another noteworthy fact mentioned in the article said that bad connections to the battery posts, whether due to corrosion or a loose connection, can cause a battery to not fully charge. And a battery that is not fully charged can freeze and damage the internal workings of the battery.
That being said, after all the reading and researching I did this morning, the most interesting portion of this cold weather conundrum seems to happen during summer. It turns out that many batteries begin to fail in the summer when hot temperatures cause the electrolyte to vaporize from the battery. The problem isn’t detected until the battery is more taxed when the temperature drops. So while Ol’ Man Winter gets the blame for many battery issues, the hot summer sun can actually be the thing that started all the trouble in the first place.
So bundle up Billings and come by one of our stores and have your battery tested for free. Hopefully it’ll save you from that uncomfortable “my car won’t start – I’m running late” phone call to your boss during these cold days to come! As for myself, my car battery just tested as acceptable, so I’ll need to shift my focus into jump starting myself on these frigid winter mornings. I’m sure my alarm clock could do without the snooze button abuse for a while. And I’m certain my neighbors could do without the sometimes colorful language I use to describe this weather as I tromp outside to start up my ride. I’ll work on that.