Blog Car Care Advice 4 Ways Cold Weather Affects Car Batteries (+Maintenance Tips)
Car Care Advice

4 Ways Cold Weather Affects Car Batteries (+Maintenance Tips)

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Your vehicle’s battery can lose its cranking amperage at a freezing temperature, especially if it’s an older battery. Without proper maintenance, you could find yourself stranded with a dead battery.

So, how do you safeguard your battery’s lifespan and performance in cold conditions?
More importantly, how do you choose the best cold-weather car battery?

Don’t worry. 
We’re here to answer your questions so that you can enjoy a smooth drive even when the weather gets frosty.

This Article Contains:  

Let’s get started.

4 Ways Cold Weather Affects Your Car Battery

Here’s how the cold weather can impact battery performance and lifespan: 

1. Reduced Battery Power 

Car batteries create electricity through a chemical reaction to activate the starter motor. But in extreme cold weather conditions, these reactions slow down because the battery fluid (electrolyte) gets thicker or viscous.

As a result, at 32°F, the battery loses about 30% of its cranking amperage, and at 0°F, it loses around 60% of its cranking amperage compared to normal.

2. Increased Battery Load

Low-temperature climates can thicken your engine oil, making it tougher to start the car. Additionally, heating, headlights, windshield wipers, and car chargers add to the battery load, increasing the chances of battery failure.

3. Thicker or Sticky Battery Fluid  

When the temperature drops below -40°F, the battery fluid can freeze and expand, putting pressure on its lead plates and casing. This expansion can result in your vehicle’s battery cracking or rupturing, potentially causing acid leaks.

4. Moisture Build-Up 

In cold weather conditions, moisture builds up inside the battery, causing corrosion on the battery’s lead plates. This happens when water mixes with the battery’s acid. In rare cases, this water can cause a short circuit.

Important: An electric vehicle with a lithium-ion battery is prone to lithium plating (formation of metallic lithium) in extremely cold conditions. Lithium plating occurs when lithium ions build up in the battery’s anode. 

Luckily, even when dealing with extreme temperature conditions, you have options to prevent battery failure (a dead battery).

Let’s explore them.

7 Nifty Tips to Maintain Your Car Battery in Cold Conditions

Here are tips to help prevent a battery problem or a dead car battery in winter:

1. Regularly Clean the Battery Terminals

Use a baking soda and water solution and gently scrub the battery terminals with a toothbrush to prevent internal corrosion and improve the battery’s lifespan. Wear gloves and safety goggles to avoid chemical exposure.

2. Keep the Battery Fully Charged

Use a trickle battery charger or a conditioner to provide a low, constant charge. This helps maintain a fully charged battery, which is less likely to freeze than one with low power. It also helps improve battery life.

3. Take Occasional Long Drives

Short trips don’t allow the battery to recharge fully. In contrast, an occasional 30-minute drive gives your battery enough time to recharge and boosts overall battery life.  

4. Minimize Electrical Load

Minimize using heated seats, high-powered audio systems, or interior lighting when the engine is off. This helps the battery cope with the increased demand for starting power in cold temperatures.

5. Use Low-Viscosity Engine Oil 

Low-viscosity engine oil gets to the important parts quickly, helping you start your car faster in the cold.

6. Invest in Cold-Weather Accessories

Accessories like an engine block heater or battery blanket can help maintain a warmer temperature around your battery. This makes it easier to start your vehicle in low-temperature climates. 

7. Protect Your Battery from Extreme Cold 

Park your petrol or electric vehicle in a heated garage or a covered area. This will provide some insulation against the extreme cold and keep your battery warmer. 

As you prepare for winter, remember that selecting the right cold-weather car battery is key to winning half the battle. 

Let’s check out how to make that choice. 

How to Choose the Best Car Battery for Winter Months

Consider these factors when selecting a car battery for winter:

  1. Choose an appropriate battery technology for your vehicle, such as conventional, deep-cycle, lithium-ion, or AGM batteries (Absorbent Glass Mat batteries). And while it may seem complex, installing AGM batteries in vehicles using a flooded battery is possible. 
  1. Ensure the battery group size aligns with your vehicle’s physical dimensions, terminal locations, and type requirements.
  1. Opt for a battery with a higher CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) for dependable starting power.
  1. Refer to the manufacturer’s website for reserve capacity information (how long the battery can run before dropping to 10.5V).
  1. Examine vibration resistance ratings on labels or product descriptions. Higher ratings suggest better suitability for cold temperatures.

Note: An AGM battery with a cold cranking amps rating of 1000 performs better than a lead-acid battery in extreme heat and cold weather. They offer a low self-discharge rate and excellent vibration resistance and don’t expand like a flooded battery when frozen.

Seeking additional details about car batteries?
We’ve got you covered.

3 FAQs About Car Batteries

Here are three commonly asked questions regarding car batteries and their answers:

1. How Do Car Batteries Work? 

Car batteries convert chemical energy into electrical energy through cells that store and release this energy. They provide electricity to start your car’s engine by powering the starter motor and igniting the air-fuel mixture via spark plugs

When you turn the ignition on, it initiates the chemical reaction in the battery to produce electricity for starting the engine and running various systems. While the engine operates, the alternator recharges the battery, supplying power to most of the car’s electrical systems to keep the battery charged.

2. How to Safely Warm Up a Frozen Car Battery?

Follow these steps to warm up a frozen car battery safely: 

  1. First, inspect the battery for visible cracks or leaks
  1. If there are no cracks, place the frozen battery in a warm area to thaw slowly.
  1. Next, use a portable heater or indirect heat source to raise the battery’s temperature to at least 40°F. 
  1. Allow the battery to warm up for approximately 30 minutes. 
  1. Try jump-starting the vehicle, ensuring secure and correct cable connections.
  1. If it starts, let the vehicle run to recharge the battery via the alternator.
  1. If the vehicle doesn’t start, consult a professional mechanic.

3. How to Test a Car Battery?

You can test a car battery with or without a multimeter, but a multimeter provides a more accurate assessment. Here’s how to do both:

A. With a Multimeter:

  1. Turn on the multimeter and set it to DC voltage. 
  1. Connect the positive (red) probe to the battery’s positive terminal and the negative (black) probe to the negative terminal.
  1. A fully charged battery should read around 12.6 volts or slightly higher. 
  1. If the voltage is significantly lower, it may indicate a low charge or a battery problem.

B. Without a Multimeter:

  1. Turn on the headlights. If the headlights appear dim, it could signify a weak or dying battery.
  1. Try starting the engine. If it cranks slowly or struggles to start, it indicates you may need a battery replacement.

Final Thoughts

Cold weather can reduce battery performance and increase strain due to freezing and corrosion. It could also leave you with a dead car battery.

However, you can counteract these effects by following our winter tips to maintain your battery.

But if you need professional help with a car battery replacement, you can rely on RepairSmith
We provide on-demand auto repair services right from your driveway. 

Contact us today for any repair service and receive a 12,000-mile or 12-month warranty for added peace of mind.