It wasn’t until recently that I realized how temperature-specific my car’s battery is. During summer, my car would run without a problem. Once the temperatures started dipping, so did my battery’s reliability. Did you know that cold weather impacts how well your battery operates?
The key is to understand how your battery works and circumvent some of the factors that lead to the premature death of your battery. The best things you can do are, ensure your car is warmed up enough, park it inside a garage if possible, avoid extra short trips, and use a battery blanket.
This leads a lot of people to wonder how to keep your car battery from dying in cold weather. I’m going to discuss this topic and teach you everything you need to know. I even have 11 tips at the bottom of this article to help preserve your battery in these frigid months.
How a Car Battery Works
Most people don’t wonder about their battery unless it’s dead. Here’s how it works:
Each cell in your battery has two plates that are submerged in acid. A chemical reaction happens between the two plates which produces electrons, the thing responsible for making electricity.
Car batteries typically have six of these little cells working together.
The beauty of this chemical process is that it works in two different ways. Either electricity flows out of the cells and powers external devices, or electricity flows into the cells.
In the first case, this would be how your battery powers your car. In the second case, that’s how your battery recharges.
There’s a second piece of equipment called your alternator. The sole purpose of the alternator is to keep the juice flowing into your car battery, so it doesn’t die.
This is imperative because you don’t plug your gas-powered car into a charger each night, so how else is the battery supposed to charge?
Why Do Car Batteries Die?
Thankfully, it’s easy to understand how a battery works theoretically. You have plates that interact with acid which generates electricity.
Batteries die in a few different ways.
The first works just like your phone. If the car battery releases more electricity than it takes in from the alternator, then it will die like a phone that isn’t plugged into the wall.
The second way is when there isn’t enough material to make the chemical reaction happen. Without boring you with the science, there are basically a set number of electrons that can be produced before the battery dies forever.
Even with recharging your car battery, the chemical reaction will become weaker over time until the battery simply doesn’t work anymore.
This is the more common reason why a battery will die.
Finally, there could be a defect with the battery. If it gets damaged or something is internally wrong with the battery, it can stop working randomly.
What Does Cold Weather Have to Do with it?
AAA reports that at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, your battery loses 60% of its power. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, expect to lose about 35% of your battery’s power.
Why? It all goes back to the science of a battery.
Temperature is a key player in a lot of chemical reactions, and your battery is one of those examples.
Cold air will slow things down and make them less efficient. In this case, it will starve the chemical reaction a little bit, depending on how cold it is. Electrons will flow slower, and more of a reaction is required to produce the same amount of electricity.
Think of it like trying to pour cold syrup versus warm syrup.
This is bad news for those of you in the northern half of the world, especially places like Maine which have especially rough winters.
The Life Expectancy of a Typical Car Battery
With everything considered, the typical battery lasts about 3 to 5 years. After 5 years, the battery simply runs out of the material required to perform the chemical reaction, even if you never had the battery in a cold climate.
When a Battery Dies, Is it Dead Forever?
A truly dead battery can’t be resuscitated, it’s dead forever. This is only the case when there isn’t enough material for the chemical reaction that goes on inside of the battery.
In cases where the battery dies after leaving the headlights on overnight, you can still bring it back to life. This is because the material inside is intact, it just didn’t have enough electricity coming in to keep it running.
When this happens, you just need a quick jump start.
How to Keep Your Car Battery from Dying in Cold Weather: 11 Tips
As the months get colder, you’ll have to do more to keep your battery from dying. Here are 11 tips that I came up with to help you.
1. Check Your Battery’s Health Routinely
The best course of action always starts with checking the health of your battery. This will tell you how much juice is available, how much life you can expect from your battery, and if anything is currently wrong with it.
Using a digital car battery tester makes this easier. It takes all the guesswork out of the process and gives you easy-to-read results right on the screen.
Remember, just because your battery is dead doesn’t mean that it can’t be brought back to life. This tester will tell you if that’s possible.
I would highly suggest checking your battery’s health right before winter really hits. This will give you a good clue. Maybe it’s time to replace it before the cold weather sucks out the remaining life.
While you’re at it, it’s also a good time to check your car’s heater so you know if that’s working before the temperature really cools down.
2. Avoid Short, Quick Drives
Every time you start your car, a huge toll is taken from your battery. It takes a lot of power to get everything going.
Once the car is started, the alternator starts to whir, and your battery slowly gets charged back up.
That is unless you only take short, quick drives. Anything under a 10-minute drive is probably not enough for your battery to recharge, especially when it’s cold out.
That’s why it’s advisable to avoid taking any trip that’s under 10 minutes. I know this isn’t possible for people who have a super-short commute (I’m jealous), or their kids’ school is right down the road.
If nothing else, maybe this is a good excuse for you to run to your favorite coffee shop before work or after dropping off the kiddos. Just make sure to go through the drive-thru so you can keep your car running.
3. Keep it in a Garage (Whenever Possible)
In a lot of my guides, one of the top tips is to store your car in a garage. This is yet another example where this tip comes up.
I know that parking in a garage isn’t an option for all my readers, but that won’t stop me from talking about it all the time.
I have a buddy who lives near a parking garage. During the cold months of the year, he gets a long-term membership to the garage just to keep his car warmer and outside of the elements.
Parking in a garage makes a lot of sense logically. I mentioned that a cold battery will underperform as compared to a warm battery. Think about all the cold hours overnight that your car is exposed to the weather before you start it up again.
This can be avoided by parking it inside.
4. Consider a Thermal Blanket
If you can’t park inside, then a thermal blanket is a viable alternative. This is an acid-resistant, flame-resistant, insulated blanket that wraps around your battery and plugs into the wall. It heats up just like a heated blanket you might use inside.
Rather than storing your whole car in a warm place, you can focus on keeping your battery warm, at least.
When you park your car for the night, then tuck in the battery with one of these blankets, give it a kiss on the top, and tell it “goodnight”.
5. Let Your Car Warm Up Before You Do
This tip is all about maximizing how your battery works. I mentioned earlier that starting your car takes a lot of juice out of your battery.
To combat this, you should wait a little bit when you first start your car. Give it 30 seconds to idle before going anywhere.
Also, let your car warm up before you turn on things like your heater, seat warmer, or steering wheel warmer.
This will ensure your battery has recharged enough before putting another toll on it. Remember, running your HVAC is a very energy-intensive thing for your car to do.
As uncomfortable as it might be, the best thing to do is to let your car warm up before you do.
6. Give it a Quick Jump
It’s also a good idea to give your car a quick jump from time to time. This will quickly replenish your battery and prolong its life.
If you didn’t know, there’s a portable car jumping battery that you can buy. It eliminates the need to use anyone else’s car to jump yours.
You store this portable battery somewhere in your car. When you need to juice up your battery, you just grab it and connect it to your battery like you would if you were getting a traditional jump.
This will trickle energy back into your battery, charging it.
7. Ask a Pro for Help if You’re Confused
This is a subject where a lot of car owners get confused. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t feel comfortable or you just need a little extra help, this is where an honest mechanic can help out.
Their shop should have tools to test the life of your battery and let you know what you need to do. You might need a battery replacement and not even realize it. Time definitely flies by, and it might have been 5 years since your last one was installed.
8. Turn Off Your Lights/ Accessories Before Turning Off Your Car
One way to keep your battery alive in the winter is to prevent it from dying due to a silly mistake. The biggest culprit of waking up to a dead battery is headlights that ran through the night.
If you forget to turn off your headlights, your battery will be forced to give them power until you hop back in your car. That could be 10 hours or more.
If you have automatic headlights, then you don’t have to worry about this (as long as your headlights are set to AUTO).
It might be a good idea to get into the habit of checking your headlights every time you turn off your car. Confirm that the lights also turn off.
9. Look At Your Battery’s Terminals from Time to Time
The terminals are the two nubs on the top of your battery. You have a positive terminal with a (+) symbol and a negative lead which is typically black with a (-) symbol on the battery.
If these terminals are rusted, have any liquid on them, or are damaged, then you’ll need to take action to correct it. That either means carefully cleaning the terminals or replacing your battery if the damage is too severe.
If nothing else, it’s good to know the state of your terminals.
10. Replace it Before it Dies
To prevent a delay to your schedule, later on, consider replacing your battery before it’s too late. With the case of battery replacements, it’s better safe than sorry.
There’s nothing wrong with waiting until your battery officially dies, though. You’ll just have to go through the inconveniences of a car that won’t start in the morning.
11. Maybe Disconnect Your Battery Between Uses
You might also consider disconnecting your battery between uses. It’s a pretty dramatic solution, but it works.
This tip is more for people who have a secondary vehicle they don’t regularly drive. Growing up, my dad would disconnect the batter to his old beater truck between uses and it kept the battery alive.
There’s no way for the battery to get drained when you do this. You just have to go through the effort and time associated with disconnecting and reconnecting the battery upon use.
Your car’s battery hates the cold weather as much as you do. These 11 tips should help you keep it alive for longer. For more car tips, check out the rest of my site. Be sure to see what other products I recommend for car owners.