Leaving your car for a long time without driving can hurt the car battery. While parking the car may reduce your fuel budget, it is not good for the battery. With the growing rate of people settling for remote jobs, lots of people tend to work from home thereby not using their cars often. This makes it difficult to start the car later.
This article will guide you through the possible ways how to keep car battery from dying when not in use.
How Do Car Batteries Work?
The battery is a small electrically charge generating box. It can power all electrical components of the car, start the engine, stabilize voltage, and keep current in check.
Batteries are made up of cells that store chemical energy which is converted to electrical energy when required. Car batteries rely on a lead-acid chemical that ignites energy to power the car engine, lights, and accessories.
These types of batteries are classified as SLI batteries where SLI stands for starting, lighting, and ignition.
The SLI battery comprises six cells with two grids each, one made of lead dioxide and the other of lead. Each cell releases 2 volts of energy which accounts for the 12 volts that are present in most batteries.
Car batteries are charged by the alternators once the car engine is ignited, and they have a lifespan of 5-7 years. Usually, the lifespan of any battery depends on the quality and type of battery.
If your battery voltage gets low when you’ve not been using the car, you can jumpstart your car by using power from another car.
What Causes Car Batteries to Die When Not in Use?
There are a lot of factors that can drain your battery when you aren’t even using your car.
Some of these factors include:
Extremely hot or cold weather
Freezing winter conditions or very hot summer days will affect your car battery, especially if it’s an old battery. These extreme weather conditions can cause your battery to die completely or maybe weaken the cells.
During winter, the battery will require enough power to run the engine because the engine is usually very cold. This will strain the battery and make it die quickly.
If your alternator is faulty, it will fail to charge the battery effectively. The alternator keeps the battery charged when the vehicle is either idling or in use.
Too many short trips
If you are taking too many short trips, the alternator will not have enough time to sufficiently charge your battery.
Usually, cranking the engine consumes a lot of power from the battery which needs to be replenished. Failure to properly charge it afterward will weaken the battery and shorten its lifespan.
An old battery
A battery is designed to last for up to 5-7 years, but factors like frequent short trips, extreme temperatures, and regular usage will reduce its lifespan.
If your battery is old, the cells will become weak and there is a tendency for it to die off even when it’s not in use.
Poor maintenance is another reason your battery dies when not in use. A layer of dirt or acid assemblies on your car battery can cause your battery to leak its charge to the extent of leaving your battery with an insufficient voltage that will be unable to power your car on your next trip.
A parasitic drain
A parasitic drain refers to a situation where something continuously draws power from your battery after your car has been shut down.
It could be the interior lights, door lights, headlights, a faulty relay, or even the clock. The radio or security alarm can also cause a parasitic drain on the battery without your knowledge. Also, electrical glitches arising from faulty installations, poor wiring, or bad fuses can reduce your battery life.
The battery drain caused by these electrical components is called “parasitic drain.” To avoid this, ensure you turn off all electrical components after shutting down your engine and make sure your door, glove box, and trunk are properly closed.
Indicators of a Dead Battery
When your battery is dying or dead, it will show some signs.
Some of those signs are:
Swollen battery case
The battery is made of some chemical compositions confined in a box. The battery case can swell as a result of chemical reactions when exposed to extremely cold or hot weather conditions.
When the battery case begins to swell, it is a sign that there is an issue with the battery already and such battery needs to be replaced.
Engine cranks slowly
If your engine cranks slowly, it is a sign of a dead battery. Since the engine gets power from the battery each time it comes on, a dying battery will not be able to crank the engine as it should.
Another common indicator of a dying battery is dim headlights. If your headlights are not getting enough power to shine the way they should be, the lights will be dim.
Clicking sound from the ignition
A clicking sound when you turn your key in the ignition switch is another sign of a dying battery. This sound can also mean a faulty alternator or starter.
The clicking sound indicates that the power in the battery is not enough to crank the engine and no matter how many times you try this, the result remains the same.
Issues with electrical components
Most electrical components and accessories in a car get power from the battery to function. Components like radio, dashboard lights, headlights, and windshield wipers will fail to work properly if your battery is dead.
Dashboard light illuminates
Most modern vehicles are equipped with a dashboard. The dashboard light blinking could mean different things in your car and a dying battery is one of them. So once the dashboard illuminates, the battery should be one of the things you should consider.
This is another obvious indicator of a dead battery. If while inspecting your hood, you notice some crystal-like substances on the positive and negative terminals connected to the battery, it means that the acid from the battery is leaking and has corroded the terminals.
Sulfur or rotten egg smell from the hood
If you perceive the smell of sulfur or rotten egg emanating from your hood, it means your battery is leaking.
A dying and leaking battery will release hydrogen sulfide gas that smells like rotten egg or sulfur.
How to keep Car Battery from Dying When Not in Use
The battery’s major function is to provide power to all the electrical components and accessories in the car. Hence, it is important to always keep it fully charged. When you go on trips, the alternator charges the battery but if you leave the car unused for a long time, the battery may die off.
As more people tilt toward working remotely, we tend to use our cars less. While this may help in reducing the fuel budget, abandoning your car for too long can be harmful to the battery.
Here are tips about how to keep car battery from dying when not in use.
Avoid habits that will drain your battery
Sometimes a car battery might die from a mistake or negligence by the car owner. Failure to properly shut down your car, turn off the headlights, and cabin lights, and completely close the doors, windows and trunk can drain your battery.
Disconnect your battery
This is one of the most effective ways to preserve your battery life when you are not using your car. If you do not intend to use your car in a while, you can disconnect the battery from its housing and keep it in a safer place.
During winter, leaving your battery in your car outside can be very risky. Battery blankets and warmers should come in handy during this period. Storing your battery in a battery warmer will insulate and protect it from extreme temperatures.
Drive for at least 30 minutes weekly
Taking your car weekly for a 30 minutes drive will prevent your battery from dying. This is very useful for people working from home who don’t get to use their cars often.
Driving your car at moderate speeds for at least 30 minutes will allow the alternator to sufficiently charge the battery.
Invest in a battery charger
An external charger comes in handy when your battery is completely dead, and it becomes impossible to start your engine.
With an external charger, you can charge the battery to power your engine then your alternator can take it from there. To charge the battery, you simply plug the charger into the battery housing and link it to the terminals.
Clean up your battery
Prolonged usage and the acid contained in the battery can make your battery dirty over time. The battery can leak on the terminals and other components and will cause build-ups and corrosion on these components.
Corrosion will decrease the performance of the battery and can damage the terminals and some components of the engine. Inspecting your battery often will let you notice any form of corrosion and build-up on time and from there you can take prompt action to prevent your battery from dying.
Disable security features
Some security features embedded in your car can drain the battery. For instance, leaving the security alarm on will impact the battery. So, if you’ve parked your car in a secured place or garage, you can disable the security features to save battery life.
Disconnect the negative battery terminal
You can keep your battery from dying by disconnecting the negative cable from the battery. This will stop all electrical components and accessories from working. You can do this by locating the connector with a black cap and minus sign on the battery and then loosening it.
Avoid frequent short trips
Short trips will not give your battery sufficient time to charge rather they will weaken the battery cells and cause them to die easily.
How to Start a Car with a Dead Battery
There are ways to start your car if you have a dead battery. The most common is jumpstarting with another car or with a jump-start box.
Here are the procedures for both.
Starting with a jumpstart box
A jumpstart box is a portable battery box with jumper cables. They have software that prevents voltage surges and some of them are equipped with AC outlets, safety lights, and a USB port that can charge your mobile phone. A jump-start box is inexpensive and readily available.
1. For optimal performance, ensure the jump starter is fully charged before use.
2. Most jump-starters come with inbuilt cables but in the absence of this, connect your positive and negative cables to the right spots on the jump-starter.
3. The red clamp of the cable should be on the positive terminal with the + sign of your battery while the black clamp should be connected to an unpainted metal surface on the car’s frame.
4. After properly connecting all of these, turn on the jump-starter and start your car after some minutes.
5. After successfully starting your car, turn off the jump-starter switch and remove the clamps from the battery.
6. It is advisable to recharge your jump starter after every use.
Starting with another car
1. The car with the dead battery should be parked side by side with the car to be used to ensure the cables can cross to the next car.
2. Make sure both cars are turned off
3. Connect one end of the positive jump start cable to the dead battery’s positive clamp and the other end to the other battery’s positive clamp.
4. Connect the negative cable to the negative clamp of the good battery and the other end of the negative cable to the ground on the car with the dead battery. The ground could be the engine block or any metal surface away from the battery.
5. Start the car with the charged battery first before proceeding to the one with the dead battery.
6. If it does not start, leave it to charge for some minutes before disconnecting the cables in reverse order after starting your car.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a car stay before the battery dies?
Your car battery can stay without being charged for up to two weeks before it dies off. The sophisticated electrical components installed, and technologies employed in new car models by manufacturers make it difficult to preserve the battery. This is because even when you are not using your car, some of these components are still running. An example is the security system alarm. After the stipulated period of two weeks or more without driving, the battery will be dead and will require an external charger to power the battery or a jump starter to start your car when you want to go on your next trip.
How often should I start my car to keep my battery charged?
To keep your battery charged and healthy when you are not using your car, it is important to start your car at least once a week and let it run for up to fifteen minutes or take it for a 30-minute drive on the highway. Doing this will give your battery the boost it needs and prevent it from drying.
How do I prevent my battery from dying when not in use during winter?
Chilly weather conditions like winter are not friendly to your car battery. When your battery is cold, the rate of the reaction that creates an electric charge is exceptionally low which implies that a higher charge will be needed to start the engine. Due to the cold, the battery loses a lot of strength, and it becomes difficult to deliver the higher charge leading to a dead battery. To prevent this, you should endeavor to park your car in a garage or underground parking away from the cold, drive your car more often for at least 30 minutes during this period and also conduct regular battery checks.
Why is my battery affecting my car’s starting?
Your battery will affect the performance of your car if it is not charged very well, weak, or completely dead. The battery provides power to all electrical components and accessories in your car and if it does not have sufficient power, your car will not start. Your battery could become faulty because its lifespan has expired, there is a parasitic drain, loose, or corroded battery terminals, and inadequate charging due to a faulty alternator.
Is my car battery covered by warranty?
Car batteries are often regarded as wear and tear components and most manufacturers do not cover it in their warranty. However, some manufacturers give a few years’ warranties for car batteries. So, if you have a new car, and you are already experiencing battery problems, you can check the battery for the manufacturer’s warranty.