What Every Driver Ought To Know About Their Vehicle’s Battery

Patrons of Tierra Del Sol Automotive know that car batteries wear out just like any other battery and need to be replaced. But a dead battery doesn’t always mean that your vehicle’s battery needs to be replaced.

A dead battery can be the result of any number of things besides the battery itself – like a worn serpentine belt, a worn belt tensioner, or a bad alternator.

If you don’t check the serpentine belt, belt tensioner, and alternator, you may just end up replacing batteries that are still good.

Even knowing this, the logical place to start is to test the battery first to see if it’s actually bad. The problem could be that your battery is not being properly charged or able to maintain a charge due to a parasitic drain or a bad alternator.

An interesting side note here is that there is a surprisingly high percentage of requests for new alternators brought into Tierra Del Sol Automotive that result in the alternator working as designed. The real culprit of the problem turns out to be a worn serpentine belt and/or belt tensioner. If the belt is slipping, it’s not spinning the alternator properly so it can’t fully charge your battery.

Let’s get back to the battery.

How does a car battery work?

Lead Acid BatteryIt’s all about the flow of electrical power.

Your battery is discharged each time you start your vehicle and then, it is recharged by the alternator as you drive.

When you start your vehicle, the battery uses power to get your engine running. As your engine runs, your alternator generates electricity to run all your electrical systems:

  • lights,
  • a half dozen computers,
  • anti-lock brake system,
  • traction control,
  • power windows,
  • electronic fuel injectors,
  • stability control,
  • air conditioning,
  • transmission servos – the list goes on.

Any leftover electricity goes to recharge your vehicle battery.

As any normal driver would, you turn on your radio, your seat heaters/coolers, maybe plug in your cell phone or the kids start watching their DVD and pretty soon, and unbeknownst to you, there isn’t much extra electricity to go back into the battery.

Keep in mind, if you were on a long New Mexico road trip you’d have plenty of time to fully recharge your battery. But not if you’re making frequent stops around Alamogordo while running errands. If all you make are short trips around town, it may mean that your battery never actually has the time to fully recharge.

Every time you start your vehicle engine, your battery is completely discharged. Multiple starts – multiple discharges. By the time you get home, you can have less than a fully charged battery.

When the battery is continuously in a discharged state, it loses its ability to fully recharge. Parts of the battery harden. As these parts harden they are no longer able to function properly and are unable to build up and store electricity. As this continues over time, more and more of your battery is hardened. Eventually, your battery simply doesn’t have enough charge to supply the power needed to start your vehicle and you end up with a dead battery.

This repetitive cycle of not fully recharging your battery starts a downward spiral in your battery’s life. This demand for power that is needed for your vehicle to start and run, ends up placing additional strain on your alternator. Your alternator works overtime trying to keep your battery charged – which causes the alternator to wear out prematurely.

Most standard batteries are “wet-cell,” meaning they are filled with liquid battery acid. There’s a chemical cycle that takes place inside your vehicle’s battery.

New Absorbed Gas Mat (AGM) batteries are “non-spillable” which makes them safer for the environment as well as vehicle operators in Alamogordo. They also have a longer lifespan and greater cycle life than wet-cell batteries.

An example of a "non-spillable" auto battery.

Off-roaders like the AGM batteries because their performance is not affected by steep inclines and odd angles. They are also well suited for RV and boat owners.

Overall, batteries last longer in cooler climates but wear out faster in extreme cold or hot climates. On average, 70% of batteries fail within four years and the average life expectancy of a battery ranges from 3-5 years. Even if your battery hasn’t failed after 5 years, many experienced Alamogordo technicians will suggest replacing your battery as a maintenance item to extend the life of your alternator.

4 Battery Life Extending Maintenance Tips

Eventually, your car battery will fail and you will need to replace it. However, there are some things Alamogordo drivers can do to make their batteries last longer.

Extend Your Battery Life

Keep Your Battery Clean

Check your battery and its connections to ensuring that the connections are secure. Be sure to remove anything that might be mucking things up, like corrosion, dust, dirt, and grime.

Reduce Battery Power Usage During Startup

Turn off any accessories before starting your vehicle, particularly in cold weather. If you can control your car remotely, ensure the accessories are off before starting it.

Use a Battery Charger

By using a battery charger once a month in the summer and every three months in winter you can ensure your vehicle’s battery has a full charge. You can do this less often in the winter because the electrochemical process slows down when it’s colder and less damage is done when your battery is weak. Computerized battery chargers are really easy to use. They will also monitor and control the charging rate to keep the battery from overheating while it’s charging.

Test Your Battery Routinely

We recommend that you ask the professionals at Tierra Del Sol Automotive to test your charging system. They will perform a load test on the system that will provide you with the State of Charge (SOC) of your battery, the output of your Alternator in volts and amps, the condition of the battery terminals, cable ends, and of any deterioration of the batteries cables – both power and ground.

If the battery tests good but requires a maintenance service, they’ll clean any corrosion, or electrolyte (battery acid) spillage on the battery case, as well as the battery terminals. They’ll ensure the connections and cables are in secure working order and corrosion free. Finally, an application of anti-corrosion sealant is applied to aid in the prevention of further corrosion.

Should the battery fail the load test, they’ll select the proper battery, that’s correct for your vehicle, install it, then retest the charging system to verify all is in proper working order.

What should I look for in a new car battery?

Owner's Manual

Tierra del Sol Automotive recommends you first, get a replacement battery that meets or exceeds your vehicle’s specifications. But, that may not always be the case. You may have some special needs. When manufacturers first put the battery into your vehicle at the factory, they had no idea where it would end up over its life or how YOU would use it when you drive in New Mexico. That battery was chosen to meet the needs of a wide range of motorists.

Determining your recommended battery replacement interval is a great conversation to have with your Tierra Del Sol Auto service advisor. Share with them how you use your vehicle so you can be assured to get the correct battery for your specific needs.

In general, the experts at Tierra Del Sol Automotive recommend replacing your battery every five years. Changing your battery every five years can reduce your chances of being stranded on a local street with a dead battery – as well as prevent undue wear on your alternator.

Other than knowing when to check and change your battery, there are a couple of things you should pay particular attention to when you are choosing a new battery. One is cold cranking amps and the other is reserve capacity.

Cold Cranking Amps

Cold cranking amps can be thought of as the power used to start a cold engine. The colder an engine is, the more power will be needed to start the vehicle. The number of cold cranking amps you need is determined by two main factors – the type of vehicle you drive and the temperatures the battery is starting from.

Cold outside temperatures affect the way the battery can perform with the systems in your vehicle.

  • Fluids, like oil, inside the engine are thicker and don’t flow easily.
  • The chemical reaction that creates the electrical energy within the battery itself is less efficient in cold temperatures.
  • Cold temperatures tend to drain any power the battery has stored.

Essentially, cold reduces the available battery power so, less power is available when more power is needed.

Understanding how cold temperatures affect your battery can help you to decide which type of battery specifications are the best for your driving environment. If you live (or drive) where it is cold, a battery that provides more cold cranking amps is needed than if you are living in mild or hot driving conditions.

When purchasing a new battery, be sure that your new battery meets your vehicle’s recommended cold cranking amps. Consider a higher cold cranking amp battery if you live up in Cloudcroft where the temperatures can be colder.

Batteries often list or label their cold cranking amps as a number, so when comparing batteries, you can use the cold cranking amps numbers (CA or CCA).

The Cold Crank Amp Rating on an Auto Battery

This battery has a CCA of 775 amps and a reserve charge of 120 amps.

Interestingly, living in Alamogordo and the Tularosa Basin presents another challenge for our car batteries because heat is the real enemy of a long battery life. More often than not, the damage that is done during our hot summer months, rears its ugly head in winter as our weather gets cold.

Extremely hot weather is a primary reason for shortened battery life. The heat during our hot summer months causes the liquid that is contained in our batteries to evaporate. And, low fluid levels damage the internal structure of the battery.

Southern New Mexico vehicle batteries are especially challenged between the summer’s damage and the winter’s increased demand for power.

Reserve Capacity

Reserve capacity is the number of minutes of stored power that the battery has at a particular load. Reserve capacity is more important in modern cars than in days gone by. This is due to what is referred to as a parasitic drain. Parasitic drain is the energy that is still needed for use when your vehicle is NOT running. Even though your vehicle is not running, power is still needed by some of your vehicle’s accessories – especially when it comes to memory.

Modern vehicles have a lot of “always-on” systems that draw power from the battery:

  • Vehicle security system
  • Remote start systems
  • Different vehicle computers
  • Radio and audio systems
  • Bluetooth
  • Seat positions
  • Heated/Cooled seats
  • Phone and device chargers
  • Clock

Remember, you are often using reserve power when you are only making those short trips and running errands around Alamogordo because you are not driving long enough to recover the power you used simply by starting the car.

Service WriterWhen it comes time to purchase a new battery for your vehicle, your service advisor at Tierra Del Sol Automotive can give you advice on what you might need and any options you might have with your new battery purchase.

Premium batteries typically come with a longer warranty. Warranties vary from full-replacement – where the battery is replaced if it fails within the warranty period to pro-rated – where you are given a partial credit for the failed battery depending on how much of the warranty period has passed.

It is also nice to be aware that when the battery in a newer vehicle is replaced, your auto technician at Tierra Del Sol Automotive may need to register the battery into the engine computer or make some calibrations for some accessories such as power windows and sunroofs.

Your service advisor at Tierra Del Sol Automotive will be able to advise whether or not you may need more from your battery and require a high capacity battery, help you know how to decide which battery is right for you and your vehicle, and provide you with any warranty information. Call Tierra Del Sol Automotive today and schedule an appointment.