Summer Heat and Your Battery: Why Opposites Don't Attract

Searing summer heat waves, lights left on overnight and age are just some of the reasons batteries die.

Modern vehicles are more complex and could require more sleuthing to discover the source of the power drain.

Vehicle batteries are tasked with far more than simply helping start the engine these days. It also needs to power a navigation system, charge your cell phone, operate a back-up camera and enable that plethora of 21st century conveniences to function.

Consider gridlock or slow-and-go driving. Your vehicle’s engine generates less energy and the alternator alone can’t handle your vehicle’s demand for electricity--and puts extra strain on the battery.

Here’s tips and advice about helping your battery live its best life.

  • Get your battery tested to assess its overall condition. This diagnosis should let you know if you’re going to be able to make it through the summer.
  • Practice preventative maintenance. A vehicle’s charging system should be checked every three months, or every oil change. Your service center might even include a multipoint inspection with an oil change, this inspection would likely include the status of the battery and charging system. Water may also be added to the battery to get the water level to about a half-inch above the tops of the plates. Battery manufacturers also recommend using only distilled or deionized water and to use a watering gun or pitcher to fill each battery cell.
  • Look for subtle warnings. Difficulty starting the engine, low headlight intensity, and sluggish power accessories (think windows that roll up and down slower than usual) are all signs that the battery is weak or there’s an issue with the electrical system.
  • Battle corrosion. Rust and crust on the terminals can diminish the effectiveness of your vehicle’s battery. Corrosion accelerates at high temperatures, so battery maintenance is crucial during the summer. Don’t allow corrosion to build up on the terminals.
  • Inspect regularly. Batteries that are more than three years old should be tested more frequently.
  • Test, test, test. A weak battery may be able to turn over your vehicle’s engine at home and go dead when you travel to a mountain retreat.
  • Play Sherlock Holmes. Inspect the battery for leaks, cracks, or bulging. Any one of these symptoms means it’s new battery time. A corrosive stew of chemical reactions slops around inside the battery. A cracked, leaking or swollen battery poses serious safety hazards for you and your vehicle.
  • Don’t leave on a road trip before doing this. Have a professional mechanic inspect battery cables, posts and fasteners.