car battery maintenance

check your battery before winter checks you a little battery maintenance can save you a lot of hassle

Problems with car batteries are high on the RAC's annual list of the 10 most common breakdown faults. Not that they need to be. Thanks to new technology such as calcium silver, modern batteries provide much better cold starting performance and longer service life than ever before, in spite of the far greater amount of electronic and current consuming equipment found in today's cars.

Yet the RAC's annual statistics reveal the same old story - over three times as many call outs are due to battery problems than any other component.

If your car is already displaying worrying symptoms such as sluggish cold starting, the only solution may be to bite the bullet and replace the battery. Using lead-calcium-silver alloy construction, the latest batteries give up to 20 per cent longer service life than conventional lead acid products. The best advice is to have the battery checked over before the onset of winter, particularly if it is more than four years old. Many garages and battery stockists offer this service free of charge.

Even if a new battery is unavoidable, there are a number of simple precautions that can be taken to avoid problems in the future. With service intervals extended to 10,000 or even 20,000 miles, many owners now use their cars all year round without any attention to the battery and then expect faultless starting in winter. Above all it is important to keep the battery clean. Dirty or moist surfaces may result in small but continuous leakage currents flowing from one terminal to the other. Over a period of time this can significantly reduce the battery's cold starting capability.

Contact terminals should also be kept clean, dry and lightly greased to protect against corrosion. Although many car batteries are now protected by a fabric cover, condensation can still creep in. Terminal lead clamps should fit tightly and securely.

Defective dashboard switches for seemingly low current consumers like the glove compartment light or rear wash/wipe should be rectified before they drain the battery and the condition and correct tension of the V-belt connecting the engine to the alternator should be checked to prevent any slippage.

In the case of older batteries fitted with vent plugs, the water level in each cell should be checked frequently and topped up if necessary with distilled water available from filling stations or motoring accessory shops to keep the battery in peak condition.