Don't let all the small electronics turn a good day bad

It’s not enough anymore for your car’s battery to just help start the engine. It also needs to power a navigation system, charge your cell phone, operate a back-up camera and a plethora of 21st century conveniences. 

So how do you ensure your battery has enough strength to do all that and prevent you from being stranded thousands of miles from home on your summer road trip?

“Summer heat can be even more damaging than winter cold to batteries, yet hardly anyone thinks about it,” said Gale Kimbrough of Interstate Battery.

Regular inspection, clean terminals and routine testing of its charge level are crucial to an efficient electrical system, Kimbrough said. Maintenance is especially important in summer, when high temperatures accelerate corrosion and can evaporate the water inside the battery.

The abundance of accessories in modern cars put an exponential strain on the battery. 

“We’re asking our charging systems to put out a lot of power,” said Kimbrough, nicknamed “Mr. Battery” and the co-author of Interstate’s technical manual. “The variety of wants and needs has increased, and the battery suffers.” 

Months of extreme heat strain a battery’s starting power, and the constant stresses imposed by electronic accessories compound its workload.

Traditionally, a dead battery could be chalked up to something as simple as leaving an interior light on overnight, Kimbrough said. Now, the systems are more complex and require more sleuthing to discover the source of the power drain.

“On many of the vehicles today, the electronic devices do not immediately shut-off or go into sleep mode immediately after the key is shut off,” Kimbrough said. “Sometimes the vehicle’s computer system will stay alive for five to 15 minutes or more.”

The amount of driving and length of your trips also plays into battery wear and tear.

“People who drive sporadically or consistently drive short trips often encounter discharged batteries due to the increased parasitic drains,” he said.  

Regular checking of your battery and its cables is one of the easiest ways to stay ahead of any potential problems, Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough had the following suggestions:

  • Ask your service advisor to test the battery’s power retention capability. 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.
  • Replace a battery that’s cracked or bulging. 
  • Have your battery fluid level checked and look at manufacturer’s recommendations for battery maintenance. Note: Modern batteries often are “closed” systems that do not allow fluids to be added. 
  • Check for corrosion around the cables. Rust and crust can diminish the effectiveness of your vehicle’s battery and must be removed.