You take time to make sure your radiator has the proper mix of anti-freeze and you top off your wiper fluid with a brand that includes anti-freeze, but do you think about your vehicle battery when cold winter weather hits?  Here are 7 cold weather vehicle battery facts to get you through the winter.

Fact 1: Cold Weather Causes Batteries To Lose Power

Vehicle Battery Optima-8040-218-FFP YellowTop Front and Side ViewDuring the winter it seems I see the heaviest use of jumper cables, battery jump starters, and your local auto service to jump start cars that won’t turn over.  Is it because the oil and other fluids are thicker from the cold weather?  Yes, but you also need to consider your battery.

Your vehicle’s battery loses 33% of its power when the temperature dips below 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) and over 50% of its power when the temperature falls below 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C).  This is usually not a problem because vehicle manufacturers specify batteries with cold cranking amps (CCA) that should start your car even at 0 degrees F.




Whether your battery can start your car in cold weather depends on its cold cranking amps (CCA).  Cold cranking amps are the number of amps delivered by a battery at 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C) for 30 seconds without dropping below 7.2 volts.  If your vehicle’s specifications call for a battery with at least 500 cold cranking amps, then at 0 degrees F, a battery with 500 cold cranking amps should be able to start your car.

Fact 2: A Lack Of Power Is Not The Only Vehicle Battery Problem You Need To Be Concerned With

Vehicle Battery Auto Service CenterSo your battery is rated for the number of cold cranking amps specified by the manufacturer so you are in the clear right?  Hopefully yes, but you should find out.  Before the onset of winter or even now (better late than never), you should get your charging and starting systems analyzed.

Your battery can have a marginal cell (1 of 6 cells in a standard vehicle battery) and still start your car in warm weather.  When it gets colder, the same faulty cell will most likely keep your battery from starting your car.

Fact 3: Small Warm Weather Faults Can Cause Big Cold Weather Problems

Vehicle Battery Charging And Starting Systems

If your car has trouble starting in warmer weather, you are most likely looking at problems when the weather turns colder.

Your auto service center will test your battery, connections, power to the starter, and overall health of the electrical system.  If corrosion or broken wires are causing slower than normal starts, getting that taken care of before winter could save you a lot of headaches or even your life.

Fact 4: Starting Your Engine Periodically Can Save You From Problems

Vehicle Battery Tender Plus Full ViewVehicles that sit unstarted for long periods are at a higher risk of battery starting problems.  A rule of thumb is that lead-acid batteries lose 5% of their charge every month that they are not recharged.  This rule of thumb is for about 80 degrees F conditions.  In cold weather, the discharge rate will be lower.

There are many other factors that affect self-discharge rate besides temperature including number of charge cycles and battery age.  If you have an older battery, with several discharge cycles that has been sitting under a hood during the summer, the rate of self-discharge could be much higher.

If you know in advance that your car is going to sit for a month or more it would be wise to invest in a car battery charger/tender like a Battery Tender Plus that will maintain your battery’s charge even when the vehicle is not running.

Click Here To See Our Article Battery Tender Plus: Best Car Battery Tender 2013 >>>

Fact 5: Keep Lead-Acid Batteries Charged During Cold Weather

A frozen battery can be an explosion hazard.  Fortunately, a fully charged battery will normally not freeze down to -76 degrees F (-60 degrees C).  A partially discharged battery can freeze at a much warmer temperature so keep your battery charged.

Fact 6: Do-It-Yourselfers Can Easily Do Their Own Battery Maintenance

Vehicle Battery Cracked and Bulging Battery

It takes only a few small battery maintenance tasks once every 6 months to head off small problems before they become big problems.

It all starts with battery inspection.  Inspect your battery for cracks, leaks, and bulging.  Batteries with any of these problems should be checked by a professional for possible replacement.

Vehicle Battery Corroded Battery CableNext, inspect the battery cables.  The battery cables vibrate while the engine is running and abrasion on sharp objects in the engine compartment can cause cables to wear enough to cause problems.  Also, corrosion can be invisible to the casual observer.  It often finds it way under the cable sheathing and can cause a major reduction in amperage to the starter.

Next, inspect all connections.  There are connections at the battery terminals (posts), the negative ground, and the starter.  These connections should be tight, dry, and free from corrosion.

Just keeping these few maintenance items on your checklist for service every 6 months along with a charging and starting system checkup by your service center will keep your car running and starting better for the long haul.

Fact 7: You Can Do Everything Right and Things Can Still Go Wrong

Vehicle Battery Jump Starter Clore JNC300XLYou can be diligent in battery, charging, and starting system maintenance and things can still go wrong.  You could have a defective battery that shows up at the worst time.  Salt that finds its way up to the starter can cause faster corrosion and result in starting problems.  So what can you do?

Short of paying a lot of money to a roadside assistance service, you can do two simple things that will be your battery backup and give you more peace of not only during cold weather, but throughout the year.

Purchase a good set of jumper cables and a battery jump starter.

The battery jump starter is your first line of defense.  Battery jump starters/boosters are really just portable batteries with cables attached.   If your battery dies, a battery jump starter can be hooked to the battery to boost it enough to start the car.

Click Here To See Our Article Portable Car Battery Charger: Top 5 Battery Jump Starters  >>>

Vehicle Battery Jumper Cables Coleman Cable 08660-4-20 Full View

Even a battery booster/jump starter can fail or let you down if you forget to maintain its charge.  Your last line of defense is a good set of jumper cables.  With jumper cables and help from a good Samaritan, you can get a jump start and be on your way.  It’s the last line of defense because these days, good Samaritans seem to be harder to find.  At least if you have your own jumper cables you are half way to a jump start.

Click Here To See Our Article Best Jumper Cables: Top Booster Cables For Your Vehicle >>>


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What do you think of our cold weather vehicle battery facts?  How do you prepare your vehicle for cold weather? Please take a moment to leave a comment below.

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As always, thanks for reading!  I sincerely hope that our list of vehicle battery facts helps you avoid battery trouble during cold weather!

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  • Kristin Taylor
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:14 am 0Likes

    Thought I should include a tip I got recently.My car mechanic at Service Plus says we shouldn’t keep the vehicle idle for long or else it can shorten battery life. So the battery should be turned on frequently if the car stays idle for days.The alternator recharges your battery when it is driven, so try to start and drive for at least 20 minutes twice a week. I did find that it made a difference. I used to have battery issues, and my previous mechanic knew how rarely I take out my 2nd car and never bothered to bring this up ! and just kept charging me .

    • Mark Ridgeway
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 9:33 pm 0Likes

      Thanks for your great tip, Kristin! Lead-acid batteries lose on average about 5% of their charge per month that they are stored. Starting your car periodically is definitely recommended if you don’t keep the battery on a battery tender. For some, it’s not practical to start the car periodically for instance when a vehicle is in storage. For those cases, a battery tender may be the best option. Check out our article on the best battery tender. Thanks again for your tip! -Mark

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