How to maintain your car battery in the winter

When you go to start your car, the last thing you want to hear is the clicking sound of a dead battery, especially in the dead of winter. Whether you're well-versed in auto upkeep or know little about your engine’s components, there are several steps you can take to maintain your car’s battery when winter rolls around.

AAA offers car battery services when you need them the most. Our roadside assistance services arrive on-scene to investigate your situation and get you back on the road as soon as possible. Learn about how you can preserve your battery and what to do if your battery dies below.

Car Battery Maintenance in the Winter

Many people wonder why car batteries die in the winter more often than other seasons. It comes down to the cell’s chemical components. Winter is a threat to your engine because freezing conditions slow down the chemical reactions inside the battery. When the part is exposed to extreme hot and cold temperatures, its discharge rates increase.

According to AAA research, when a battery reaches 20 degrees Fahrenheit, a person’s average driving range decreases by 41%. As the process becomes slower, it reduces and inhibits the unit’s ability to perform at peak levels.

If you’re dealing with a freezing cell, a cold engine and sluggish oil, they will demand extra power. When you turn on the heating and defrosting settings, they also place more strain on the vehicle’s battery.

Be aware of warnings that your battery is failing. Look for signs, such as:

  • The cell is past its noted lifespan.
  • The battery case is cracked or enlarged.
  • The car horn sounds strange.
  • Corrosion buildup forms on the battery.
  • Dome lights become faint.
  • Electronic accessories start to fail.
  • The engine cranks slowly.
  • The headlights appear yellow, not white.
  • You hear clicking sounds when turning the ignition.
  • A sulfur smell is apparent.

Check the life of your vehicle’s battery by using a cell tester or relying on the experts. When you have a bad battery, replace it as soon as possible. If you perform the replacement on your own, make sure you recycle the battery properly.

Five common reasons a battery may die include:

  • A failing alternator
  • Forgetting to start the engine while it’s in storage
  • Freezing temperatures
  • Leaving the headlights, flashers, interior lights or radio on when the car isn’t running
  • Neglecting cell maintenance
  • Turning on the AC when the vehicle isn’t on

A battery can fall short of its average lifespan when subjected to the wrong conditions or if you fail to conduct regular maintenance. If you also neglect to get a new unit, you can find yourself stranded on the road — which is never good in the winter.

Watch for battery corrosion

How to Keep Your Car Battery Charged in the Winter

Because icy temperatures degrade battery life, the best thing you can do is implement cold-weather car battery maintenance. Here are four tips on how to protect a battery in cold weather.

1. Disconnect the Battery Unit

If you plan on storing your car during the winter, disconnect the battery to help preserve its charge. Keep the cell in a dry location, but don’t place it on a concrete floor.

2. Watch for Corrosion

Corrosion occurs when battery acid seeps through faulty battery connections. It can prevent the unit from starting. Make sure to clean the battery using a wire brush, getting rid of any corrosive residue, dirt and grime on the terminals. Ensure the cell is seated correctly, too.

3. Install a Trickle Charger

A trickle charger will transfer enough power to the unit while the engine is off to keep it from freezing. You can also apply a battery blanket to provide the component with an appropriate amount of heat to prevent freezing. Wrap the sheet around the battery, fitting it inside the cover.

4. Store the Vehicle Inside

When the weather is warmer, it’s okay to leave your car outside. But when exceedingly hot and cold temperatures roll around, you want to consider placing your vehicle in the right storage area. In the winter, park your automobile in a temperature-regulated space. If you don’t have a garage, park it in an area with less exposure to wind, snow and ice.

5. Determine the Age of the Battery

Determine whether your battery is past its lifespan by checking the manufacturer’s manual. It will specify how many years your car battery should last. If it’s past its expected time, it’s smart to invest in a new unit that fits your make and model before subzero weather approaches.

6. Lessen the Use of Car Accessories

The first thing you want to do is turn on the heater when you get inside your car, right? But instead of switching on the heater and radio, allow the engine to heat up. Various accessories can take power from the engine and prevent the battery from charging. You also don’t want to keep the heat on while your car is idling. Remember to turn off your accessories when you turn off the vehicle as well.

7. Get the Battery Checked

If you think your battery is on its last drip of energy, check the unit before you start driving. You can also ask a professional to conduct an inspection.

Maintenance is the best way to prevent your battery from dying in the winter. When you know the condition of your unit, you will be better prepared to make proactive decisions.

What to Do if Your Car Battery Dies

A common way to juice up a dead battery is to jump-start it using jumper cables. However, you shouldn’t jump-start a car if its cell is leaking or has cracks. Follow these eight steps if your car battery dies.

  1. Keep a set of jumper cables in your vehicle in case of emergencies, or find someone who has a pair.
  2. Park both automobiles and turn off the ignitions.
  3. Attach one red clip to the positive battery terminal of your car and the other red clip to the positive terminal of the other car.
  4. Attach one black clip to the negative terminal on the other cell and the second clip to a metal and unpainted surface on your vehicle, away from the battery.
  5. Start your engine.
  6. If it doesn’t start, refasten the connections.
  7. When your engine starts, do not shut it off — drive around to charge the battery.
  8. If your battery doesn’t kick in after several tries, call for roadside assistance.

If you find yourself with a dead battery, pull off to the side of the road as best you can. Position yourself away from traffic and stay with your vehicle until help arrives.

Trust Our Battery Services and Roadside Assistance

AAA gives you peace of mind, security and a sense of relief, knowing you can rely on us when your battery runs out of power. We offer battery replacement solutions via roadside assistance. Our technicians will test the cell and its charging system, remove the unit if necessary and replace it with one that fits your vehicle’s specifications.

Explore our battery solutions or reach out to us for more details on how we can support you. We not only provide automotive support but also offer insurance and financial services across central Pennsylvania, including areas like Lancaster, Adams and Dauphin County.

Explore AAA battery solutions

View All Blog Content

How to maintain your car battery in the winter
Get tips & advice delivered right to your inbox.