Early this year, Francis Mugambajje made a trip to Kabale District in western Uganda in his Toyota Super Custom. When he reached his destination, in a hurry to make it for his meeting on time, he forgot to switch off the fog lights. After the meeting, the car could not start although he had enough fuel. He called a mechanic who said because the fog lights had been on for a while, they had exhausted the battery.
“I had to source for another charged battery to jump start the car. Since that incident, every time I park the car, I get out of the car to check the lights and ensure that they are all off,” Mugambajje explains.
Mugambajje’s experience is something common that happens to most motorists. While forgetting to switch or turn off your car lights is normal, in the long run, it reduces the lifespan of your battery.
Radio, air conditioner
Eric Amadi, a mechanic at Dalas Auto Garage in Ggaba, says when you leave your car radio and air conditioner (AC) on when the car is not moving, it depletes the car battery of its charge.
“When you are driving, your car battery charges. When you park and you leave your AC and radio running, they use up the battery fire power it had initially gained. If the battery does not have enough fire power, it will not start your engine. If you habitually leave them on every time you park, if the battery was meant to last two years, it may not even last for a year. Its expectancy significantly reduces,” Amadi cautions.
In lay man’s language, the liquid used in car batteries is sometimes called battery water because it is as clear as water. However, in actual sense, Amadi says it is sulfuric acid. Your car battery is marked with the maximum sulfuric acid levels beyond which you should not feel or top up the acid and below which you should not drive your car.
“One trick to prolong your battery life is to keep and maintain its acid levels between the maximum and minimum points. Maintaining the right levels will improve the efficiency and performance of your battery. If you drive when the acid level is below the minimum mark, your battery will die out in the shortest time possible,” Amadi advises.
Battery acids, Amadi says, is however used in wet car batteries that need topping up every time the acid levels reduce. These are the commonest battery types on the Ugandan market. Dry batteries only require cleaning until they have been used for their life expectancy, which is usually up to five years before being replaced. Amadi also says that if you drive for short distances, chances are that your battery will get damaged because it will not be able to charge fully. “If you do not take the car for long distance drives from time to time, it will not last long. Short drives cause the acid stratification to concentrate on the bottom, and the upper part will not have acid which leads to failure because of corrosion,” he adds.
Every car was manufactured with a slot or position where its battery sits. In saloon cars such as the Toyota Mark II and Toyota Mark X, batteries are usually under the bonnets while for vans such as Toyota Super Customs, the batteries are usually positioned below the co-driver’s seat.
“If the car battery is smaller and does not fit well in its position and shakes as you drive, it leads to cracking of the internal chambers or compartments of the battery. This happens especially as you drive on a potholed road or as you drive over road humps on a tarmac road,” says Abby Ddungu, a mechanic at Sam’s Auto Garage in Rubaga.
For certain reasons, sometimes you switch on your car lights (indicators and headlights) in the night, whether parked by the roadside or in any other place. Much as it ensures visibility and safety, in the long run, Ddungu says it weakens and shortens your car battery’s life expectancy.
Other factors that lead to battery damage, Ddungu opines, include driving short distances that do not allow your car battery to charge to full capacity.
Turning your headlights on before the engine
Abby Ddungu, a mechanic at Sam’s Auto Garage in Rubaga, says most people do this even without knowing that it is not good for their car battery. The moment you switch on the car headlights before turning on the ignition adds more weight to the car battery. Although it might not damage the battery, it will eventually cut short your battery’s lifespan even if it was one of the best batteries.
How to take care of your car battery
The last thing you need is a car that won’t start because the battery is dead. You can avoid that expensive service or tow charge (and the worry of being stranded!) by carrying out a 10-minute seasonal battery check along with a few maintenance tips.
Check acid levels regularly
Jimmy Ssebadduka, a mechanic at Shell Jinja Road, advises that you check your battery acid levels at least twice every month because maintaining the right levels prolongs the battery lifespan and functionality.
Right battery size
The right battery size, Ssebadduka opines, fits well in the position where it sits. “When your battery fits well, it will be hard for it to shake to cause damage to its internal parts. If it tends to become loose, let your mechanic inspect the car to tighten the right screws or holder to minimise shaking,” he advises.
Keep the terminals clean
As you drive, your battery terminals tend to absorb different kinds of dirt. These may range from oils, dust or even greases that coat on the terminals.
“When your battery terminals are free of dirt, with the right acid levels and maintenance, your battery will always provide the required firepower to start the engine without turning ignition key twice,” Ssebadduka says.
Clean the cables
According to handyman.com, an online portal, first clean the top of the battery and any corrosion from the cables using a tablespoon of baking soda, a cup of water and a nonmetallic brush. Flush with cool water. Now disconnect the cables, starting with the negative one to prevent your wrenches from arcing on a nearby ground. Loosen the battery cable clamp bolts and gently give them a twist. Use a cable puller if they are stuck. Never pry on the auto battery posts.