What you need to know about your car battery

Thursday February 7 2019

Without a battery, your vehicle is as good as

Without a battery, your vehicle is as good as useless. Ensuring that it is in a great working condition ought to be at the top of your list. PHOTO BY Edgar .R. BATTE 

By Roland D. Nasasira

Like radio batteries, a car battery is responsible for ensuring that your car starts when you insert and turn the key in the ignition port. Without a battery, it is impossible for a car to start, regardless of whether it is automatic or manual.
Beyond starting the car, Lawrence Kibomba, a mechanic at Shell Jinja Road, says the other purpose of the car battery is to aid the normal functioning of the car lights and for running other car accessories such as the radio, mini-television sets and car woofers.

How it should be maintained
If you are to use your battery for a long time, you have to keep checking on the battery water levels to ensure that it is the right quantity. When you look at the outer part of your car battery, it is marked with red and sometimes blue lines. These lines allow you see the water levels left in your battery because the battery shell is transparent. The car suspension should also be well balanced and in the right mechanical condition because if it is shaky, as the car moves, the battery will get out of its position where it sits under the car bonnet.

Tighten the battery
The battery also has to be kept tight in its right position with no room for shaking. If it is smaller and does not fit well in its position and shakes as you drive, it results into cracking of the internal chambers or compartments. This happens especially as you drive on a potholed road or as you drive over road humps.

Cleaning terminals
As you drive in different environments, your battery terminals collect dirt. It can be in form of dust or oil and grease as it is being serviced in the garage. When you allow this dirt to accumulate on the terminals without cleaning if off, the battery will produce intermittent power supply to start the engine.
Apart from the dust, the battery could also accumulate corrosion at the terminals. Scrub it off the terminals with a solution of water and baking soda.

Habits that make the battery weak
Eric Amadi, a mechanic at Dalas Auto Garage in Bunga, Kampala, says when you turn on and leave the car air conditioner on when the car is not moving, the battery will not be charging.
In the end, the battery starts to become weak and this shortens its lifespan in the long run. It is also a common practice to find a car parked with one or both of its indicators, fog or head lights turned on. In most times, it is not deliberate. It could be that the owner was rushing and they forgot to turn the lights off. Some may also leave the radio playing even when the car engine is not running. Amadi adds that this equally weakens your car battery life and also shortens its lifespan.

Switching on lights when engine is off
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 of the car, in the long run, it weakens and shortens your car battery’s lifespan. It would, therefore, be ideal that one turns them on only when they are needed.

Signs of a failing battery
According to pepboys, an online portal, one of the signs of a failing battery is a slow engine crank. The portal says it takes a lot of power to get your car started, and all that power is produced solely by the battery.

Once the car is started, the alternator keeps the car battery going by replacing the power used to start the engine and run your vehicle’s electronic accessories. When you put the key in your car’s ignition and turn it, the battery alone starts the engine.

So if the battery is on its last legs, you may notice that the engine cranks more slowly than usual. It is important that you pick up on that warning sign, as often, you will only get one shot at a slow start before the engine refuses to crank again.
If the engine does not crank at all, the vehicle will often just make a rapid clicking sound, signaling the available power is too low to crank the engine. Have the battery tested and replaced if needed.

How do I tell my battery is too old?
According to completeautocare, an online portal, you can check the four- or five-digit date code on the cover of your battery case. The first part of the code is key: look for the letter and digit.
A letter is assigned to each month — you know, like A for January, B for February and so on. The number that follows nods to the year, as in 9 for 2009 and 1 for 2011. This code tells you when the battery was shipped from the factory to our local Interstate Battery wholesale distributor.

The additional digits tell where the battery was made. Car batteries last, on average, three- to-five years. Mind you, there are also weak battery signs to watch for, like a slow engine crank of low fluid level.

If your battery case is swollen or bloated, there is a smelly rotten egg scent coming from the battery or your check engine light appears, trouble may be beyond the bend. And if it is over three years old? Consider it time for close monitoring.
Kibomba concludes that a good battery can serve you for somewhere between two to five years. However, that is only when it has been properly maintained.
However, batteries come in different types according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Contents of the battery
The vast majority of car batteries not only power the car’s starter motor but the ignition and lighting systems too.

The battery contains light emitting diode (LED) plates and these are responsible for keeping electric power moving within the battery.

It also contains mixed acid and battery distilled water free from metals. If you make a mistake and fill your battery with tap water that is not distilled, it means your battery will be exposed to metals and the it will fail.