Summer’s heat can do more damage to your vehicle’s battery than winter’s cold

Here are things you can do to keep your battery in top working order
Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 4:41 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — A cold winter morning most likely comes to mind when you think about having problems with your car or truck battery.

But summer’s heat, particularly here in the South, can be more damaging. Afternoon high temperatures that soar into the 90s and sometimes the triple digits can push temperatures under the hood into the 300°-400° range, a mechanic told KSLA News 12.

That robs your battery of its starting power and cuts short its lifespan. These days, the mechanic said, that’s about two years.

AAA says car batteries typically last three to five years, spanning from 58 months or more in the farthest northern regions of the U.S., down to less than 41 months in the most southern regions.

“It takes more cranking effort to crank a car when it’s been hot soaked. The starter draws more; batteries just don’t like the heat,” said Dax Ulrich, of Southern Automotive.

The heat also can impact other parts of the car that rely on the battery.

“Alternators don’t like the heat. Plus, you’ve got the cooking fans and the radiator fans running, pulling more current, emptying that battery more, which has to be refilled,” Ulrich said.

So what can you do?

Champion Auto Parts says there are plenty of things you can do to keep your battery in top working order.

  • Watch for corrosion: Summer temperatures mean increased heat in your vehicle’s engine. This increased heat can cause corrosion inside your battery, which can result in inhibited current flow. Inspect your battery on a regular basis for signs of corrosion. Clean any corrosion with a copper brush or a scouring pad.
  • Keep your battery clean: Grease and dirt buildup on top of your battery can drain its power. Routinely examine the battery for dirt and immediately remove any buildup.
  • Check the water level: If you have a lead-acid battery, the summer heat can cause the water to evaporate from the electrolyte. Check the water level in each cell and, if low, refill with distilled water.
  • Look for damage: Examine your battery for signs of leaks, cracks or bulges. If you notice any, it is time to replace your battery before it leaves you stranded.
  • Take it to a pro: Before summer heats up, have your mechanic check your battery and electrical system. They can spot issues before they become bigger problems. “Most independent shops, they check them as a part of your regular maintenance, doing your oil change and what not,” Ulrich said.
  • Charge it up: If you won’t be using your vehicle for two weeks or more, consider removing your battery and putting it on a trickle charger. Doing this ensures that your battery will be charged up and ready to go.
  • Secure it: Make sure your battery is securely mounted in place and that the cables are on tight. If your battery isn’t installed correctly, you’ll see diminished performance.
  • Be proactive: As your battery ages, the chances for failure increase with every passing year. Replace it before that happens. Consumer Reports recommends having your battery load-tested by a mechanic annually once it is 2 years old if you live in a warmer climate or 4 years old if you live in a colder climate. Doing so tests its ability to hold voltage while being used, and the results will let you know when it’s time to start shopping.
  • To find out the age of your battery: Look for four- or five-digit code. At the beginning of the code is a letter and number. The letter indicates the month —– A is for January, B is for February and so on (the letter I is skipped) — while the number is for the year — for example, 9 is for 2009 and 1 is for 2011. A battery made in October 2022 will have a numeric code of 10/22 or an alphanumeric code of K-1.
  • Look at ratings: If you need to replace your battery, be sure to buy one that’s rated as high as the battery that was in your vehicle.