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Car batteries and extreme cold weather

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer
January 22, 2013 — Winter is here and for motorists, that can mean slippery roads, poor visibility and dead car batteries in extreme cold weather.

When extreme weather hits, roadside assistance programs tend to see a spike in calls
When extreme weather hits, roadside assistance programs tend to see a spike in calls

When extreme weather hits, it's common for roadside assistance programs to see a substanital spike in calls - many of them battery-related. 

The weather can be taxing on a car's battery, which will typically last between 3 and 5 years. While there's no way to prolong them indefinitely, Paul Datzkiw, supervisor of approved auto repair services for CAA South Central Ontario, says there are things that can be done to maximize a battery's lifespan. 

“It's a good idea to be aware of how your machine operates,” he says. “People tend to think that the larger the battery the better, but that isn't necessarily the case. It's best to determine how much amperage your car requires, and choose a battery of that size. If you choose one that has a larger amperage than your car needs, it might not last as long.” 

A car's battery will drain naturally over time. Certain accessories, like the clock and alarm, require constant power. This is called a “parastic drain” and it is normal, in moderation. “Add-on” accessories, like heavy-duty speakers, can cause excessive drain and lead to a dead battery. 

Leaving a car's headlights on overnight or a door ajar for a few hours can have a similar effect. 

In fact, car accessories may be one of the main reasons why batteries drain in extreme weather. 

“If you're stuck in stop and go traffic, try to turn off as many accessories as you can, while still feeling comfortable,” Datzkiw says.“You don't want to leave your heater, seat warmers and rearview defrosters on all the time.”

Car batteries can last as long as 7 years with the proper care
Car batteries can last as long as 7 years with the proper care

Here are some other ways to prolong a car's battery, courtesy of CAA: 

1. Check for corrosion. Corrosion can prevent a car from starting, and it's caused by a faulty connection between the battery case and post. It can be aggravated by loose battery terminals, cracks in the battery casing, debris, and extreme heat and cold, as well as over-charging. Regular battery inspection and cleaning can help prevent this. 

2. Turn your accessories off before you turn off your car. Starting a car with the heater and radio set to full power can drastically reduce a battery's life. 

3. Disconnect your battery if you're parking your car for the winter. If you plan on keeping your car in the garage during the colder months, disconnect your battery. This will prevent erroneous drain. 

4. Car accessories should be minimized all year round. Dead batteries don't just happen during the winter. In addition to the corrosion that can arise from extreme summer heat, air conditioners are a huge source of battery drain.

And remember - the better you take care of your car's battery, the longer it will last.

“I've seen car batteries last as long as 7 years, with proper care,” Datzkiw says. “While this isn't typical, it's certainly possible.”

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