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Your Corner Wrench: Heat can take the spark out of your battery

Driving.ca logo Driving.ca 2017-07-11 Brian Turner
Heat can be just as tough on a car battery as the cold. © StockSnap Heat can be just as tough on a car battery as the cold.

Summer’s heat and vacation loads can bring more automotive electrical charging systems to a grounded halt quicker than the coldest days of winter. A few hints on how most systems work and some easy DIY diagnosis can go a long way to shorten down-time in an often busy travel season.

Autos Tips: Jump-Starting Your Car

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Video provided by Consumer Reports

The traditional under the hood location that most automakers use for their batteries brings some pluses and minuses on the charging front. Sure it’s easy to access a battery when it’s not hidden in inner fenders, but during our season of warm content, the temperatures in the average light vehicle engine bay can reach extreme highs, and can cause permanent damage to batteries as little as three or four years old.  So it’s no surprise that drivers are rewarded with the death-knell click-click-click response to their ignition switch when heading out after a hot day for their ride parked outside. Others may experience sudden vehicle power loss and instrument panel icons lighting up while driving making for some white-knuckled maneuvers. 

If you’re faced with a no-start situation caused by a failed charging system or battery fault, when you try to boost the battery or jump-start it from another vehicle, usually your engine will stall out when the booster cables are disconnected if the alternator’s output isn’t getting into the system.  Fuel injected engines require a constant voltage supply to run pumps, computers, and injectors. Letting the battery recharge with the engine off (either through a boost vehicle or a battery charger) can make the vehicle temporarily mobile but usually not reliable enough to take on the road. This will allow some repositioning in a parking spot for either a tow vehicle’s access or to move it to a nearby secure location.

If a boost gets the vehicle running without booster assistance but still won’t restart on its own, you’re very likely looking at a defunct battery. Those small lithium-ion type battery power packs on the market now can come in handy when trying to boost a dead battery. They’re pocket-sized and light and can pack a major voltage punch without large bulky cables or the risk of creating a spark under the hood. Battery industry leaders Energizer and NOCO brand are two of the more popular makers of these handy units. They range in price from $120-$200 and are available from most auto parts stores. They’re small enough to be safely secured connected to your vehicle’s battery under the hood and in a pinch can get you off a crowded highway providing there are no other charging system problems and the drive is short. If you’re faced with this situation make sure all electrical devices, such as the blower fan, audio, and lights, are either off or reduced to a safe minimum.

If you’re going to swap out your battery yourself, check your owner’s manual first to see if any precautions are needed to avoid activating a vehicle or audio-system security feature. This may mean a needless trip to your repair shop to get your radio system reset by means of a PIN code. Keeping a booster pack attached to the battery cable ends while changing the battery can avoid this. It can be a little tricky depending on the booster and vehicle cable configurations but nothing that the temporary use of some duct or electrical tape won’t solve by ensuring a continual connection while the swap is underway.

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