How to tell if the car needs a new battery

As the winter weather kicks in, one of the regular issues that breakdown agencies have to deal with is cars not starting in the morning. Often, a simple bit of weekly maintenance and some regular checks could easily prevent a call to your breakdown service or an expensive trip to the garage. In the majority of cases, the cause of the problem is the beating heart of your car’s engine – the battery.

The most obvious sign that your car is in need of a new battery is an increasing difficulty in starting, especially from cold. If the battery is starting to age, the cells inside will gradually deteriorate, meaning your battery won’t hold enough of an electrical charge to start the ignition process.

You’ll be able to tell if your battery is causing the problem if:

  • Your engine turns over a few times, but doesn’t start
  • The engine sounds increasingly sluggish until it reaches the point when it simply won’t turn over any more
  • Starting is sporadic – when warm, the engine starts without any problems, but from cold it’s another matter!
  • You have to break out the jump leads and ask a friendly fellow motorist to help you start the engine from their battery.
  • A useful bit of car maintenance kit is an ammeter or current measuring device. These will tell you if you have enough voltage in your battery for it to start. Bear in mind that even a relatively small drop in the voltage is enough to cause problems, and may indicate that your battery needs charging, or even replacing.

    If the battery is brand new and seems unable to hold a charge then the problem may lie with your car’s alternator (which charges the battery when the engine is running). This can be difficult to diagnose, so if you’re sure the battery is in good condition then it may be time to ask a mechanic to check out other parts of the charging system to make sure the fault doesn’t lie elsewhere.

    What affects batteries?

    Extreme cold weather can cause a battery to lose its charge, even overnight. If you suspect you’re in for a cold snap then it’s worth protecting your battery against extreme changes in temperature by wrapping a blanket around it, but make absolutely sure you remove the blanket before you attempt to start the vehicle, or you could find that things get very hot, very quickly!

    What other signs should I look out for?

    We tend to ignore dash lights, but if you turn the key and nothing happens (as in no dash lights come on) then you have a battery issue. It may not always be that the battery is flat – you may find that the cables are not connected securely, or that the terminals have become dirty which will prevent a proper connection being made between the battery and the cables. Check that your cables are securely attached to the posts on the battery, and that they are also connected to the right terminals!

    Can’t I just keep jump-starting it?

    Generally, the rule is that if you have to jump-start a battery more than three times in a week then it’s time to replace it. Repeated jump-starting can lead to damage in the cells, which will eventually mean that even a hefty set of jump leads won’t breathe life back into it. Repeated jump-starts indicate that not only is the battery not holding a charge, but that the charging system may be faulty as well.

    Without a strong, good-quality battery, your car simply won’t go. Don’t rely on the breakdown recovery service all the time – check your battery regularly and if necessary, invest in a new one when your old battery starts to give you problems.