Car Care: Your car battery is not forever
A flat battery can happen at the worst time - be prepared, advises Jack Biddle
A former colleague used to say that service customers should be informed their batteries were on a limited lifespan once they reached or passed their five-year anniversary.
It was, in his opinion, the ideal time to replace the battery, especially if the intention was to retain ownership of the vehicle.
His thoughts were based on providing sound professional advice to owners and covering his backside if — a short time after a routine service or repair — a battery suddenly failed and the workshop copped the blame from the customer.
For the majority of motorists, myself included, a car battery is a black box with two posts attached and nothing to get overly excited about. Like the batteries in the TV remote, we expect it to last forever or at least give some early warning signs before packing it in.
But unlike the telly remote, car batteries don’t give drivers too many warnings when performance is on the downhill slide.
They can be fine one minute and dead the next.
Very efficient alternators and improved battery technology means most modern batteries will give their best until they draw their last breath.
That’s great in terms of longevity but not so reassuring when the battery is on its last legs.
Yes, turning the ignition key or pushing the start button and getting no response can happen at the most inconvenient time.
After contacting some well-known and established battery providers, and picking the brains of some experienced old hands who still turn spanners, I have found my former colleague’s advice is still on the money.
Most new, after-sales battery warranties are around three years, while the new-car warranty period — which should include the main battery — can stretch up to five years in some cases.
After that, it’s all down to a little bit of good luck, regardless of how often the car is driven.
Recharging a flat battery is not as straightforward as many think these days. The newer calcium-type batteries, which have been in service from around 2000, need to be charged differently from a non-calcium battery.
Recommendations from the experts are often to leave the battery on charge for longer than most owners would expect and on a charger specifically designed for calcium batteries.
Ask your preferred repairer to do a quick battery load test and alternator charge rate check as part of the next routine service to help determine the battery condition. They should also be able to work out the approximate age of the battery.
If the plan is to keep your vehicle, or it is driven outside normal work hours and needs to be as reliable as possible, a replacement battery can provide peace of mind — especially if yours is more than 5 years old.