‘Perfect storm’ battery warning for British drivers

Arctic winds and plummeting temperatures heading towards Britain could lead to an unwelcome spate of battery breakdowns, engineers are cautioning. This summer’s record-breaking temperatures may leave car batteries unable to cope with the cold, as extreme or consistent exposure to heat can have a big impact on automotive batteries.

Battery experts at Clarios, the manufacturer of Varta car batteries, say that, contrary to popular belief, extreme or consistent exposure to heat can also have a severely detrimental effect on batteries. However, this manifests itself the following winter, when older batteries are unable to cope with the enhanced demands of cold weather driving.

Modern vehicle electronics and fuel-saving measures, such as stop-start technology require ever more power from the battery, which means this problem is only set to get worse.

Motoring organisations regularly warn motorists to check their batteries every autumn, and say that flat batteries are responsible for 40 per cent of breakdown assistance call-outs. This winter could be particularly challenging for UK drivers because batteries have not only been exposed to extreme heat, but they also have to serve ever more complex and power-hungry car electronics.

Dr Christian Rosenkranz, of Clarios, said: “Many drivers think that cold weather does damage to the battery, but it is the heat that is the start of its downfall. Heat dramatically shortens the life-span of a battery, so by the time winter comes, older batteries are close to their limit.”

July saw a new record high temperature of 38.7°C recorded in Britain, and even though it may not feel like it’s been a long hot summer, car batteries will have been subjected to days far above their optimal temperature of 20°C – especially as cars parked in the sun will potentially get far hotter than the official air temperature reading.

Dr Rosenkranz explains that high temperatures lead to self-discharge of the battery and cause its electrochemical parts to age more quickly. The problems start to show in winter, when more energy is needed to start the engine.

“Modern cars are loaded with electronics, and are therefore more dependent on a good battery than ever. They need a battery that can give its full specified performance in order to comfortably supply all the functions that demand power from it,” Dr Rosenkranz added.

With the battery in many new cars no longer easily accessible under the bonnet – it is often installed in the boot or under a seat – Dr Rosenkranz recommends having your battery tested by a professional before winter sets in. The relatively modest price of replacing battery at a convenient time, in a workshop, will be far smaller than the hassle and additional cost and inconvenience of an unexpected battery-related breakdown.

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