Battery Basics

AAA Auto Repair Article
By AAA Automotive
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Today’s vehicles have more electrical demands than ever before, and batteries play an essential role in meeting those demands. The battery supplies the electrical current that the starter motor requires to crank the engine. It also provides power to electrical components and accessories when the vehicle’s engine is not running. And, when electrical loads temporarily exceed the charging system’s capacity, the battery steps in to supply the extra current required. Finally, the battery acts as a voltage stabilizer for the entire electrical system.

(Image: AAA)
While battery manufacturers are always working on improvements, today’s automotive batteries generally fall into two basic design categories:

• Flooded lead acid (FLA), which has been the standard for decades
• Absorbent glass mat (AGM), a newer design that offers advantages in specific applications

While these two designs serve the same basic function, they don’t work interchangeably, which is why it’s important to consult your owner’s manual before you purchase a replacement battery. If your car has a start-stop system that shuts down the engine while you’re waiting at traffic lights, you more than likely will need an absorbent glass mat design to ensure proper operation and maximum battery life. If your car came with a flooded lead acid battery, there is no reason to spend the additional money for an AGM battery.

Regular Maintenance

While most modern battery designs claim to be “maintenance free,” there are certain tasks that can help drivers get the maximum life out of a battery. When you bring your car in for service, have the technician check the cleanliness of the terminals to see if corrosion could potentially compromise the electrical connections. The mechanic should also take a look at the mounting hardware to ensure the battery won’t move around when your automobile hits bumps in the road. Excessive vibration is a major enemy of battery life.

When to Replace

Even though it is kept charged by the vehicle’s alternator, there will come a time when it’s necessary to replace your battery, usually every three to five years. While a number of factors affect battery life, climate is the most impactful; you can expect more frequent replacements in areas that experience higher average temperatures. Once your battery is more than a couple of years old, have a technician perform an annual test to determine how much energy it’s capable of holding. It’s far better to identify a weak battery in the service bay than out on the road when it fails at an inconvenient or dangerous time.

When it’s time to replace your car’s battery, the technician should connect a supplementary 12-volt power supply before disconnecting the battery cables to keep onboard computers operating properly. Failure to do so can result in complications that range in severity. It’s one thing to reprogram your radio and seat memory settings, but more sophisticated vehicles could require costly reprogramming of some computer systems if battery power is lost. Your chosen service provider should also be experienced with your type of vehicle, because some models require that the charging system be reset with every battery replacement to prevent premature battery failure.

Trust AAA

If your car won’t start when you turn the key, turn to the experts at AAA for convenient roadside battery service. Why waste time having your vehicle towed to a repair center when you can arrange an easy replacement right in your driveway or a parking lot? You depend on your automobile to safely get you from one place to another, and a healthy battery is just one component that helps you stay safe when out on the road.
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