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February 27, 2009

Don't get caught out in the cold with a dead car battery!

When the temperatures dip below 0-degrees F, my auto repair shop receives early morning phone calls crying for 'help' because of cars not starting. Here are some illuminating statistics by the Battery Council International that explain why so many car batteries die on those frigid winter mornings:

  • At 32-degrees F, a fully-charged battery has only 65 percent of its power available.
  • But at temperatures of 0-degrees F, this battery has only 40 percent and at -32 F it only has 25 percent of its available power.

Automotive batteries don't last forever. If your headlights are dimming, it's been three to five years since you got a new battery, or the car needs a jump-start,  it might be time for a new battery. But, before you spend time and money installing a new battery I think it's a good idea to make sure the battery is the culprit. It could be that your battery, is all dirty with corrosion and the terminal connections are poor. If you left a light on the battery could just be run down. Your car could also have a problem with the electrical system, the alternator, or the starter and you wouldn't know unless you had it tested by an auto technician. Similar problems can arise during extremely hot weather as well.

Bs_4262-grungy-batteryCan You Change The Battery Yourself?
Sure you could. Changing a car's battery is no harder then replacing a tire or changing the oil of your car.  You only need a good wrench, latex gloves, rags and goggles. You can find instructions and a video tutorial at The only real problem with changing your own battery is that nine out ten times the battery dies when the weather is frigid cold and snowing. This means that you would have to change the battery out in the winter elements. Not my idea of a good time.

Four important factors to help you choose the right battery.

  1. Size: Batteries come in different sizes to fit the car's battery tray based on height, width and length of the battery. It is really important that the battery fit snugly and securely. To find out the appropriate battery size for your car look in the owner's manual or consult the reference guides provided at auto part stores.
  2. Reserve Capacity: Reserve capacity rating (RC) refers to the amount of minutes the battery can continuously supply minimum power to keep your car running if the alternator stops working. Again, the owner's manual tells you the exact RC rating that your car can handle.
  3. Cold-Cranking Amps: Choosing a battery with a high number of Cold-Cranking Amps (CCA)  is very important in Vermont. CCA indicates how much electrical power the car battery has to send to the car's starter at zero degrees Fahrenheit. A higher CCA assures that your car's engine will start on those super cold winter mornings.
  4. Replacement Warranties: Most batteries come with a free replacement period, which after expired, gives you a   prorated credit. It's important to choose a battery with the longest free-replacement period you can get. A battery warranty code of 24/84, for instance, indicates a free-replacement period of 24 months and a prorated warranty of 84 months.

Car_battery_artistic_flickr.com_photos_joshuarothhaas_3099635231  Automotive Basics: How Batteries Work
While I won't bore you with the inner workings of how a car battery actually works, I will tell you that basically a car's battery converts chemical energy into electrical energy. It is amazing that lead-acid batteries used in today's modern automobiles have remained largely unchanged since Raymond Gaston Plante invented them back in 1860 - over 140 years ago!

Every time you put your key in the ignition, turn on the car and hear the sweet sound of an engine running you can thank your car's battery.  It also has the job of keeping itself recharged and powers the car's lights and other accessories.

Car batteries have the highest recycling rate out of all recycled materials!
According to Battery Council International, a typical new battery contains anywhere from 60 to 80 percent recycled plastic and lead, reducing the overall consumption of raw materials that would be required otherwise. This is a wonderful thing because the lead in car batteries is very toxic and not something we want floating around in our environment.

If you get your car battery replaced at a service center, they will recycle it for you. If you buy a car battery and install it yourself, the store where you buy it will charge you a core-deposit that will be given back to you when you bring them your old battery to be recycled.

Before you take a long trip or once a year at your car's annual exam have your battery tested. Replacing it before it dies will save you a lot of time, stress and money down the road.

Safe and Happy Motoring,

Amy-Mattinat-with-a-tool Amy Mattinat
Owner: Auto Craftsmen Ltd. Automotive Expert Advisor
Check out my blog at

Amy Mattinat is on the advising board of Her career in the automotive industry began at Auto Craftsmen Ltd., an independent Import Dealership located in Montpelier, Vermont. Over the years Amy has done almost every job in the place. From cleaning lady to mechanic's helper, bookkeeping and marketing, to salesperson and service advisor; from part-time to full time, she took on more and more responsibility until she became so integrated in the life of the business and the customers that she was asked to become a business partner. Amy is passionate about creating Automotive Excellence within her business and feels that good communication is the essence of being able to explain, suggest and fix any problem her clients may have.


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