Functions of a Car Battery (Part 1)
Are you aware that a car battery has many more functions than just starting your vehicle? Knowing how a car battery works can be helpful in a number of ways. The battery in your car is part of a fine-tuned, integrated system that supports your car’s functions. Think again if you thought it was just a simple piece of equipment.
- A car battery serves as the car’s power bank. A rectangular, box-shaped battery stores the power your vehicle needs to start the motor and maintain a charge.
An automobile battery looks like a boring plastic block with some connectors on top. However, the plastic outer shells are quite durable and usually acid-resistant, in order to protect the complex inner workings and materials. Batteries are made up of layers of lead and lead dioxide plates, which react with sulfuric acid to create energy.
Different voltage levels are available for car batteries, the most common being 12 volts. In a fully charged state, each of the six cells in a standard 12-volt car battery produces 2.1 volts. For every .2 volt drop in a battery’s charge, approximately 25% of its power is lost. Maintaining a proper battery charge is therefore crucial.
It’s important to be aware of some things that can drain your battery. Your car won’t start needing a battery recharge when you’re running late for work one morning. Watch out for these hazards to avoid being surprised by a dead battery:
- Keep your headlights off! Most newer models of cars have automatic headlights, so you might not even think about this. Imagine, however, driving someone else’s car or a courtesy car while yours is getting serviced, and it doesn’t have automatic headlights. You could forget to turn them on, or you could forget to turn them off! This will quickly drain the battery.
- Ensure that all your doors are shut, both interior and exterior, and that no lights or electronics are on. Parasitic draws slowly drain the power from a battery when the car is off because the alternator isn’t actively recharging it.
- Check (or have your mechanic check) your battery connections and terminals regularly. They can become loose over time, or even start to corrode.
- If at all possible, don’t leave your car sitting too long in the extreme heat or cold. Whether you park it in a garage or you periodically start it up and give the battery some charge, any battery that is moderately aged may start to weaken in harsh temperatures, at either end of the thermometer.
- In the event that your car has difficulty starting or won’t start after you’ve just driven it somewhere, for example, you drove to the supermarket and had no problems, but when you returned with your groceries, the car wouldn’t start, you may have a bad alternator. To start your car, you need a battery. But while your car is on, the alternator recharges the battery. You might need a new alternator if even a single drive seems to drain your battery’s life.
- A battery can also be worn out by simple factors like age and overuse. Check and replace it if it hasn’t been checked or replaced in the last three to five years.
- With its power storage, the battery contains enough energy to start the engine. Acid and plate materials (lead and lead dioxide) interact in a specific order to produce positive and negative charges as well as byproducts. A chemical reaction is created between these components, resulting in electrons – or electricity – that travel from your battery to start your car. Fun fact: if you’ve ever used a car charger to boost your weak car battery, it works because this process is reversible. The charger can put the energy back into your battery. Standard 12-volt car batteries have varying degrees of power. The CCA (or cold-cranking amps) rating indicates how well a battery will start an engine in cold weather. Depending on your battery and the climate where you live, you may or may not have enough battery power to start your car.
This design, however, isn’t universal. . MCA and HCA work better in other parts of the world where it’s mostly hot all year round.
In warmer temperatures, the available power in a battery increases due to a higher chemical reaction rate. At -18°C, CCAs measure the current available. In warmer climates where freezing weather is rare, marine cranking amps (MCA) measure the available power at zero degrees. This method increases battery cranking power by roughly 20%.
HCA (hot cranking amps) measures how much power is available at 26.7°C, or 80°F. The warmer the weather, the better the battery’s ability to crank. In arid and tropical climates, HCA would be the ideal rating method.
Even if you choose a battery based on a CA measurement appropriate to your climate, there is more to choosing a battery. Every vehicle requires a different amount of current. Size alone may not be the best indicator. A smaller car’s engine may need as much cranking power as a large SUV’s because it needs to be cranked faster.
Every option on the vehicle, from power windows to heated seats, requires additional current from the battery. Fuel type is also a factor. In other words, just because you live in a cold climate and have a newer vehicle with all the bells and whistles, does that mean you should choose the battery with the highest possible CCA?
It might not be. Battery life can be shortened with a higher CCA due to starter damage.