After penning a few tips recently about how to prolong the life of your car, now seems like a very pertinent time to also provide a few handy hints on how to prevent the car’s battery from going flat during these unprecedented times. If you’re stuck at home and haven’t used your car in a while due to not being able to go to work, one of the problems you could be facing fairly soon is a dead battery.

Although you may be tempted to simply take your car for a quick spin in order to recharge it, we suggest that you don’t. The reason being that, according to the police, this would be classified as a ‘non-essential journey’. However, if you need your car to get essential supplies from your local store, then this shouldn’t be a problem.

So, if you’re not using your vehicle regularly, one of the issues you may encounter if it has a standard lead-acid battery is that if it goes flat, you may not be able to recharge it again. This is because if it’s been flat for some time, it will quickly suffer from plate ‘sulfation’.

What is battery plate sulfation?

If you leave a car battery in its discharged state, it will cause what’s known as ‘plate sulfation’. This is where crystals build up and form on the plates inside the battery. Because of this, it impedes the chemical to electric conversion when charging and the battery can then no longer hold the charge it’s receiving.

How long before my battery goes flat?

This is impossible to answer definitively as it will depend on several key factors, with the main ones being:

  • The age of the battery
  • How well the battery has been looked after
  • What the battery is permanently connected to while stationary (e.g. a car alarm or onboard computer)
  • The ambient temperature of the environment outside

In short, your battery may go flat in a few days, a few weeks or (if you’re lucky) a few months if it isn’t connected to anything else.

What can I do to keep my battery charged?

Firstly, if you’re not planning on using your car for any length of time, you could always disconnect the battery. However, this isn’t necessarily the best choice as you’ll have to get your tools out to do so and you’ll probably end up with dirty hands too! Furthermore, you’ll no longer have an electrical supply to your car so your central locking and car alarm will stop working also.

Secondly, you may think that the next most obvious answer would be to start your car up periodically and leave it idling so that it slowly charges the battery. However, this largely depends on the type and age of the car you have. For example, if your car has a turbocharger, it’s inadvisable to do this.

The other problem with this solution is that you’ll need to leave the car running for some time to overcome the considerable power that’s drained from the battery each time you start it. If your car normally has to ‘turn over’ quite a few times before it starts, you could actually make the state of the battery worse than if you hadn’t tried to start it in the first place.

Thirdly, the most sensible alternative would be to connect the battery to a solar panel instead. If this sounds like it may be more involved than you’d like, this isn’t the case. Nowadays, all you’ll need to do is pick up a small 5 or 10-watt solar panel online and plug it into the cigarette lighter inside the car. The solar panel will be fairly small so all you’ll need to do is leave it on the dashboard inside your car so that it can absorb all the daylight that’s available.

Obviously, the sun is weaker in the winter so you’ll get less of a charge, but it should still be sufficient to stop your car battery from going flat. Conversely, the summer sun is much stronger so even on a cloudy and dull day, it’ll still provide plenty of energy to charge the battery.

What about multi-car households?

If you’re like many families and have more than one car, we suggest alternating their use when visiting the shops for essential supplies. If one of the cars has an older or weaker battery though, you may need to use this one more often if the battery in this car is likely to go flatter a bit quicker.

For those with a driveway or garage

If you’re lucky enough to have one or both, then a standard battery trickle charger would also be a good option. As these require mains electricity to operate, it goes without saying that if you’re using an extension lead, be sure not to leave it anywhere where it can be penetrated by rainwater.

Summary

We hope you’ve picked a few tips from reading this post and we wish everyone well during the difficult time we’re all facing.

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