Batteries are big news in the vehicle market at the moment, given that governments around the world are talking about phasing out traditional petrol and diesel engines and switching us all into cars running on electrical batteries. We’re not quite at the stage yet where electric cars are standard though, and most of us are still in conventionally-fuelled cars. Batteries are just as important in your diesel or petrol car, and just as cars come in all shapes and sizes, so do batteries.
Batteries inside cars, vans or other vehicles perform a variety of functions, but their most important role is in starting the engine. The battery provides the electrical spark which ignites the diesel or petrol, and starts the motor running. If your battery is out of charge then this spark can’t be produced and the car won’t start. Vehicle batteries are rechargeable, so the charge will be topped up as you drive. The car battery is also used to power lights, windscreen wipers, radio, electric windows, indicators and other electrical components in the car.
Vehicle batteries don’t last forever, with the average lifespan being between three and five years. Some will last longer, but if you’ve started to notice your car struggling to start in the morning, or developing other electrical-related problems, could it be time for a new battery. Cars which are used just for short journeys, and which are only infrequently used for longer, battery-charging journeys, might find their batteries running down much more quickly. Most cars have a warning light which pops up on the dashboard when a problem is detected with your battery. Don’t ignore the warning; book your car into the garage so a mechanic can take a look. If the battery warning light suddenly comes on while driving, this may indicate an issue with the alternator which charges the battery rather than the battery itself.
Car batteries come in different sizes, usually designated by a three digit code. 096, 019, 110 and 100 are some of the most common sizes of batteries. The new battery must sit in the same space in the engine bay as your old battery, so the risk if you buy a battery which is too big or too small is that not only it won’t work, but that you won’t be able to fit it securely in the right space. The good news is that finding out which battery is recommended for your car is easy. Pop the bonnet on your car and have a look at the battery which is connected at the moment and write down any codes or numbers you see on it.
You will also find information about recommended batteries on the manufacturer’s website, or in the handbook or user manual which came with the car. If you’re still not sure, many of the large car retail brands have a tool on their website where you can enter the registration number of your vehicle and using information from the DVLA, a list of recommended batteries will be displayed.
There are several large players in the vehicle battery market and some of the more common brand names include Varta, Bosch, Exide and Yuasa. Batteries bought direct from a car dealer might be branded as a VW or a Ford, and large retailers usually offer their own branded range of batteries. The size of battery will largely determine its price; a battery for a small car or motorbike will be cheaper than the battery for a large van or truck. Similarly, if your car has “stop start” technology which turns the engine off while you’re sitting in traffic, the battery will cost a bit more than standard. There are no laws around which battery you choose for your car so the choice is left to you. Many drivers prefer to leave the job of fitting their new battery to the professionals, so factor in the cost of fitting to the overall price. Connecting up a new battery isn’t a tricky job, but will depend on how easy it is to access the location of the battery under the engine. Connecting the correct wires to the terminals is the most important step; get this wrong and you could blow all the fuses and cause serious damage to your car’s electrical system.
Car batteries are classed as “hazardous waste” because of the acids and metals which they contain. That means they cannot be thrown in the bin with the rest of the household waste. If you are having a new battery fitted at a garage, the price will usually include the cost of dealing with your old one. If you’re doing the job yourself, you can recycle your battery at the local waste disposal centre free of charge. Often, batteries are reprocessed to extract the components inside rather than just thrown into landfill.
Batteries which have run flat don’t automatically need to be replaced. This is a common problem with cars which have been parked up without moving for several weeks or months, and when the driver tries to start the car again, nothing happens. The battery just needs to be charged up again, rather than being replaced. Jump leads are the old-fashioned way of doing this, and work by connecting the flat battery to a charged battery on the other car. This should produce just enough current to start the engine, and as the car drives along, the battery will recharge.
The other option is a battery charger, which doesn’t require the use of another car. Chargers connect to the car and then plug into the mains, completely recharging the battery in around 12 hours. This is ideal if you know that your car is going to be parked up for some time and want to prevent the battery running down, not so helpful if you need to start the car in a hurry.