Incredibly, it’s now three years since the country started to emerge from its forced hibernation as the lockdown restrictions imposed during the worst of the Covid pandemic were eased and people started to venture out, only to find that their cars wouldn’t start as the battery was dead, discharged because of the vehicle’s lack of use over an extended period.
At the time, this provided the trade with a real shot in the arm as sales of replacement batteries soared, but now, a second opportunity is beginning to make its mark, as these very replacements are beginning to provide a ripple effect, as many of these are now coming towards their end of their lives. This development is likely to come into particular focus as the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, leaving many drivers to find their battery is faltering, or possibly completely flat.
However, a difficult question that’s been raised on many occasions, is that without drivers experiencing starting problems, how do they know where their car’s battery is in its lifecycle? The answer, which is a subject that has also been raised on many occasions, is to have the battery tested, but realistically, motorists are not going to do this proactively, so it’s down to workshops to put a battery testing regime into practice.
This policy is even more important as the seasons change and the increasing likelihood of some early morning frost or a prolonged cold snap.
Sadly however, despite it taking just a couple of minutes, workshops rarely do a battery test, which is wasted opportunity because as Ecobat Battery, the UK’s largest battery distributor, has found, statistically, 27 percent of the vehicles that enter the independent workshop either need their batteries recharged or reconditioned, and a further 11 percent need a replacement.
What this means is that almost 40 percent of the vehicles they service daily has a battery issue, and so it is little wonder that 40 percent of roadside breakdowns are due to battery failure, which is business lost to independents and gained by the national breakdown services.
So, to encourage and assist workshops to introduce a battery testing culture, Ecobat Battery can, through its motor factor customers, provide them with point-of-sale support material that includes battery testing report cards, counter displays, A4 leaflets and A2 posters, which are available in a choice of Lucas, Exide, VARTA or Numax branding.
As well as stating why they shouldn’t be overlooked by workshops, it’s worth exploring why batteries discharge, particularly in cold weather and ultimately, why they fail.
Even when disconnected, a typical lead acid SLI (starter/lights/ignition) battery will self-discharge at the rate of 0.1-volt per month, which means that a fully charged battery at 12.7-volts will be discharged to the point that it would struggle to start an engine (11.8-volts), in just nine months.
This natural discharge process is obviously exaggerated when the battery is connected because it is the only source of power to the vehicles electrical system when the engine isn’t running, so its numerous electronic devices – clock, alarm, remote locking mechanism etc. – all constantly draw power, further increasing the rate at which it discharges.
Opening and closing the vehicle without driving anywhere puts more pressure on the battery as it can draw as much as 50-amps to do so, and should there be a parasitic drain because of a problem somewhere in the vehicle’s electrical system, the issue is further exacerbated.
When these real-life scenarios are combined with cold weather however, the pressure on the battery moves to an entirely new level because, even without these ongoing issues, when the temperature drops to freezing, the battery can lose up to 35 percent of its power, which is why cold weather shows up battery problems so intently.
When it comes to why most batteries reach their end of life it is generally due to a process called sulphation, which is a chemical reaction that takes place in the electrolyte within the battery when the voltage drops to 12.4 or below, which causes lead sulphate crystals to build up on the lead battery plates. This reduces the battery’s capacity and cranking potential and signals the beginning of its demise.
These combined effects along with reduced car usage means that whatever the weather, the future remains bright for the replacement battery sector.