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Montana's cold weather takes a toll on car batteries

Posted at 9:55 AM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 11:57:57-05

GREAT FALLS — Bundling up in layers and hats and scarves may keep your body going during the cold Montana winters, but what about your car battery?

“What cold weather does is essentially it causes the battery to freeze. With the acid, there’s small levels of water in it, which is why most of the time you’ll see us talking about adding distilled water to some batteries,” said Batteries + Bulbs sales associate Tito Trevino.

“It causes these droplets of water to freeze up and more or less bulk out your battery, which after a while can cause issues like swelling, your vehicle not starting, or starting, but intermittently.”

Even in the extreme cold and sub-zero temperatures, there are still measures you can take to protect your battery. Letting your car warm up for five-to-10 minutes before driving it ensures that you don’t push the engine too hard while it’s still cold. If you store your vehicle in a garage, make sure the space is at least 50 degrees.

If you plan on leaving for a vacation or not driving your car for an extended period of time for other reasons, Trevino says that it doesn’t hurt to disconnect the battery terminals from the vehicle.

If you do run into battery issues due to cold weather, try charging the battery before you rush to an automotive shop. Even if the battery doesn’t charge, most new chargers will be able to tell you how charged your battery is, which could be an indication of potential weather damage.

Weather damage over an extended period of time can reduce the lifespan of your battery from up to three years to as little as less than 12 months.

Luckily, there are usually warning signs that you might notice if cold is affecting your battery.

“They’ll start seeing electrical issues first and foremost,” Trevino explained. “So, you might see things like your battery gauge might pop up, you might also see things like the time on your clock is not working right, it can be very sporadic.”

“I had a customer at one point where her battery was only pulling eight volts. Her RPM wasn’t working but her speedometer was, her mileage gauge wasn’t showing up, but she could still drive the vehicle. Ironically though, she couldn’t go in reverse. That was very strange,” he added.