For the most part, we all know what we’ve got to do to keep ourselves around longer – eating right, getting enough exercise, reducing stress, not discussing politics with the in-laws, etc. The degree to which we actually DO (or don’t do) these things varies, of course, because human beings are complex and mysterious creatures, after all. In fact, the internal combustion engine under the hood of your car begins to look like the simplest of “Baby’s First…” toys when compared to the inscrutable internal workings of your basic human being.
So let’s stop pretending our fancy new vehicles are beyond understanding, or powered by secret, reverse-engineered alien technology, or filled with milk chocolate, or whatever it is you believe is going on in there. Let’s pop the hood and have a look, shall we? There’s plenty you can do (or not do) to maximize your car or truck’s performance –and the longevity of its components– and none of them involve complicated gym equipment or even giving up donuts.
We’ll start with the battery – that noble Keeper Of The Charge that starts the whole internal combustion business going. Unless push-starting your car is your preferred exercise program, you probably want your battery good and healthy and in it for the long haul. Here are a few simple tips that will help your battery have a long and fulfilling life:
- Insulate That Baby
When your battery is exposed to extreme temperatures, it tends to lose its charge more quickly. You can protect it from the outside heat and cold by simply wrapping a small insulation blanket around it. Most newer vehicle models have some sort of battery insulation, but if you have an older car or are replacing a battery, its a good thing to have a look at. Make sure it fits snugly, so that on really hot days (or cold ones) your battery stays comfy and is able to function happily at its optimal temperature. I guess batteries are not entirely unlike us, in this respect.
- Take Her Out For A Spin Regularly
Another thing batteries have in common with us: An idle car battery can’t hold a charge indefinitely. In fact, it will slowly discharge as long as it is not being actively charged by the engine. You should drive your car regularly if you want to keep your battery psyched and ready to rumble, because every time the battery drains and you have to jump start your car it reduces your battery life just a little more. If you want your battery to enjoy a long life, give it something to live for.
- Avoid short jaunts
If you regularly drive for 20 minutes or less… well, let’s do good news/bad news with this one. First, the bad news: Your battery is going to drain faster. It takes about 20 minutes for a battery in a running car to reach full charge. Try to combine errands to avoid multiple short drives when you can. Second, the good news: if you regularly drive 20 minutes or less, congratulations! You probably have a commute 90% of the people in America would kill for. So your battery doesn’t last as long. Oh Boo. Hoo.
- Only use vehicle electronics when the engine is running
When the engine is running, it’s not just generating energy for propulsion, it’s also powering all of the car’s electrical systems, including the radio, A/C, headlights, flux capacitor, etc. But once the engine is off, all of those electrical systems just suck power directly from the battery. Using your headlights and radio to keep the camp party rocking on after sundown may seem like a great idea at the time, but you may see it differently when you’re stranded in the woods next morning. I’ll bet your cell phone battery is dead by then, too. Just don’t. Turn off any electrical components when you turn off your car, and be mindful of how many chargers are plugged in, too. Make sure there’s no lights left on and all the doors are closed when you park. Your battery will thank you.
- Keep it clean
Most people aren’t overly concerned with how clean things are underneath their vehicle’s hood, but they really should be. When dirt, grime, and rust get into the battery case, they can cause it to lose its charge, and even damage the battery. Have your technician do a quick battery case cleaning when you bring your vehicle in for service. They should check the water levels and clean the terminals of any corrosion as well. Technicians love that stuff.
- Keep your vehicle properly maintained
You may think of your battery as something separate and distinct from your engine, but the truth is that the two systems actually do affect each other. A poorly maintained engine can actually overload and damage a car battery, reducing its overall lifespan. Make sure to have your vehicle serviced regularly, so your engine doesn’t become a lumbering deadbeat bum taxing your poor battery to an early grave. Also, seriously, keep up your engine maintenance. You could wind up with much worse problems than a dead battery.
So there you have it. Giving your car battery all it needs for a full, productive life is not all that complicated, is it? You guys are going to get along just fine!