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Cold weather and car batteries, do I need a new one

My battery had died three times in the last month. Each time it takes a full charge – AAA says there is nothing wrong with my battery, that I need to drive the car more often, and for long distances. Is this true? I work from home, so rarely drive. First time I’ve had this problem. Car has 50K, 2004.

How old is the battery? If it is the original, you got your money out of it and it is time for a new one. If the battery is only a year or two old you need to get a charge on it, take it for a nice long drive once a week. This will be good for the engine too. If you do not want to drive, get a battery tender to keep a charge on the battery. There is normal drain on the battery even if the car is off, radio, computer, security etc. You may have a light on staying on, maybe in the trunk or the glove box, that will drag your battery down.

AAA says there is nothing wrong with my battery, that I need to drive the car more often, and for long distances.

How often do you drive your car and how far? How old is the battery?

If you are only driving a few blocks or only driving it once a month, then you really need a “battery tender” They will keep your battery charged. All cars use some power, even with everything turned off.

Did anyone run a charging system test yet? That’s usually the first step for issues like this.

You do need to figure this out before you kill your alternator by working it harder than it’s designed for.

It takes a fairly long time of sitting before a healthy, charged battery will discharge to where it won’t crank the engine - unless there is another problem.

I don’t know what exactly “AAA” applies to (other than the auto service thing). Are you talking about the person who shows up in a tow truck to help with a car problem? Or a repair shop with an “AAA” emblem or what?

In any case, many auto parts stores will check your battery and charging system for free. Have someone do this.

Your problem will basically come from one of several things:

  • an older weak battery. Just because you can get it to take a full charge doesn’t mean it is fine.
  • a charging system that isn’t working right (e.g. a bad alternator or related item)
  • something in the car that is drawing too much power while the car is turned off.
  • bad cables/connections with perhaps an interaction with any of the above.

So you need someone to look at beyond whatever the “AAA” thing was.

Most AAA (American Automobile Association and its Afilliates)trucks carry a battery load tester, and the driver can quickly determine if the battery is toast or if they can give the customer a boost and then tell him to drive the car for 10 miles or so to charge the battery.

In cold weather the battery appears to run down quicker, but that’s reallly the need for more juice to start the car. Just talked to my son who is at a cold ski resort in the Rocky Mountains. His 2004 Mazda 3 has 95,000 miles on it and is sluggish in starting. He had not noticed this at home where the car sits in the garage with a much higher temperature. He likely needs a new battery.

In other words, a simple load test will determine if ypour battery is on its way out. Checking all connections, which my AAA driver did as well, can determine if there ia a problem somewhere else. He even carries a sturdy rod to poke the starter if it has a sluggish solenoid.

You will probably need to bite the bullet and purchase a new battery. We have a 2003 Toyota 4Runner and I just replaced the original battery this fall. The original battery still cranked the car just fine, but on measuring the voltage with the car off, the battery was as 12.2 volts. I decided not to take a chance on a seven year old battery. Also, since the 4Runner has an automatic transmission, I can’t jack it up and put a rope around one wheel to start it as suggested by a Puzzler.

If AAA did a test on your battery and says its fine, then it probably is (for now). Some cars, after sitting for awhile, seem to drain batteries faster than others. I have an old bmw that if it sits more than a week without being started the battery will be dead. I also have a 96 subaru that can sit for months and then start the car just fine. Sounds like your car is more like the former, and I’d suggest getting a battery tender (you can get them at sears for $20) or disconnecting the battery terminals if it sits for a really long time. Also of note, a battery will hold a charge even in extreme cold weather (although it mey not be enough to turn the engine over…) and won’t ruin a battery. BUT a totally discharged battery will freeze in cold weather and be ruined. Battery life is limited to about 6 or 7 years anyway though, and my opinion is if yours has been discharged in the cold weather several times now your battery is close to toast (assuming its as old as your car). Go to Sears, get a new battery and tender while you’re there. It will be money well spent.