Auto care; All you need to know about car batteries

By Charles Musau

Batteries in automobiles provide the necessary power to start the engine and operate electrical components. 

Whether you are driving a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE) or an electric Vehicle, proper battery care is essential to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about selecting the right battery, how to take care of it, signs that indicate you need a new battery, and safe practices for jumpstarting.

1. Selecting the Right Battery

Choosing the right battery for your vehicle is crucial for ensuring reliable performance. The factors to consider when selecting a battery are:

  • Battery Type: Choose a battery type suitable for Kenya’s climate and driving conditions. Lead-acid batteries are commonly used and well-suited for the varied weather patterns experienced across the country.
  •  Size and Compatibility: Ensure the battery size matches the specifications recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. Kenyan roads demand sturdy and reliable batteries that can withstand rough terrain and frequent travel.
  •  Cold Cranking Amps (CCA): Opt for a battery with a high CCA rating, especially if you reside in regions prone to colder temperatures, such as the highlands. A robust CCA ensures reliable engine starts even in chilly weather conditions.
  •  Warranty: Look for batteries with a reliable warranty to provide peace of mind and protection against premature failure. 

2. How to Take Care of Your Battery

Proper maintenance can extend the lifespan of your battery and prevent unexpected failures. Follow these tips for battery care:

  • Keep the Battery Clean: Dust, dirt, and debris are common elements, which can lead to corrosion on battery terminals. Regularly clean the terminals using a mixture of baking soda and water to prevent corrosion and ensure a strong electrical connection. Hearsay suggests a certain type of soda has proven to be useful in cleaning battery terminals. Sounds familiar? 
  •  Check Fluid Levels: Due to the warm temperatures experienced in Kenya, lead-acid batteries may experience faster fluid evaporation. Check the electrolyte levels regularly and top up with distilled water as needed to maintain proper fluid levels. You do not need to do this for maintenance-free (MF) batteries.
  •  Secure the Battery: Kenyan roads are known for their bumps and potholes, which can jostle the battery and lead to premature wear. Ensure the battery is securely mounted to prevent damage from vibration and impacts.
  •  Avoid Deep Discharges: Extended periods of inactivity can lead to deep discharges. Minimize the use of accessories when the engine is not running to preserve battery life.

3. Signs You Need a New Battery

Despite regular maintenance, batteries eventually wear out and require replacement. Look out for these signs indicating it’s time for a new battery:

  • The engine does not crank unless the vehicle is jumpstarted. This may indicate a low voltage, lower than that required to start your vehicle. A fully charged car battery should have a voltage of around 12.6 volts. When the battery voltage drops below 12 volts, there is a possibility that it won’t have enough power to start the car. A 12V battery is considered dead when its voltage drops below 10.5V and it can no longer hold charge.
  •  Slow Cranking: If the engine cranks slowly or struggles to start, it may indicate a weak or failing battery. This is especially common during colder mornings or after extended periods of inactivity.
  •  Dim Lights: Dim headlights and interior lights are a sign of reduced battery capacity and may indicate the need for replacement.
  •  Warning Lights: Pay attention to dashboard warning lights, such as the battery or charging system indicator, which may illuminate when the battery is failing.
  •  Age: Most car batteries have a lifespan of 3 to 5 years. If your battery is nearing this age range or has exceeded it, consider replacing it preventatively to avoid unexpected failures.

4. Jumpstarting: Safety Tips and How to Do It Right

A dead battery can quickly turn into a frustrating situation. Follow these steps to safely jumpstart your vehicle:

  • Use Proper Equipment: Keep a set of jumper cables in your vehicle at all times, along with a functional vehicle with a fully charged battery.
  •  Park the Vehicles: Position the vehicles safely off the road and away from traffic. Avoid contact between the vehicles and ensure both engines are turned off before connecting the cables.
  •  Connect the Cables: Attach the red jumper cable to the positive terminal (+) of the dead battery and the functional battery. Then, connect the black jumper cable to the negative terminal (-) of the functional battery and a metal ground point on the dead vehicle.
  •  Start the Engines: Start the engine of the functional vehicle and let it run for a few minutes to charge the dead battery. Then, attempt to start the engine of the vehicle with the dead battery.
  •  Remove the Cables: Once the dead vehicle starts, carefully disconnect the jumper cables in the reverse order of installation to prevent electrical damage.
  •  Drive the Vehicle: After jumpstarting, drive the vehicle for at least 20 minutes to allow the alternator to recharge the battery fully.

5. Tips for Battery Care in Kenya

  • Avoid Overloading: especially the use of electrical components, air conditioning, or audio system when the engine is not running.
  •  Regular Inspections: Perform visual inspections of the battery and electrical system components to detect signs of wear or damage early. Look out for corrosion on battery terminals and loose connections.
  •  Extreme Temperatures: Kenya’s climate varies from hot and humid to cooler temperatures in highland regions. Park your vehicle in shaded areas during hot weather to prevent overheating of the battery and use a battery blanket or heater during colder temperatures to maintain optimal performance.

In conclusion, proper battery care is essential for maintaining reliable vehicle performance and preventing unexpected breakdowns on Kenya’s roads. By following these guidelines for selecting the right battery, maintenance practices, recognizing signs of wear, and safe jumpstarting techniques, you can ensure your battery serves you well in navigating the diverse landscapes of Kenya. Remember, a well-maintained battery is the key to a trouble-free driving experience in the beautiful land of Kenya.

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