With icy weather hitting the UK this week, good battery maintenance can save you from being left out in the cold

Road safety and breakdown recovery group GEM Motoring Assist has released advice to help drivers avoid battery failures during winter. A fifth of all breakdowns are caused by dead batteries. GEM says performing a few basic vehicle checks will prevent drivers being left stranded at the roadside during cold weather.

The Met Office has warned that the UK will face ice and wintry showers on Monday 27 January, with the cold likely to persist into Tuesday 28 January before getting milder as the week progresses. Temperatures over the two days will range between around 3°C and 6°C.

According to GEM’s experts, cold weather slows everything down – including the chemical reactions that take place inside car batteries. When the temperature is at 0°C, a battery loses 35% of its effectiveness. While most lead-acid batteries can survive up to -50°C when fully charged, at low charges, a battery can freeze at -1°C. Water in the battery can freeze, causing it to expand and damage the battery.

The car battery is also under increased strain in winter as the vehicle’s lights and heater are used more frequently. Combined with the cold weather, this increases the chance of your battery running flat.

GEM road safety officer Neil Worth says it pays to look after your car’s battery. “Cold weather also reduces the battery’s ability to hold its charge – meaning it’s potentially at its weakest when you’re likely to need it the most.

“Remember also that batteries don’t last for ever – in fact the average life of a battery is five years, so be ready to replace it when the times comes.”

Signs of battery trouble

• If the engine won’t start, but you hear a slight noise from under the bonnet, the chances are your battery is flat.

• If you hear nothing at all, it’s likely to be either a loose connection on the battery, or the battery has no charge left at all.

• If your car has remote central locking (via a button on the key fob), then this won’t work if the battery is flat.

What to do about it

If you have a second vehicle available – and a set of good quality jump leads – then it may be possible to jump start the car. Just remember to leave the engine of both vehicles running for several minutes after you’ve successfully started your car. Also, switch off both engines before removing the jump leads.

Keeping your vehicles in a warm environment when not in use can also protect the battery from freezing, especially overnight. Making sure the battery is checked regularly and replaced when necessary is also important.

Neil Worth concludes: “As with all car maintenance issues, prevention is better than cure. So don’t risk being caught out in the cold. Take advantage of the free battery checks offered by many automotive centres, where you can ensure your battery is still charging properly and holding enough ‘juice’ to do its job.”

For more information: www.motoringassist.com