Battery Basics

battery charger

battery charger (Photo credit: Benimoto)

Take a few minutes to think about how much of your life is dependent upon and powered by batteries in honor of National Battery Day, celebrated on February 18th . The number of things in our everyday life that are made possible by batteries will surprise you.   Many of us take it for granted that our car will start, our cell phone will ring, and if there is a fire; our smoke detectors will alert us.  But without batteries, many of our modern conveniences wouldn’t be possible.

This week, pay a little more attention to the role batteries play in your life and spare a few minutes at the start of your day to test the ones that you rely on most in an emergency including your smoke detectors, emergency flashlights, and the one in your car.   Your car’s battery may not seem to fit in the emergency category, but your car can get you to safety when the weather turns dangerous.  You need to know that your battery is going to help you survive if you get stuck in a snowstorm and that it won’t be the reason you are stranded on the side of the road.

1.     Get to Know Your Battery

According to Firestone,  the maker of Interstate Batteries, most car batteries have a maximum life span of 3-5 years. You can tell when your battery was shipped from the manufacturer by looking at the code on the cover.  There will be a four or five digit code that when read from the left tells you the month (1st digit, A-J for the months Jan-Dec) and the year (2nd and sometimes 3rd digit).  If your battery was recharged at any point, there should be another 2 digit code on the cover indicating when the recharge occurred.

Your car battery’s actual life will depend on several factors including how you drive and the climate where you live.  Here in New Jersey, the freezing temperatures we sometimes get in winter can decrease your battery’s effectiveness and exacerbate any damage caused by the high heat during the summer months.  To avoid heading out to your car on a blustery day only to find that the battery is dead, get your battery checked at your local repair shop so that you can replace the battery before it stops working entirely.

2.     Safety Considerations

If you need to change your battery, make sure you understand the specific safety procedures you need to follow before starting.  If you are doing anything with the battery, including jump starting the car, wear eye protection and gloves.  Make sure you keep your hands away from your eyes and remove any jewelry you are wearing.  This last part is important because the metal in jewelry can conduct electricity and if you touch the wrong thing while working on the battery, you might get shocked or worse.  You can also have your local repair shop do the swap for a reasonable fee.  If your car battery freezes, thaw it out and warm it up before you try to charge it to prevent explosion.

A few extra minutes at the repair shop can make the difference between the planned purchase of a new battery and being stranded on the side of the road in a snow storm.

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