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Avoiding Flat Car Batteries In Extreme Cold

by Jesus Turner

What's worse than freezing your way through negative temperatures on your way to work? How about a flat battery that refuses to start? Extreme cold has a great way of sapping your battery of power and leaving you stranded. But, how does this work? And what can you do to stop it? Follow these basic procedures to avoid this annoying (and costly) problem.

Reasons Cold Causes a Flat Battery

Chemistry is the culprit when it comes to a cold caused flat battery. Basically, a lower temperature in a battery slows down the chemical reactions that create the electrical spark vital to starting your car. As your battery ages, it gets harder and harder to fight against that cold.

Eventually, your battery will be completely unable to start, especially in the sharpest, most extremely cold temperatures. Thankfully, it should be able to take a charge, as long as you're willing to be patient. However, the best way to avoid this problem is simple preventative measures.

Preventive Measures

The easiest way to avoid this problem is to simply keep your engine as warm as possible, in spite of the extreme cold. This will also keep your battery warm and help it avoid the chemical slowdown that destroys its strength. Perform these car battery warming techniques to avoid a dead battery:

  • Run a block heater throughout the night
  • Park the car in a heated garage, away from the cold wind
  • Cover engine with blanket
  • Run your car for 10 to 20 minutes every day, even if you're not going anywhere

Any of these techniques should be enough to keep your battery fully charged. However, if your battery flatlines anyway, there are two ways you can get it recharged long enough to take your car to a shop: push starting and jump starting.

Jump Starting

Most people understand the basics behind jump starting a car. However, it's worth explaining, just to ensure you don't perform any part of the procedure incorrectly. Start by parking a second car as close to your battery as possible. Leave the second car running and pop both hoods.

Remove any battery covers and place your jumper cables on the battery poles, one at a time. Place the red cable on the positive (or red) pole first and then the black cable on the negative. Have a second person holding the other ends of the cables apart to avoid sparks.

That person should then place the cables on their battery, with red going to positive and black to negative. The running car's engine should slow briefly when the cables are connected: that's because your battery is "drawing" electricity from it.

Wait five minutes or so and try to start your car. If it doesn't start immediately, wait a few more minutes. Eventually, your car should start. Once it does, remove the cables and close the hoods. Leave your car running or drive it for several minutes to let the alternator recharge the battery.

Push Starting

Push starting is a technique only possible with manual transmissions. It is a relatively easy procedure that requires either four or five people or someone with a truck.

Follow these push start steps to get your flat battery recharged in no time:

  • Turn on your ignition and shift to neutral
  • Push the car until it's going about 5-10 mph
  • Shift into second gear and pop the clutch until the engine turns over
  • Press the accelerator to start the engine
  • Disengage the clutch and shift into neutral to let the battery charge

Again, the easiest way to avoid a cold caused flat battery is simple prevention. However, if your battery keeps dying, it might be time to get a new one. Talk to a car battery expert to find a new car battery that works with your vehicle.