One of the most frequent winter calls we get for tow truck service at Alpine Towing and Recovery is to help a stranded motorist with a dead car battery. As true electrical cars and hybrid gas/electric vehicles hit the roads in increasing numbers, battery degradation in cold weather is not just about starting but also affects the range of the vehicles depending on electrical drive.What is it about cold temperatures that impairs the performance of all batteries, and more importantly, tips older working batteries into a death spiral?
Your battery, or banks of batteries, whether they are lead acid, nickel cadmium, or lithium polymer, are all depending upon chemistry to work properly. All batteries are composed of a cathode, anode, electrolyte, separator and collector. Without getting into it too deeply, a freeing of electrons, creating a current, happens through the electrochemical reaction of the cathode and anode in the electrolyte solution. This electrochemical reaction is slowed by cold temperatures just as all natural processes are.
All vehicular batteries eventually suffer from two interrelated problems: sulfating and undercharging. What typically happens in the first case is that sulfate from the acid solution in the battery coats the cell’s plates, interfering with the battery’s ability to hold and release electricity. In the second instance, whether from too many short trips, a slipping fan belt, a bad voltage regulator, or a dying alternator, the battery doesn’t get a sufficient charge while the engine is running, and it develops what is called a “memory effect.” This means that the deepest part of the sulfate is not electrically dispersed back into the electrolyte, compromising the battery’s ability to fully charge. Cold temperatures aggravate all of these issues in an aging battery that was already losing its electrochemical efficiency through continued use.
If you want to avoid calling for tow truck services fora dead battery, or one that won’t start your vehicle reliably, you have two choices. If your battery is over four or five years old, replace it. If it is newer but still having issues, consider getting a battery warmer, which is relatively cheap compared to being stranded and calling for tow truck services.
In the meanwhile, if you do need high quality roadside assistance in the Front Range communities we serve, don’t hesitate to call Alpine Towing and Recovery in Buena Vista, Salida, or Woodland Park – we’re here for you 24/7/365.