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Column: Colder weather may require this to prevent morning car trouble
Rudi Kiefer

The old car battery worked hard as the domestic beekeeper was using it to power a fumigation device.  A 150-Watt stick heater was producing some truly evil-smelling smoke, designed to kill the current main scourge of honeybees: the varroa mites.  After a while, the draw-down became noticeable and required recharging.

Even if you use your car battery only for the vehicle’s electrical circuits, you should consider investing in a charger because now is the season when batteries lose power. The change to cold nights causes a drop in voltage, and quite possibly the starter won’t turn over one of these mornings. A good way to prevent trouble is to use a small charger-maintainer. They can be had for as little as $15. Internal circuitry cycles power off and on as required by the battery, and good ones have LED lights to indicate what’s happening. 

Vehicles with small batteries, especially motorcycles, are vulnerable to the power deficit on cold mornings. In addition, modern alternators aren’t designed as massive as they were on Grandpa’s 1973 8-cylinder Plymouth. To save weight and gasoline-wasting stress on the engine, they are sufficient for making up a small deficit. But a drained battery can ruin a modern alternator if the car gets a jump-start and is then just driven some distance “to recharge”. 

The battery maintainer works best when it has only a light workload and stays plugged into the vehicle battery overnight. For small batteries, a plain, cheap “trickle charger” can be risky because it won’t shut off when the limit is reached.  Overcharging can damage or even kill a sensitive small battery. Be sure that it’s labeled as a true maintainer.

If turning the ignition key in the morning produces only a tired moan from the engine, the charger-maintainer will require many hours to recharge the battery. An instant solution requires an engine starter.  I’ve had no luck with the direct outlet-powered ones.  The best engine starters have a strong built-in battery and start the engine immediately. Afterward, it’s best to plug the device back in the wall outlet and leave it there.

Avoid sparks when connecting or disconnecting wires to or from an automotive battery.  Battery fumes, as well as gasoline fumes that might be present, can ignite. Connect the plus (red) wire first, black (ground) second. To disconnect, remove the ground wire first. 


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.
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