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How to keep your car battery charged when it’s sitting idle.

CAA Auto Advice May 08, 2020
CAA Battery Technician with testing kit standing in front of CAA service vehicle.
As Canadians continue to self-quarantine to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, many are not driving very often – if at all. With schools closed, work-from-home directives and people staying in, the result is that many cars are sitting unused in garages and driveways across the country. 

One upside? We’re definitely saving money on gas!

But there is a downside.

If your car sits idle for extended periods of time, it can slowly lose the charge in its battery. And now, more than ever, it’s essential to make sure it’s charged and ready to power your vehicle the next time you need it.

Out of sight - out of mind - out of juice.

Today, cars have more than just a clock and radio. They’ve got media-rich infotainment systems, sensors, alarms and numerous onboard computers. Even when your car is turned off, these power-hungry gadgets can deplete your battery’s ability to start your vehicle. 

So how can you make sure your battery is getting enough juice if you’re only using it sporadically or not at all?

Driving your vehicle is one way to recharge your car battery. The automotive experts here at CAA Auto Advice say that driving your car for 20-30 minutes will help, but want to remind everyone that, given the current quarantine measures for COVID-19, driving for non-essential reasons is not suggested. If you need to drive short distances to stock up on essential goods, those trips may not be enough to get a full charge so be sure to check your driving time.

If you’ve decided to park your vehicle for the foreseeable future, the ideal option for keeping your battery charged is to purchase and install a Battery Tender. This device has two claws that attach to your battery’s terminals like jumper cables. It then plugs into a standard 120-volt outlet and automatically delivers small amounts of electricity to keep the battery charged during periods of inactivity. You can purchase one online and have it shipped directly to your door from shopwithcaa.com.

Idling: it's far from ideal.

Lastly, you may have heard that idling your car for 15-20 minutes is a good alternative method to recharge your battery. While idling older vehicles for 15-20 minutes may give them enough of a charge to restart, this approach is generally not recommended.

Many modern cars are equipped with sophisticated battery management systems that are designed to help extend battery life.  As such, this technology may also limit your car’s ability to charge at low RPMs. Unless you’re moving at higher speeds, the battery may be getting little charge.

The engine contaminates the car’s oil faster reducing its ability to protect the engine. Cars are not designed to idle for an extended time so the increased exhaust particles will begin to carbon-up the engine causing lack of performance, increased emissions and eventually component failure (i.e. catalytic convertor).

Condensation builds up in the exhaust and without the high airflow from driving, the vehicle isn’t able to blow this buildup of water out of the tailpipe. Eventually, this will cause the exhaust system to rot and prematurely fail.

The exhaust generated from your vehicle pollutes the air even more so than normal. More exhaust particles are created through idling than at any other time which is bad for the environment and for our combined efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.

Exhaust blowing out of a car tailpipe.

How to make your car battery last longer.

Car batteries last on average three to five years. Depending on various conditions like weather and how you drive, some batteries can even last up to six years. Here are some ways to keep your car’s power supply running efficiently.

  • Get your car battery tested twice a year by a professional. Your CAA Mobile Battery Technician can safely test your battery and determine its condition.
  • Avoid exposing your car to extreme temperatures. Very hot or cold conditions can decrease the lifespan of your battery. 
  • Clean the top of your car battery. It’s important to make sure the battery terminals are clean, tight and free of corrosion so they can function properly. For an at-home cleaning solution, mix 15 ml of baking soda with 250 ml of boiling water. Use an old toothbrush with the mixture to scrub the terminals clean. Safety Reminder! Make sure your car isn’t running and has cooled down sufficiently before you start cleaning the battery terminals.
  • Turn off all the lights. Once you’ve parked, remember to turn off your headlights, the lights for your trunk, glove box, door or other interior lights that can take a toll on your battery. 

We’re here to help.

As an essential service, CAA is working 24/7 for members who need us. With so much uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19, we encourage you to take steps to ensure your car is in good working condition. But know that if the unexpected happens, we’ll be there to assist.

As part of your CAA Membership, a CAA mobile Battery Technician can come to your home or office, conduct a battery test1 or even give you a boost1! If you need a new battery, they can install it on the spot, while you avoid having to leave the safety of your home or office. Currently, we’re offering Members contact-free service and ask for your support as we work to minimize contact between you and our technicians. Visit us online or call *222 to book a visit.