In order for your vehicle’s electrical system to work properly a good healthy battery is essential. The primary purpose of the battery is to start the engine. But it is also used to stabilize power and provide extra power for the ignition, lighting and other accessories that when combined the load exceeds the capability of the charging system. Since our vehicles today are controlled by multiple computers and are equipped with so many electronic accessories, there are many different symptoms that can occur when there is a problem with the charging system of your vehicle.

Warning lights on the dash can illuminate, like the charging system light, brake light, abs (antilock brake system) light, srs (supplemental restraint system) light, and or the check engine light. Some of the symptoms the vehicle can exhibit are: vehicle will not crank when trying to start, long starting crank time, exterior and interior lights dim or not working properly, engine and transmission performance can be compromised or have odd symptoms, and some of the electrical accessories may not work or will work intermittently.

If your vehicle is exhibiting any of these symptoms it is a good idea to have the vehicle inspected and tested. The starting/charging system of your vehicle should be tested at least every 6 months as regular maintenance. The reasoning is to keep you appraised on the condition and performance of your vehicles’ starting/charging system. With the advent of sophisticated battery testers, we can now test a battery for the initial state of charge, cold cranking amps available for starting vehicles engine, and the ability of the battery to hold an electrical load. When checking a battery, the overall appearance, condition of the battery, and the connections and cables to the battery are inspected too. If the battery test results are “fail or marginal” and the battery cannot be charged to a passing condition, or if the battery is leaking or has corrosion that cannot be cleaned, it is recommended to replace the battery.

Most new batteries are designed to last between 4 to 6 years. Good performance of the battery can depend on the type of driving and usage of the vehicle so it can vary somewhat. The benefit of replacing a battery in a failing or marginal status is to reduce the possibility of a breakdown or a no start condition. A marginal or failing battery also causes more strain on the other components in the electrical system of the vehicle, like the starter and/or alternator. The starter relies on a fully charged battery to supply the needed amps to start the vehicle. The alternator is designed to keep the battery in a full state of charge, it is not designed to continually recharge the battery from a completely or continual depleted state. Keeping a healthy battery in your vehicle can be more cost effective than waiting for a battery to fail or be completely used up. A good quality starter and/or alternator can be expensive to replace.

The cold winter weather is just around the corner, the performance of your vehicles’ starting/charging system will be put to the test. We recommend keeping the electrical system of your vehicle in good shape with regular tests and inspections of the starting/charging system. When the heart of your electrical system is not testing in a good healthy state replace it to keep your vehicle reliable and not cause further issues down the road. Have a great winter season!

Steve and Karen Johnston are owners of All About Automotive, providing auto repair and auto maintenance in Historic Downtown Gresham. If you have questions or comments, call them at 503-465-2926 or email them at [email protected].

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