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Reviving Your Car Battery

Jump starting a car
Photo: iStockphoto

We've all experienced it - that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get into your car, turn the key in the ignition and hear that fruitless clicking that indicates a dead battery.

Once you stop screaming "Nooooooo!" and pounding angrily on the steering wheel, it's time to take stock of the situation. How did this happen? And what do you need to do to get moving again?

Here are some of the reasons your battery may have failed:

  • You left your lights, radio, interior lights, flashers or air conditioning on when the car wasn't running
  • Your car's been in storage and hasn't been run recently
  • Your battery hasn't been properly maintained
  • The voltage regulator or diode bridge in your alternator is shot
  • The low temperature has caused your battery to freeze

If your battery is dead, chances are a jump will get you going again - if only to the service station. Check the battery to make sure it's not cracked or leaking - if it is, do not attempt to jump start it! Things you should have in your car to jump start your car battery:

  • Jumper cables 
  • Instructions on how to use them properly: This illustrated step by step jump start guide from Wikihow is a great thing to have on hand!
  • Your auto club information - if you belong to CAA, for example, your membership includes mobile battery boosting service, so you won't be stranded
  • A voltmeter to test the battery

A battery charger is also a good tool to have - it's not as fast as a jump start, but it will eliminate the need for a second car. You can either have a battery charger you keep at home or a portable battery charger (useful if you have somewhere to plug it in).

If you know why your battery died (i.e. you went to the movies and left your lights on), a jump start may solve the problem. But if you're not sure what happened to the battery, be sure to take your car in to have the battery checked and replaced if necessary!

Sometimes your battery dies due to user error - but sometimes, the battery is just on the way out. The average car battery has a lifespan of three to four years. Keep track of when you last replaced your battery so that you're prepared when it's time to replace it again.

For a little pre-emptive maintenance, check out this article on warning signs your car battery may be dying.

- Rose R.

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