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A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Start: Is Your Vehicle Ready For Summer Vacation?

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Winter takes its toll on your vehicle's charging system. Automotive batteries are particularly affected by sub-zero temperatures, but various components of your charging system may need to be checked for possible damage or wear before embarking on a long drive to a summer vacation spot.

Checking your battery

Cold weather may only partially damage your battery, leaving some cells still able to maintain a charge. However, this compromised charge may not be sufficient for long trips using not only built-in electrical components such as headlights and entertainment systems, but also multiple chargers for personal devices.

Using an excessive amount of battery power may find you on a lonely road with only the dreaded clicking sound as you turn the key, or if your battery is completely drained, no sound (or lights) at all.

Local auto repair facilities will often check your battery for free. If your battery needs to be replaced, they will remove and replace the old battery, and recycle the core, so you won't need to take the old battery to a recycling center

Preparing to take your battery to be checked

The battery's terminals, and the clamps that secure the battery cables to them, must be clean of corrosion that forms from exposure to moisture or road salt. This corrosion inhibits the flow of power to the battery, and may not only cause a charging problem, but may also cause a false reading when testing is performed.

You can clean this corrosion by loosening the nut on each cable clamp and removing the clamp from the terminal. You may need to twist the clamp back and forth while lifting it from the terminal to remove it.

Once removed, corrosion may appear on the terminals as a white powdery substance, or in the event of excessive corrosion, a crumbling white paste.

Remove the corrosion from the sides and tops of the terminals and the inside of the cable clamps using a piece of fine sandpaper, or even an emery board if you don't have sandpaper.

When all corrosion is removed, reattach the cable clamps and tighten the nuts until the cables are secured.

Which other charging system components should be checked for possible cold weather damage?

Battery cables

The cables themselves might be corrupted from cold or ice damage. Look for exposed copper wire at the cable clamps or anywhere along the length of the cables. A single exposed spot may touch the metal frame of the vehicle and cause the battery to ground out and lose its charge, even though the battery is fully operational.

A small bare spot can be covered with a few layers of electrical tape, but exposed fraying wires at the clamp connections or multiple bares spots mean the cables should be replaced.

Alternator or serpentine belt

Belts are vulnerable to variations in temperature, as extreme cold causes them to contract and warm weather expands them. Cracks can develop in their surface or they can lose their pliability.

The alternator, which produces electrical current to charge the battery, is turned by either a single alternator belt or a serpentine belt, which turns multiple vehicle components at once.

Visually inspect all belts for cracks or a shiny inner surface, which is caused by a belt becoming loose from temperature changes and wearing away as it rubs against the pulley wheels that it turns. Press on the belts (while the vehicle is not running) to ensure that they are soft and pliable, not hard and brittle.

A loose belt may also decrease the alternator's ability to provide sufficient charge to the battery. If you hear the sound of birds chirping when you start your vehicle, a belt needs to be tightened or replaced. Replacing most belts is difficult because of access, and should be done at an auto service center.

Keeping your charging system in shape will not ensure that you enjoy your destination, but it will help to get you there and back home without a dead battery to drain the fun from your trip.

Contact a service like Doc Able's Auto Clinic Inc for more help.