Short lockdown journeys could be killing your car’s battery

Drivers observing the lockdown ban on non-essential travel could find themselves facing battery problems, the RAC has warned.

The motoring organisation has cautioned that cars being left idle for weeks on end and others being used for only short local journeys could leave them with flat batteries when owners next come to use them.

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With the UK now entering its fourth week of lockdown, traffic on the country’s roads has dropped by around two thirds, with millions of drivers abandoning their cars on the driveway for unusually long periods.

Even when they are not in use, batteries lose their charge through a combination of chemical reactions and underlying systems such as immobilisers, which still draw power even when the car’s engine is off.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

This means when drivers return to using their cars they could face problems starting them.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “Many people will find their cars have flat batteries as a result of them being left idle.

“This is an unfortunate consequence of the ‘stay at home’ advice and something we’re dealing with on a daily basis.”

Mr Williams also warned that short essential runs to the shop might not be enough to charge batteries and could even make matters worse.

Car alternators take time to charge a battery once the engine is running and brief local runs of five to 10 minutes are likely to drain a battery rather than help charge it, leading to problems further down the line.

How to avoid battery problems

First of all, just starting your car for a few minutes occasionally probably won’t help. As with short runs, simply starting your car and letting it run briefly at idle won’t allow the alternator to work. “In fact,” warns Mr Williams “this may end up draining a weak battery.”

If you need to travel further than this for essential shopping or to get to an essential job these regular trips will help keep your battery charged, otherwise think about using a battery conditioner or trickle charger. These provide a small constant charge to stop a battery being drained during prolonged periods of inactivity.

If you have more than one car, Mr Williams’ advice is to alternate them for essential journeys to give them a chance to recharge. He adds: “You should also consider driving the one with the older or weaker battery more often.”

If you find your car’s battery is flat you have a few options. If you don’t need the car immediately, use a home charger to give it a boost before starting the car.

However, if your need is more urgent you can either call a recovery service or try jump starting the car yourself. Depending on what you have access to, you can do this with a booster pack, using jump leads or, if you’re desperate, by bump starting.