We’re all looking forward to coming out of lockdown, bringing the car out of its enforced hibernation and getting back out on the road — but how can we be confident the car battery is fully charged and in tip-top condition if it’s not been used for a while? The team at Sterling insurance are fully charged and raring to go and here they answer your most frequently asked questions about car battery maintenance. Are car batteries maintenance free? Most modern car batteries are “maintenance-free,” but it is recommended that it is load-tested by a mechanic during your car’s annual service once it is two years old. How long do car batteries usually last? On average a car battery lasts between two and five years but it depends how much you drive, the climate in which you drive, and whether the car is garaged when not in use. How often do you need to change your car battery? If you’ve had your battery for five years you have done well, but now is probably a good time to replace it with a new one, rather than risk it letting you down when you least expect it. What is a dry cell car battery? A dry cell car battery, or a primary battery, comprises a fiberglass mat containing electrolytes which cause a chemical reaction to produce electricity. Dry cell batteries are expensive but they last longer than conventional wet cell batteries. They also generate more power to turn the car’s engine in bad weather. Can a dry cell car battery be recharged? A dry cell battery cannot be recharged. How can you tell if a car battery needs replacing? If your battery is on the way out you’ll notice the engine cranks more slowly than usual and the car takes longer to start. You’ll usually only get one or two warnings like this before the battery fails completely. If you turn the key and hear a clicking noise, there’s not even enough power to crank the engine let alone start it. A failing battery may also be indicated by dashboard warning lights. An illuminated battery symbol could point to a loose starter terminal, ailing alternator or damaged cabling. If the light stays on while driving, there might be a problem with your alternator belt which will mean your battery is not recharging itself while you drive. Is it safe to leave a car battery charging overnight? Most chargers have an automatic cut off which kicks into action once your battery has recharged to its optimum level so there is no problem leaving your battery on charge overnight. For safety reasons you should remove the battery from the car to do this. What is a trickle charger? A trickle charger is designed for long term use to recharge a car battery and they are often used when cars are laid-up or otherwise off the road for an extended period. They charge at a lower amperage than regular battery chargers. They charge the battery at the same rate that it would naturally discharge and therefore maintain the battery at its optimum level. Is there any maintenance I can do on my “maintenance free” car battery? While your battery is more or less maintenance free, there are one or two things you can do to check it is fit for purpose before bringing your car out of hibernation after lockdown. You can test the car battery charge with a multimeter which you can get from Halfords for as little as a tenner. The multimeter will measure your battery’s DC voltage. Set the dial to 20 to allow you to accurately measure 0-20 volts. Hold the red probe to the positive terminal (marked with a “+”) and the black probe to the negative terminal (marked with “-”). The resting voltage should be no lower than 12.6V. When a battery goes down to 12.2V it’s actually only 50% charged, and below 12V it’s classed as discharged. If this is the case it should be replaced or put on to recharge. You should also inspect the battery casing, battery terminals, battery hold brackets, and fasteners on the battery cable ends for corrosion and damage and clean, repair or replace as necessary. A flat battery is the No1 reason for a breakdown or failure to start The most common cause of a breakdown is a faulty or flat battery, especially during the winter. Batteries can also fail due to poor electrical connections. While your car’s battery terminals are cleaned and checked for corrosion during its MOT, it can build up throughout the year so check them regularly. If you can’t get going or breakdown, help is at hand Sterling breakdown insurance comes with a homestart service and roadside recovery, so whenever your battery lets you down, you can be confident that Sterling won’t. And if you haven’t had the forethought to take out breakdown insurance before you have a problem, you can get instant breakdown cover with Sterling from as little as £173.60 a year. Sterling Rescue will come and sort out your problem wherever it occurs and then you’ll have a full 12 months of breakdown cover to look forward to. Call Sterling on 0344 381 9959.