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How to Protect Your Car Battery from the Cold

If you’ve driven in a cold climate for long, you’ve experienced a time or two when your car wouldn’t start due to a dead battery. Except for maybe a flat tire, nothing is quite as aggravating as needing a boost. Plus, in the winter, it could put you in harm’s way if help isn’t available.

Car batteries are susceptible to the cold, and you should always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. However, you can prepare ahead for it too by protecting your battery from the cold. It could save you the cost of a tow truck or even the replacement price for a new battery, typically between $100 and $230.

Here are some ways you can protect your battery from frigid winter weather.

Why does the cold affect car batteries?

There are a few reasons why cold weather can affect car batteries. One is that the battery itself is temperature sensitive. When it’s cold outside, the battery fluid can freeze and expand if it’s low on charge, which can damage the battery cells. 

Additionally, the chemical reaction that produces electricity slows down in cold weather, so the battery doesn’t produce as much power. Cold weather can also make it harder for the engine to turn over, which puts additional strain on the battery. All of these factors can combine to cause car batteries to fail in cold weather. 

Ways to prevent a dead battery in winter

No one wants to spend their time asking a Google mechanic, “Why won’t my car start in the cold?” It’s so much easier if you prevent the problem before it starts. And like other car maintenance and operating best practices, prevention is always preferred. 

Keep it charged

One of the most important things to do in winter is to keep your car battery charged. A dead battery is one of the most common reasons for a car to not start in cold weather. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to keep a battery charged in winter without a little help. 

If you drive short trips often, the high strain on your battery during start cycles might take longer for the alternator to replenish than your drive. To help out, put a trickle charger on your car’s battery overnight once per week. That should help to keep it topped up.

Drive your car often

In winter, it’s important to keep your car’s battery charged so that it will start in cold weather. But how much do you need to drive to keep the battery charged? Experts recommend driving for at least 30 minutes once a week. This will help to keep the battery topped off and prevent it from being damaged by the cold weather. Even 10 to 15 minutes of driving can make a difference. Just be sure to turn off your headlights and other accessories if possible so that you’re not putting extra strain on the battery and putting as much charge directly to it.

Park in warm, protected places

You can also try to park in a garage or other sheltered spot whenever possible. This will protect your battery from the cold and help to prolong its lifespan. Although your car doesn’t feel the windchill factor like your skin does, parking in an unheated garage still has an insulating factor that helps retain heat longer. And if you have access, heated parking is fantastic for reducing the cranking effort and keeping your battery warm, inevitably helping it last longer.

Test your car battery

Your car needs a healthy battery to start the engine and work your accessories – heater motor, windshield wipers, and radio, especially. An older car battery loses its capacity over the years in normal conditions, and that can affect whether your battery will work for you in the cold. An old or sulfated battery can charge to normal levels or around 12.6 volts, but the cold cranking amperage and reserve capacity might be much lower than it’s rated for. 

You can test your battery with a multimeter. Have your battery tested thoroughly at least twice a year. AutoZone has free in-vehicle and out-of-vehicle battery testing available to ensure yours will last the season.

Install a new battery

How to Install a Battery

And if your car’s battery keeps dying on you, it becomes a safety issue as well as an inconvenience. Rather than hoping for a jump-start when it happens, install a new car battery. Ensure you choose the correct size and capacity for your car by finding a Group Size that’s intended to fit just like the original. It has the same terminal orientations, same physical dimensions, and cranking amps and reserve capacity that meet or exceed your car’s needs. 

Best car battery for cold weather

best car battery for cold weather

The best cold weather car battery is one that’s rated the same as your factory’s battery, or better. Look for the same Group Size as the old one so that it fits like it should. 

Aside from physical size, a cold weather car battery will have higher cold cranking amps (CCA) than the original battery did. That means that when the mercury plummets, the battery will still have enough energy to turn the engine over. Reserve capacity is also important to keep track of since it can determine if your battery has plenty of power if you need to try starting several times in a row. 

Great choices for winter-ready batteries include Duralast Premium EFB and AGM batteries that recharge quickly with the engine running and tend to last longer than other options. Spiral-cell AGM batteries from OPTIMA also rank highly for cold weather operation. 

If you need help finding the right battery for your car, AutoZone can help. Find the right fit online or ask an AutoZone associate for assistance matching the battery your car needs. 

FAQ/People Also Ask

How do I keep my car battery from dying in cold weather?

Drive your car for about a half hour at least once a week to keep the battery charged. When possible, park in a warm and protected area. 

How do I keep my car battery over winter?

Your battery will stay strong through the winter if it remains fully charged. Drive often and use a trickle charger to top it up if necessary.

Can cold weather damage a car battery?

Yes, if the battery is depleted, it can freeze quickly. The case expands and it gets damaged inside.

What temperature kills a car battery?

Cold weather doesn’t kill batteries on its own. A fully charged battery can handle cold temperatures without a problem, but it will freeze and fail if it’s discharged.

At what temperature will a car battery freeze?

If it’s charged, a car battery won’t freeze unless it reaches a core temperature of 76 F.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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