Have you ever done any research on batteries? If you have, then there’s no doubt you have come across jargon that you were barely able to decipher. And no doubt, a lot of it would have been conflicting. If you own a car though, you must have come across various problems that are associated with a car battery. There would have been sulfation after the car has not been used for a while, corrosion, damage to the battery case or even a short circuit.
But have you ever wondered, that this car battery, which has been commercially in use for something like 50 years, has not undergone many changes? This novel way of storing energy has not changed, and in fact, has been in use from the time of our grandparents. Imagine the battery requirements of the modern vehicles of today and the hundreds of electrical devices they support. Naturally, all these devices would require a power source that is reliable, because you wouldn’t want a component failure because of that. And these components are indeed expensive.
These days, batteries come in all shapes and sizes, but the most commonly used of all is the 12 volt battery, a lead-acid storage design. You would have thought, sure, the cars have changed, and sure enough, there are some recreational vehicles that can power inverters up to 4,000 watts. But you will find, that most cars, to this day, still use the 12-volt battery. Let us find out why.
The biggest reason of all is that 12-volt batteries have been used conventionally for so long, no one has had a reason to switch to another reason. The 12-volt battery has become a standard in car batteries and has been so for decades. At the same time, most of the infrastructure has been built regarding the 12 V batteries, such as the accessories and chargers is a thriving industry and unlikely to change in a hurry. These accessories will include phone chargers, tire compressors, record players and even cold boxes.
Higher voltages are desirable because they are more efficient, and you may ask that why do the cars don’t use a 24-volt or even a 48-volt battery? Or go even higher? Surely that shouldn’t be a big deal? The simple answer to that would be simply that because of the availability of motors that are highly capable, new and efficient wiring and digital controls, and a new and refreshing trend of hybrid automobiles, there is simply no need to change the automotive voltage. For example, the earlier belief that a power steering would require a higher voltage was destroyed by the use of 12-volt batteries.
Another reason for this is that at higher voltages, the DC contact erosion is quite a significant issue, to affect the lifetime of a circuit breaker. To understand this clearly, the contact erosion occurs when a switch goes to the open position from a closed one. When this happens, the current becomes more and more focused, and over a period of time, it will gasify or evaporate a little metal every time.
At much higher voltages, this effect becomes considerable, and hence that would eventually require a restructuring of many other components. When you think of the two reasons together, it becomes apparent that such a change would have a massive impact on the industry, and you can compare that to the change in the video industry when people changed from VHS to CDs, just on a much larger scale.
Compare the modern day cars with first cars that were hand cranked and operated by kerosene oil. For obvious reasons, there was no electrical system either. Slowly and steadily, as technology improved, things that were considered “luxury” not so long ago, such as electric starts and indicator systems, were added. These would require electricity, and hence lead-acid batteries came into being.
Back then, the standard was 6-volt batteries because, well, it was sufficient to do the job and there weren’t as many accessories to support. With time, engines became bigger, and so have their requirements, apart from other things such as fans or lights, and even heated windows. This was the 1950s and the infrastructure for the 6-volt batteries was already established.
But now more power was required and there were no manufacturers of 12-volt batteries. So someone came up with the novel idea of using two 6-volt batteries. This trend went on for as long as the 1970s and one could still find a car with two 6-volt batteries. But the times changed still and slowly, the 12-volt battery was quickly adopted by everyone and became the new industry standard that still exists.
And when you think about it, times have not changed that much. Many trucks and lorries run on 24-volt batteries, but those can also be run on two 12-volt batteries strung together.
When batteries discharge, they emanate a consistent DC current one way, providing power through the positive terminal to the negative terminal. And this DC charge is required by most car components. Another, easier way to explain this is that DC batteries transfer more power and are highly efficient. Also, the circuitry is simpler to build. For a short burst, car batteries can generate a high amount of DC current.
DC batteries are used by all cars, including electric cars because of their low carbon emissions. Also, they are highly cost effective, because they can transfer more power with less electrical losses.
Now that you have understood why 12-volt batteries are used as the power source, we will look at the common problems and myths associated with your car battery for a better understanding of this important component.
No matter what car you drive, be it a monster SUV or a city car, electricity remains important if you want to drive that vehicle. And, as I explained before, you will have to thank your lucky stars that batteries were invented, otherwise imagine cranking your SUV by hand! All you have to do now is simply touch a button and the engine roars into life.
And the battery — although not visible — but sitting under the hood, has the most important job of running the electrical components.
Let us dig deeper and find out more about your car’s battery.
Environmental factors play a significant role in how your battery performs. The weather, whether it is hot or cold, will impact the liquid electrolyte solution that is present in most batteries. This solution holds a charge. The reason why it becomes difficult to start a car in winters is that the cold weather diminishes the ability of the solution to transfer full power. Having said that, it would take extreme weather conditions to freeze the battery.
One solution to the slow start problems can be by using a battery heater, that keeps it in top condition throughout winter.
On the other hand, extreme heat can lead to the battery evaporating its solution, hence there is no charge to hold. Most people make the mistake of filling this empty space with tap water, but doing so actually damages the battery because tap water contains minerals that can be harmful. If you have to resort to using demineralized water, it is a sure sign that you may need a replacement. In such weather conditions, it is advisable to keep the car in a shaded area, or if possible, in a garage.
When you turn in the key and try to start the car, it won’t. Most of the time, the thought of the battery being dead comes to mind. But it could not be true in many cases. There could be several factors that may be stopping your car from starting. It could be spark plugs that have worn out or fuel injectors that are clogged. In other cases, there could be an alternator failure, due to which the battery won't recharge. Or, it could just be the starter motor that has turned faulty and will make a similar sound like a dead battery.
Ideally, a battery should last up to 5 or 6 years, but as usual, it all depends on how you use it or treat it. If your car has too many electronics, or if it has undergone many charge cycles, it is bound to shorten its life. Even though a battery can maintain the charge, once the engine is running, the existing electronics will mooch off it once it is off, because they draw power directly from the battery.
One of the major sources of drainage is leaving off your cell phones or GPS devices on charge while the engine is off. Also, to ensure longevity, it is important that you switch off the headlights and other lights once the car comes to a standstill.
But the battery will not last forever, no matter how careful you are. Clear indications to this are the remote unlocking and the interior lights not working properly or intermittently. Another sign is the battery indicator which will clearly let you know the state of the battery. Yet another symptom that will intimate you of its condition is if the car is slow in starting because the battery just does not have enough juice in it.
Every once in a while, you may face a dead battery, and sometimes exactly when you are in dire need. A simple solution to this is jump starting it, and it is fairly straightforward. This is how you go about it.
Once you have the required equipment, you will have to consult the manual once. Although doing this for most cars is almost the same, it could be different for the vehicle you own, so it is always safer.
So there you have it. Jump starting sounds complicated, but if you break it down in steps, such as these, it is a fairly simple process as I mentioned earlier. One thing to remember here is that once a battery is dead, it reduces its life cycle.
So by now, it should be clear to you why a car uses 12-volt batteries as a power source. But keep in mind that with changing times, it may not be the case for long, as new concept cars that use bigger, better or more powerful batteries may just be on the horizon. But for now, it is important that you know what your battery does, and how to take care of it.
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