AAA: Heat taking a toll on car batteries

aaaDuring this summer that has seen days and days of sweltering heat in July, AAA has been experiencing an unprecedented demand for battery service.

At times it has outpaced the need for tow service, which is highly unusual for the Emergency Roadside Assistance providers. And, servicing those calls is not always as simple as a quick jump start – more than 30% of the calls have required a AAA technician to install a new battery on the spot.

In Virginia, even though roadside assistance calls were down in July about 9% from 2019, battery calls were up 13% this month.

“This sharp increase in battery calls is something AAA began seeing in early April, when Members found that vehicles, which had been sitting idle for a time, wouldn’t start when they were needed,” says Morgan Dean, spokesperson for AAA in Virginia. “Now that summer is here, there are additional factors at play as well”.

Summer travel, which, this year, is predominantly road trips(97%), and extreme heat are both contributing to the number of calls AAA is getting for dead batteries.

By the numbers

In April and May, with overall call volume down about 25% over last year, calls for battery service were up almost 25% – and the number of new batteries installed during that two month period was up almost 60%.(AAA Mid-Atlantic Territory)

In June, as call volume returned to near normal levels, dead battery calls remained higher than usual – with AAA installing new batteries on about a third of those calls.

3 Reasons for Increase in Dead Batteries

  1. COVID-19 – Batteries lose their charge when they sit idle for an extended period of time. Gadgets and electronics found in many newer or high end vehicles can drain batteries even more quickly.
  2. Road Trips –With air travel down almost 75%, Americans are returning this summer to the Great American Road Trip. AAA call volume, including calls for dead batteries, is typically a reflection of just how many people are hitting the roads.
  3. Summer Heat –weather extremes stress batteries, stress that is cumulative over time. So, with each passing day of a heat wave, AAA is more likely to see weather-related calls for battery service.

Battery Warning Signs

  1. The starter motor cranks the engine slowly
  2. Battery/Charging warning lamp illuminates on the dashboard
  3. In older models, dim incandescent headlights, particularly when the car is idling, indicate a weak battery.

How to determine the age of your battery

  1. Look for a sticker-It will tell you the month and year that your battery was made. It can usually be found on the top or the side of the battery. A sticker with “9/16” means the battery was made in September of 2016. (This sticker can sometimes represent the date the battery was sold by a retailer instead of manufacture date. It’s usually within a few months of the batteries production date.)
  2. Look for the date code-This one is harder to find and a little harder to decipher. It’s burned into the plastic of the battery at the factory and can usually be found around or near the rim.
  3. Reading a date code-The date code will usually start with a letter and a number. The letter refers to the month, e.g., January is A, February is B…etc. (The system skips the letter “I” because it can look like a “1”) The number after the letter refers to the year it was manufactured. A battery with the code “D8” would have been manufactured in April of 2018.

Not every failing battery reveals itself through obvious symptoms so take precautions to avoid a dead battery situation.

AAA Tips for Battery Care and Service

  1. Start your engines – Even if you are not driving to work or going out every day, make sure you start your vehicle once every few days to ensure the battery has a strong charge.
  2. Keep your battery clean– Periodically pop the hood and look for corrosion on the battery terminals. If you see any, clean it off with a small, stiff brush and a solution of baking soda and water. After removing the corrosion, rinse the battery with water.
  3. Check to make sure the terminal connections aren’t loose– If they are, tighten with a wrench.
  4. Get a Battery Check Up –The average battery lasts 3-5 years. Before hitting the road, basic vehicle maintenance should include a battery check, available for free at any AAA Approved Auto Repair or AAA Car Care Centers across the region. Testing equipment today can often give you a good sense of how much life a battery has left.
  5. Call for FREE AAA Mobile Car Battery Service at your home or place of business – Members can call AAA at any time for a free, contactless, battery checkup and, if need be, AAA will install a new battery on the spot. Don’t wait until you’re stranded roadside.

Help Wanted

The number of calls for battery service has been so highly unusual for such an extended period, AAA Mid-Atlantic is hanging out the help wanted sign.

“Our members count on AAA regardless of the circumstances – in a pandemic, over a holiday weekend or during a heat wave,” Dean says. “It is critical that we always have skilled technicians on hand to answer that call”.

         
 

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