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Car Battery Failures: The Most Common Cause of Roadside Assistance Calls

AUTOMOTIVECar Battery Failures: The Most Common Cause of Roadside Assistance Calls

The car battery is the most common cause of car failures. According to data from ADAC road patrols, it has dominated since 1967 when the statistics began to be collected. In 2022 in Germany, over 40% of the 3.4 million street-side interventions involved battery problems. This figure is even larger for electric vehicles; over half. Any failure of the sort poses a stress and extra cost, which can be avoided with proper battery diagnostics. This is particularly important during the winter months when low temperatures and heating systems do not favor the lifespan of the battery.

“From the statistics of the ADAC company, which provides roadside assistance in Europe, it appears that in 2022, 43% of roadside interventions were due to a faulty battery. Looking specifically at electric vehicles, we’re talking almost 55% of interventions associated with the low-voltage battery. What does this mean? The battery is an extremely important component of both conventional, gas-powered vehicles and electric ones. Without a fully functional battery, it is impossible to start the engine or activate the high-voltage system in an electric vehicle. In short, a faulty battery means trouble, stress, and extra cost.” says Adam Potępa, Key Account Manager at Clarios, which owns the VARTA brand.

The life of a battery is influenced by many factors. One example is using the vehicle for short trips only. In such situations, the alternator often is not able to replenish the energy used to start the engine. Also, infrequent use of the car can be problematic, as energy from the battery is used to power security systems, comfort systems, and additional devices, which could lead to battery drain. In winter, the lifespan of this component is also influenced by low temperatures, which limit chemical reactions and lead to a temporary reduction in the battery’s performance. In batteries in poor technical condition, this can lead to problems starting the car.

“Drivers also use additional devices such as heated seats, mirrors, windshields, or steering wheels, all negatively influencing the energy balance and contributing to potential failure,” says the expert from Clarios.

The 12V battery remains the most common cause of malfunctions, regardless of the vehicle’s propulsion system, even in electric vehicles becoming more and more popular on European roads.

“The role of 12V batteries in electric vehicles is extremely important but often underestimated by users of these vehicles. The rule is simple; without a functioning battery, there is no possibility of activating the high voltage system, thus no way to drive the vehicle. There are already many older vehicles on the roads whose 12V batteries have long since reached their expected lifespan,” explains Adam Potępa.

The expected lifespan of such a battery is four to five years. After this time, it requires replacement. In some cases, the problem may also result from the use of the 12V battery in the electrical installation or from a poorly developed charging strategy. This often results in deep discharging because power consumption exceeds battery capacity. Experts explain that if it is not subsequently properly recharged, for example, if the car remains unplugged for a long time or if the high-voltage battery does not sufficiently recharge the 12V battery while driving, the risk of failure increases. In such cases, improving the 12V battery charging strategy by car manufacturers, or using batteries with larger capacities, could help.

“There’s also the issue of regular remote updates, the so-called automatic ones, which also drain the 12V battery at the time they are carried out,” explains the Key Account Manager at Clarios.

Experts advise electric vehicle drivers on how to take care of the battery in winter. It is advisable to park cars, if possible, in garages, where the conditions are better for both the low-voltage battery and the high-voltage one.

“This is particularly important for ensuring the operation of safety functions and remote updates,” explains Adam Potępa. – “Secondly, the issue of off-road heating – it is worth using this function when the vehicle is connected to the charging station so as not to shorten the range of the electric vehicle. When driving such a car, it is worth using efficient, more effective heating sources, such as steering wheel or seat heating.”

However, he adds, caution must also be exercised when heating before driving an electric car. In some models, the power to supply the heating is still drawn from the 12V battery. If it discharges before the high-voltage battery is fully charged, it will not be possible to pull out the charging cord plug, as this function is powered by the low-voltage battery.

The expert stresses that, although current batteries are described as maintenance-free, it doesn’t mean you should forget about them when carrying out routine vehicle checks. More so since drivers often neglect the first signals, such as flickering warning indicators on the dashboard or headlamps during engine start-up, or do not notice them at all, only noticing the problem when the engine already cannot be started.

“The upcoming winter holiday period is the perfect time to visit the service centre. As part of the VARTA battery testing program in Poland, we have 3,000 service centres that verify the technical condition of the battery as part of routine service activities or at the customer’s request. A full list of such services is available on the website. With special diagnostic tools, it is possible to verify the condition of the battery, the correctness of charging, and the battery’s behaviour at the moment of engine start-up, or to verify the current draw when the vehicle is not in use,” Adam Potępa explains.

Especially in the case of new cars and exemplars where access to the battery is limited, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the service facility, often free of charge. Also, in case of a need to replace the 12V battery with a new one, it is advisable to do so at a workshop. This is not just about a simple swap of one component, but also its adaptation and adjustment of some functions. Besides, the service guarantees that the old battery will be recycled, not left at a landfill.

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