When your car won’t start in the morning

Unlike people who like to burrow underneath the sheets on cold mornings, cars are inanimate creatures – they don’t feel cold the way humans do. When you start your car on a cold morning and all you hear is a “click” and the indicator lights on the dashboard do not come on and the engine does not roar to life – don’t blame the weather. Check your batteries.

Ideally, you should look at the terminals of your car batteries regularly. Make sure that the terminal caps are tight and do not wiggle free. Look at the terminal (there’s one with a + sign and one with a – sign). All batteries have a positive (+) and a negative (-) terminal. They are also usually color-coded so you don’t hook up the negative wire to the positive terminal (that will be a disaster!).

woman with jumper cables

Sometimes, your battery terminal is loose or it is corroded. Moisture and grime promote build up on the terminals and this causes corrosion on the battery terminal. Make sure the terminals and the terminal caps are clean. If you see deposits on the terminal that are whitish in color it might mean that battery acid is leaking out of the sealed battery and this batter acid is corrosive. It causes the build up around the terminal, preventing the electrical charge from travelling smoothly. Be careful, though, as the battery acid might cause burns. The leaking battery acid might also cause sparks that will short-circuit your electrical wirings and cause a fire in your engine.

A car battery has a usual life of about two years depending upon the use of the car. If you use your car every day and you drive a lot at night, you might need to replace your car battery every two years. Remember that a car battery does not provide electrical power for your car. Ideally, the car battery is merely a storage unit for electrical power that is manufactured by the alternator.

The stored electrical power in the car battery will provide the initial spark that will trigger the internal combustion when you start the car. After that, most cars run on the gas or diesel power and not electrical power anymore except for hybrid or electrical cars. Hybrid cars run on both fuel and electrical power while electrical cars run on purely electric power.

All the electrical power generated by your car as it runs is made in the alternator. Your alternator contains an electromagnet that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy which is then stored in the car’s battery. When the alternator is working well, as you drive around, the alternator keeps your car battery charged. If your alternator isn’t working properly, it won’t convert enough electrical energy to keep your batteries charged. The result is, while you are driving around with your headlights on, with the radio on and while you are charging your cell phone, your car will use up the stored electric power in the battery, thereby draining it.

The electromagnet in the alternator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy by a high-speed rotation of a shaft. The shaft is attached to by a fan belt to another shaft in the engine. If the fan belt that drives the alternator is loose, it will make a squeaky noise. The squeaky noise comes from the fan belt sliding instead of it driving the alternator to rotate. When the alternator fails to rotate the mechanical energy is not converted to electrical energy. That explains the dead “click” in the morning when you start the car.

Check the batteries regularly. Check into a garage and ask them to run a test on the batter to see if it is charging well. Have them check the fan belts for nicks and tears and even for moisture and grime as these affect its efficiency. Keep a log and remember when you had your car batteries changed. Manufacturers usually give a one-year warranty on a car battery. Checking the car battery regularly ensures that you maintain the validity of the warranty and you keep your car running smoothly.