Travel restrictions and lockdown measures mean that many cars are left sitting idle for days on end. Earlier this year, the RAC advised households with two cars to alternate using them for essential journeys to avoid flat batteries.
Starting a car occasionally “isn’t likely to help,” said RAC spokesperson Simon Williams. “In fact, this may end up draining a weak battery,” he said.
Although a flat battery can be jump started, the colder weather will put even more strain on a car battery. In the worst case scenario, you will need to buy a new battery. This could prove to be an expensive consequence of being in lockdown.
Read our guide on how you can order a new car battery online, and the options to get it fitted.
Why might my car battery be flat?
Although modern car batteries have features to help them preserve charge when left unused, the chemical reaction occurring inside will still cause it to slowly discharge over time. Equipment like car alarms and even clocks take a small amount of charge, too.
Alone these should not cause a healthy battery to flatten fully, but they may be enough to drain the life out of an old or weakened one. This is especially true during the winter.
Leaving interior lights on, or devices plugged into charging sockets, will mean a much quicker route to a dead battery.
How can I stop my car battery from going flat?
The most obvious way to stop it going flat is to drive your car. However, current government restrictions mean driving simply to charge your battery is unlikely to be considered an essential journey. A five to ten-minute journey is unlikely to be sufficient to restore a battery’s charge.
Manufacturers such as Kia have recommended allowing your car engine to run in idle for 20 minutes once a fortnight. Doing so should allow the battery to keep charged up.
Safety warning: this should be done outdoors, and with the car supervised at all times.
A dedicated battery charger, or a trickle charger, can also be used to maintain charge during extended periods without use. Some chargers also have the ability to ‘jump start’ a flat battery.
Where can I buy a new car battery online?
If all else has failed and your car battery is clearly in need of replacement, there are numerous options to order a new one online and have it delivered to your door.
Halfords offers a substantial range of new batteries, and the option to have it delivered to your home. The company also offers click and collect options designed to maintain social distancing. You can also spread the cost over a number of months.
Similarly, Euro Car Parts is able to supply various different car batteries with free delivery and click and collect options.
The RAC Shop sells an extensive range of batteries, and can have one delivered to your door the next working day.
What kind of car battery do I need?
Gone are the days of just sticking any 12-volt battery under the bonnet and forgetting about it. Modern cars have complicated electrical systems, and the right battery is needed to avoid the risk of damaging them.
Cars with automatic Start-Stop systems, which can turn the engine off when stationary at traffic lights for instance, need their own special type of battery. These will be marked as ‘AGM’ or ‘EFB’, and should be replaced with a similarly designated battery.
Online retailers such as Halfords, Euro Car Parts and the RAC all offer ‘battery finder’ tools on their websites.
Simply type in your car registration number to find the best match for your motor, but make sure you check against what is currently fitted, just to be sure.
Can I fit a new car battery myself?
Again, the complexity of modern cars means fitting a new battery yourself is not necessarily a simple task. Cars with automatic Start-Stop need to have their battery management system reset when a replacement is fitted, which requires specific equipment to do.
For those with older vehicles, the RAC has a comprehensive guide should you feel confident enough to fit a replacement battery yourself.
If you are unsure about fitting a battery yourself, then leave it to a professional.
What if I want someone to fit it for me?
If you decide to have a new battery fitted by someone else, you have multiple choices depending on your circumstances.
Should your battery be completely flat, and you have breakdown cover, check if your policy includes battery replacement.
Both the RAC and AA either offer free, or low-cost, battery fitting for members. Certain policies will also include the actual cost of the battery, too.
Non-members can also use the RAC and AA to supply and fit replacement batteries, with same-day services advertised.
Halfords also offers mobile battery fitting through the Tyres On The Drive service.
Should your car still be drivable, but with a battery that will need replacing, various retailers can fit a replacement for you.
Halfords, Euro Car Parts, Kwik Fit, and ATS Euromaster are still able to offer battery fitting services.
COVID-19 means these outlets are prioritising key workers and emergency services first, and a booking will be needed first.
What if I own an electric or hybrid car?
Electric and hybrid vehicles typically feature two distinct batteries: a main lithium-ion unit for the electric motors, plus a regular 12-volt battery for accessories.
This 12-volt unit can also run out of charge, just like in a normal petrol or diesel-engined car.
If this 12-volt battery is flat, it may prevent an electric car from starting regardless of how fully charged the main battery is.
Some plug-in vehicles, like the Kia Niro, are able to jump start the 12-volt battery from the main lithium-ion battery.
Charging and replacing the 12-volt battery in an electric or hybrid vehicle is likely to be more complicated than a conventional car.
Read the vehicle handbook and owners manual for your specific model to avoid the risk of damaging electrical components.