WHY IS IT that the poor old battery seems to be the last thing anyone thinks of when it comes to maintaining a car?

I reckon it’s in part because there’s no moving parts and many believe it only has to work for a few seconds first thing in the morning. Wrong.

This is a good time of year to talk about these things, because the colder months are typically when they finally give up the ghost.

Long winter nights sitting there in the cold is probably enough to see most of us off and batteries are no different.

Having something that turns over the engine and just barely manages to fire it into life is a clear sign you’re heading for trouble.

If it’s a conventional leadacid unit, check the fluid levels. They should be just above the tops of the plates.

If not, top it up carefully with distilled water and don’t think you need to ‘fill’ the cell.

Here’s a tip: clean the terminals. Pull the battery out and you’d be surprised how effective a bit of boiling water and bicarb is.

In fact a marginal lead acid battery can sometimes be revived with a quick shower of boiling water. The heat excites the chemical reaction and can be just enough to get you out of strife. It’s an old ‘bushie’ trick and one you’d only try in dire circumstances.

Now in a perfect world the car’s being used every day and getting a chance to charge up. In reality, most of our classics spend most of their time sulking in a corner of the shed and, while they’re doing that, they can easily lose one to two percent of charge a day. Do the maths and you’ll realise it doesn’t take long to end up with a dud. Which is why I like battery tenders.

An old-style bench charger is not ideal for this as they can over-charge. You really want a more up to date ‘smart’ charger that responds to the battery’s needs. And don’t be a cheapskate. Get one that’s a known brand. We’ve heard of too many shed fires started by cheap charging units.

How do you know if the battery is any good? A healthy one that’s fully charged should be reading over 12 volts and more like 13.5

with the engine running. If it’s a lot below 12, or can’t seem to hold its charge overnight, start looking for a replacment.

Do the change-over as soon as you can afford to. What people all too often forget is a weak battery has the potential to cause all sorts of other grief. With weak charge you get more wear and tear to the starter motor and clutch, while cables can overheat.

Plus you’re more likely to foul plugs and spray unburnt fuel into your engine – it’s basically heading into a spiral of grief you don’t need. p Mick owns Glenlyon Motors, an expert workshop and car storage facility in Brunswick, Melbourne.

Call him on (03) 9380 5082.