We can’t exclusively blame batteries for difficulties starting engines in cold weather. Cold temperatures can affect engines in many ways. It can gel the fuel of a diesel engine or raise the viscosity of oil so it won’t flow as well.
But for any engine with a battery-powered starter, you have to take care of the battery in cold weather, because those cold temperatures can sharply impact the performance of the battery. And if the battery doesn’t have enough strength to turn over the engine, the conditions of the fuel and oil become irrelevant.
Basic Cold-Weather Care
Why don’t batteries like cold weather? Your typical lead-acid battery used in cars and tractors relies on chemical reactions to produce electricity, and these reactions slow down in cold weather. Add in the strain of moving cold, thick oil through the engine, and you’ve got a recipe for struggle.
In addition, the performance of a battery diminishes over time, and this decrease becomes more noticeable when cold weather strains the battery. And extreme cold can even freeze and damage batteries, with the risk of freezing rising as the battery charge decreases.
So what’s the best way to take care of batteries in cold weather? It depends. If the machine isn’t going to be used during the winter, simply take out the battery and store it somewhere warm.
If the battery is going to be powering an active winter machine (like a tractor with a snow blower attachment), the best solution is to park the machine in a heated garage where the battery won’t have to deal with cold temperatures.
But if you don’t have a heated garage (or if it’s occupied by more important machines), never fear. You have other options.
For example, putting low-viscosity winter-grade oil in the engine and/or keeping the oil warm with an engine block heater or dipstick heater will reduce strain on a cold battery by making it easier to turn over the engine.
Speaking of heaters, why not buy one for your battery? Whether you opt for a blanket-style heater that wraps around your battery or a flat heater that installs underneath, you’ll find plenty of options on the market. Once you’ve confirmed the suitability (and safety) of a given heater for your battery size and type, you’ll just need to park close to a power outlet so you can plug in the heater when the vehicle isn’t in use.
Keeping the battery terminals free of corrosion and the battery cables tightly installed can also make a difference, since corrosion and loose cables can reduce the amount of electricity traveling from the battery to the starter.
If all else fails, and if your cold weather won’t be *too* cold, you can opt for a hardy battery and hope for the best. For this approach, you’ll want a battery with a high cold cranking amps (CCA) rating.
The CCA rating measures how much power a 12-volt battery can provide when used for 30 seconds at 0 degrees F without the voltage dipping below 7.2 volts. It’s a complicated metric at first glance, but the higher the CCA, the more power the battery can offer for starting an engine in cold weather.
Take care of batteries when cold weather strikes, and your machines will take care of your with reliable winter performance.