Anytime your car is on and running but you aren’t actually in motion, you are idling. There are a lot of misconceptions about this with regards to the vehicle’s battery. Your battery shouldn’t die just from idling, unless of course there is something wrong with it. It is important to get the facts on this issue so you can recognize when there is a real problem.
How the Alternator Works
The sole purpose of the alternator in your vehicle is to keep the battery charged up. It is doing this even when the car is idling at a red light or when parked but turned on. The alternator charges your battery at a high rate of speed so that it doesn’t just die during those times when you aren’t actually driving.
While the alternator is charging your battery slower when you are idling, it is still doing it fast enough to where it shouldn’t just die. It should be delivering at least 14 volts of electricity to your battery to keep it topped up.
Reasons for Battery Dying
There are quite a few different reasons for a battery dying, and none of them have to do with idling. You will want to know what some of these reasons are so you aren’t driving around without a clue.
Some of the things that can drain your battery to the point of dying include:
- Leaving headlights on: It is not completely unheard of for someone to leave their headlights on after parking the car. You might not notice you did it until you come out the next day to start it up. While leaving your lights on for an hour or two probably won’t drain your battery completely, letting it sit that way overnight can be problematic.
- Electrical issue: If your vehicle has some sort of electrical problem, it could negatively affect your battery. The root of the issue could be faulty wiring or even a defective fuse. These kinds of problems can drain your battery fairly quickly until you get them fixed.
- Alternator problems: A malfunctioning alternator could be the reason your battery died while you were driving or just idling. There is a part of the alternator called the diode that can cause battery drain if it goes bad. This is actually a more common issue than you might think.
- Loose connections: There is also a chance that you have a loose connection with one of your battery cables. If your battery suddenly dies, it is a good idea to check these connections before going to see your local mechanic. This could be a very easy and cheap fix.
- Battery needs replacing: It’s always a possibility that the entire battery needs to be replaced. Most batteries stop functioning properly after just a few years. You don’t want to wait more than four years to replace this part. You can get your battery tested to see just how well it is currently performing. This is an inexpensive way to find out if you indeed need a new one.
- Cold temperatures: If your vehicle has been sitting outside all night in freezing temperatures, you might have problems starting it. Extreme cold or even heat can cause a battery to become damaged over time. This is why people who live in states with cold winters tend to replace their batteries more often. Idling before you drive off in your car in the winter is actually good for the engine. This can prevent a lot of unnecessary and expensive damage.
- Keeping accessories plugged in: If you have a dedicated GPS device or something else that you always keep plugged in, it can drain your battery. This is especially true if your car is not driven for a couple days or more.
Can Idling My Car Cause Damage to it?
While idling is not inherently damaging to your vehicle, it can be in a number of ways. A lot of idling on a regular basis can waste quite a bit of fuel, which adds up over time. It can also result in residue accumulating in the fuel lines, which can eat up gas faster than normal. This basically means that you will be paying more and not driving as far between fill-ups.
You also need to keep in mind that idling more than necessary could lead to damaged or malfunctioning cylinder rings, spark plugs, and head gasket. While most of these things don’t cost a lot to replace, their breaking can still be very inconvenient.
Idling does put a bit of additional strain on your battery, but not more than it can take. It is, however, bad for the environment. If you typically pride yourself in being pretty “green”, this is something to keep in mind.
Idling After a Battery Recharge
If you have just gotten your battery jumped after it died, you should at least keep it idling for 15 to 20 minutes. It is better to actually drive the car around, as the alternator will charge it up much faster. Failing to let your car run for long enough after you have it jumped could lead to the battery dying again.
How to Avoid Idling
You cannot avoid idling your vehicle completely, unless you buy a hybrid. These vehicles are great on gas and can help you save a lot of money over the years. If you find yourself stuck behind a huge line of non-moving cars in traffic, just turn the car off. You will save gas while doing your part for the environment.
Idling your car will not drain the battery, at least not to the point where it dies. If your battery does suddenly stop working altogether, there is some underlying issue. This is usually due to a problem with the alternator or the battery itself. It is important for you to get your battery tested every so often, especially if it is more than two years old.