In extreme cold and heat, battery power is strained.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Extreme Climates and Battery Life

If the battery is out of juice, the truck's not going anywhere. It's what jump-starts the engine so you can get moving. But that's not all it does. It also runs the radio, power windows, stereo, cab lights and the GPS receiver.

With all the new technologies crowding the dashboard these days, a powerful battery is more important than ever. But in extreme heat and extreme cold, battery power is strained.

Most people are familiar with cold-induced battery issues. More than one worker has had to call in on a winter day because the car won't start. What's usually happening is that the cold weather is slowing down the chemical reactions that create the battery's power (see How Batteries Work to learn more) -- heat speeds up chemical reactions, and cold slows them down. So there's less power available to get the truck's engine running. When it's 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C), a fully charged battery has less than half its potential starting power [source: NASCAR].

The problem is compounded by the fact that the cold causes the motor oil to thicken, so it requires more power to get the engine moving than when the oil is warm and thin. The result is a greater power requirement paired with less power available -- and a truck that won't start.

This is the weather scenario most of us think of in relation to battery problems. But in reality, heat is even worse for a truck's battery. Extreme heat causes water to evaporate from the battery's electrolyte. With decreased water content, the terminals end up corroding. This reduces the amount of electrical power that can exit the terminals. Some experts believe that when batteries fail in cold weather, it's at least partly because they degraded during the hotter months and entered winter in a weakened state [source: PRN].

To avoid getting stranded with a car or truck that won't budge, you can:

  • Check connections, terminals and load before summer and winter, and replace a battery that seems weak.
  • Purchase a battery heater for extreme cold.
  • Avoid additional drains like stereos and cab lights if the battery seems to be struggling.

A dead battery is a big problem, but it's not the only extreme-climate effect truck drivers might encounter. The engine itself can feel the heat (or the cold).