Charging Your Car’s Charging System



Inspired by Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, consider what happens when you flip a switch and nothing is illuminated. Darkness makes a perfect background for the lights of the Chanukah, but it takes more than a few skinny candles to ignite your car engine when it’s gone dead.

And nowadays, our cars are pretty fancy, relying on a lot of engine effort to get things going. Headlights, DVD players, windshield wipers, heat… everything that makes a frightful ride delightful relies on your car’s charging system.

Your car might traverse winter roads with heat pumping, iPod bumping, DVD playing, navigation system squawking, and WiFi and Bluetooth humming. But while your car’s toys get ever more modern, your car’s charging system hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years.

It’s imperative to be mindful of the load our batteries and charging systems carry, especially in winter’s blustery weather.

The battery is an important, yet underappreciated part of your car. Doesn’t matter the make or the model – a dead battery means you’re parked. What’s worse is that a battery can die while you’re driving – and no one wants to experience that on an icy road.

The good news is that taking care of your car battery is relatively easy and inexpensive, so give it a boost this month and avoid being left in the cold.

These days, car computers control everything from door locks to power brakes. These computers run off the battery, which gets its charge from the car’s alternator. The alternator transforms the car’s mechanical energy into electric current, and sends the proper voltage to all electrical systems as the motor runs.

When a battery is low, the alternator works harder. In winter’s excessive cold, it’s easy to stress out your car’s charging system.

Time to give the charging system a winter once-over. Is there any whitish gunk caked on top of the battery? Battery corrosion is usually found near the terminals, or the positive and negative posts where you affix jumper cables. To eliminate corrosion, remove metal watches and jewelry, mix a solution of baking soda and water, and get rid of gunk with an old toothbrush.

Check the battery with a proper load tester, as often, and during, oil changes. The juice should never dip below 12 volts. Replace your battery every five years or so as its ability to hold a charge decreases over time.

Now look at the serpentine belt and tensioner, which can be found at the front of the engine and should be replaced every four years. (Hint: it looks like a big belt.) The serpentine belt drives the alternator, another part of the car’s charging system. It can sometimes be over-or-under tightened, which can cause wears, tears and breakdowns.

After you’ve given your car a good once-over, you might want to practice troubleshooting a dead battery so you know what to do in case it ever happens.

These days, jumper cables are not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Make sure yours are the proper gauge and quality for the load of your engine. (Hint: this is a technical question so you may want to ask an expert to guide you in buying the right stuff.)

This December, during the holiday dash from home, to work, to shop, remember the car that makes it all possible. When your personal battery needs a boost, it’s a good bet that your vehicle one could, too.

By Kenny “the Car Guy” Walters, a member of Temple Israel, who owns the award-winning auto shop Mufflers and More at 490 N. Pontiac Trail in Walled Lake, 248.668.1200, Email Kenny the Car Guy at



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