i-sapping is a threat to our cars’ health


Using a sat nav app such as Tom Tom on tablets can be a marriage saver (Picture © Fiat)

You may not have heard the term ‘i-sapping’ before, but the majority of drivers suffer from it. I-sapping is when mobile electronic devices are plugged into a car and charged from the vehicle’s battery. However, devices such as satellite navigation systems, smart phones and tablets can leave batteries drained if the cells aren’t in tip top shape. 

New research by the UK’s largest car repair company, Kwik Fit, revealed that 62 per cent of Britain’s drivers charge electronic devices in their cars. Its study showed the most popular in-car devices are sat navs (38 per cent), followed by smart phones (36 per cent), mobile phones (15 per cent), MP3 music players (10 per cent), and tablets (seven per cent).

However, by plugging these into the car’s cigarette lighter or 12-volt power outlet, drivers can help to drain current from their battery. This i-sapping can cause weakness in the battery which is then highlighted in cold weather when the car won’t start. Green Flag’s head of transformation Nick Reid explained: “The colder the weather, the thicker oil gets so the starter motor needs to draw more current from the battery to turn the engine over. The older a battery gets, the less able it is to hold its charge in lower temperatures. Put these together and tired batteries are more likely to fail.”

I-sapping is more serious when batteries are older and nearing the end of their life. The trouble is, more than half of the UK’s drivers don’t know when this is. According to Kwik Fit, 52 per cent of drivers don’t get their batteries checked during the winter and 36 per cent incorrectly believe their battery’s health is checked during their car’s MOT.

Kwik Fit’s Roger Griggs said: “Many motorists don’t realise the effect devices plugged into their cars can have on a battery. Sat navs, tablets and other gadgets that are designed to make our lives more comfortable can actually have the opposite effect, by cutting short the life of even a new battery and leaving us stuck with a car that won’t start. It’s important to remember that during the cold winter months, batteries have to work harder, and plugging in additional devices can add to the struggle.”

A car’s battery life can vary dramatically depending on the kind of life it leads. With a car that does short journeys, where the battery never gets a good charge from the engine, it’s unlikely to last as long as on a car covering a lot of motorway miles.

Kwik Fit claimed one in five car batteries is more than five years old – the time when batteries can start to struggle. Green Flag’s Nick Reid added: “The average age of the dead batteries Green Flag replaces is six to seven years. Drivers will be pleased to know that the age of batteries is gradually increasing as vehicles become more effective at using the power from them.”

For everything you need to know about batteries, how to look after them, and how to spot when they’re about to give up the ghost, go to Nick Reid’s blog here.

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