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COVID-dormant cars with dead batteries spark lead price hike

Drivers returning to dead car batteries after the extended COVID-19 lockdown are causing a spike in battery demand and, in turn, lead prices.

How to Jump-Start Your Car

When left drained for extended periods, a simple jump start may not be enough to revive a dead car battery.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

With COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns lifting this year, many Americans are returning to parked cars with dead batteries, requiring replacement. This, according to The Economic Times, has driven up prices and demand for lead-acid car batteries and the lead required to produce them. 

In a combustion-engined vehicle, the battery is used to start the engine and to power all of the car's 12-volt electronics. Normally, your car's alternator charges the battery when the engine is running while you drive. This keeps the state of charge topped up and the battery healthy for years of operation. However, when parked, the battery continues to power many vehicle systems.

Read more: Best battery maintainers in 2021

If you've just left your lights on overnight, a quick jumpstart will get you going again. But even if you don't, leaving a car parked for an extended period of time can still leave you with a dead battery as the ECU, telematics, the sensors for your power locks and tailgate, and more slowly drain it over time. It's harmful to leave a lead-acid battery left drained for a long period, which can leave you with a battery that no longer holds enough charge to sustain the vehicle. This is especially true for batteries more than two or three years old.

A surge of US and European drivers returning to their vehicles only to find that they need a new battery has led to an increase in demand for those lead-acid batteries and a corresponding boost in the price of the lead required to produce them. About half of the lead mined each year goes into the manufacture of car batteries.

battery-tender-plus

Using an external charger or maintainer can help prevent a dead battery when parked for weeks or months.

Battery Tender

Energy research consultants Wood Mackenzie estimate a 5.9% increase in global demand for lead this year, bringing it basically back to prepandemic levels. However, this sudden spike in demand for batteries coupled with global shipping delays and shortages has led to lead prices in the US rising to a record high.

There are a few ways that you can protect your car's battery when mothballing your car for an extended period of time. Connecting an external battery maintainer can "trickle charge" a battery slowly and safely, while maintaining its condition over time. Alternatively, you could disconnect or remove the battery, storing it with close to a full charge to protect its capacity and prevent parasitic drain over time. The easiest way is to simply drive the car every few days to let the alternator do its thing and keep the charge topped up.

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