Even after you’ve invested in the best car battery for your vehicle, there’s still a chance it will be dead at some point down the road. Buying a premium battery gives you more protection against this dreadful occurrence, but there are no guarantees. That’s because many aspects affect the life of your car battery. In this article, we will discuss what causes the car battery to die and early warning symptoms. We will also instruct you on how to test your battery to determine if it’s bad or if something else is the culprit to your automotive troubles.
What Hurts My Car Battery?
A German car manufacturer found that half of the luxury vehicles returned under warranty did not have properly functioning batteries. So what causes these car batteries to fail prematurely? Let’s look at a few of the major culprits.
Short trips: If you only drive in your local town, you might not give your battery enough time to recharge. The more frequently you do this, the less life you can expect from the battery.
Extreme temperatures: During the heat of summer, your battery is subjected to a lot of stress. In addition, the freezing days of winter also help to shorten its life. If your battery is already dying, you want to replace it before winter. Otherwise, you could end up with a car that won’t start.
How Long Will a Car Battery Last?
Once you replace your car battery, the lifespan will depend on how long it holds its charge. When it can no longer be recharged, you must replace it. In ideal conditions (driving long distances and avoiding extreme temperatures), batteries should last up to six years. With that said, it makes sense to test your battery after three years to ensure it is still working the way it should.
Symptoms of a Failing Car Battery
The best way to prevent having a dead car battery is to watch for the signs that it is failing.
- Slow engine crank: The cranking when you start your car might become sluggish or take longer than usual.
- Check engine light: The light comes on in some vehicles when the battery power becomes weak.
- Low battery fluid level: Some automotive batteries have a translucent casing so you can see the fluid level. If it becomes too low, you want to test your car battery.
- Swollen or bloated case: Excessive heat can cause the case to swell and reduce the lifespan.
- Leaking battery: Look for signs of corrosion on or around the posts. If you don’t remove this, it could cause trouble starting the vehicle.
Test Your Car Battery With These Options
When you notice signs of a failing automotive battery or you just want to check its status, you have several options.
1. Visit an Auto Parts Store for Battery Testing
Many of the auto parts stores provide free battery testing. You can head to Advance Auto or AutoZone if you don’t have a lot of mechanical knowledge and don’t feel comfortable performing your own testing. These locations also provide free battery installation when you purchase from them.
2. Use a Multimeter for Automotive Battery Testing
With your multimeter, you can check the battery voltage. Follow these steps.
- Run your car lights for a few minutes to remove any surface charge.
- Turn off your car and all of the lights.
- Set your multimeter to 15-20 volts.
- Connect your multimeter to both the positive and negative battery terminals.
- You should see voltage around 12.6 volts.
The reading on your voltmeter will depend on whether the battery is being charged. Readings lower than 12.2 volts indicate that you should use a battery charger. If that doesn’t resolve the situation, you might have a dead battery.
If the alternator is currently charging the battery, you will see a reading around 14.5 volts.
3. Use a Power Probe to Test a Car Battery
A power probe works similar to the multimeter, except you don’t need to adjust any settings. Follow the same steps as above, without the need of setting the probe for any particular volt reading.
4. Perform a Load Test on Your Car Battery
While the load test won’t be as sophisticated as the ones done by auto repair shops, you can still gauge the health of your car battery easily.
- Turn on the headlights without starting the engine.
- Leave them on for 15 minutes.
- Start your vehicle and watch the brightness of your headlights.
If the lights dim considerably when your engine is turning over, your battery has failed the load test. It should be strong enough to hold a charge for 15 minutes and start the car engine with ease.
You could purchase a low cost battery load tester, if you don’t want to perform the do-it-yourself method.
Car Won’t Start but the Battery is Good
It’s not uncommon to test your battery, find out it’s good, but still have a car that won’t start. At least you’ve eliminated the battery from the equation, but what might be causing your trouble? After your test your battery, you can look at these possible issues.
- Corrosion: If there is corrosion on the car battery, you might face trouble. Take time to clean the posts to ensure a solid connection. Then, attempt to start your vehicle again.
- Starter motor: Your car’s starter motor turns the engine over and allows it to start. If this part is defective, you need a replacement.
- Timing belt: Because the timing belt opens the engine’s valves at regular intervals, it’s a necessary component to starting the vehicle. It’s recommended that you replace the timing belt as part of your regularly scheduled maintenance. If you have a failed timing belt, you might face extensive engine damage.
- Distributor cap: The distributor routes the voltage from the car’s ignition coil to its spark plugs. If moisture makes its way into the cap, it might cause trouble. Wipe it down with a dry, clean cloth and reinstall. If the cap becomes cracked or broken, you will want to replace it.
- Ignition coil: This component takes the voltage from the car battery and creates an electric spark. When the coil is damaged, it won’t produce enough power to perform its job. You can test the current strength with your multimeter to see if it is failing.
- Fuel filter: Having a clogged filter prevents the fuel from reaching your motor.
Test Your Car Battery for Peace of Mind
If you haven’t changed the car battery in a few years, it’s time to test it. You don’t want to be late for work because of a dead car battery. Take it to the auto parts store or do it yourself if you feel inclined. The simple tests outlined above will offer the reassurance you require.