If your car battery dies, it can kill the rest of your day with it – whether you’re stuck waiting for roadside assistance or scheduling an Uber to an auto shop instead of taking that road trip. Today, we’ll give battery life-saving tips, answer questions like “what’s the average car battery life?” and cover how to test and charge a car battery, so you can keep your ride running.
Tip 1: Keep Corrosion Away (How to Clean Your Car Battery)
Dirt and other road detritus can find their way onto your battery, causing a buildup of unhelpful grime. Even if your battery stays clean and pristine from road debris, corrosion will naturally build up around the battery terminals with use.
Car batteries have sulfuric acid inside them. As the chemical reactions that make your battery work take place, it produces hydrogen gas. That hydrogen gas then reacts with the atmosphere to create corrosion. Corrosion typically appears as a blue-white substance around the battery terminals (the nodes on top of the battery that the cables connect to).
Excessive corrosion buildup can signify an undercharged battery (more about that in a second!). Check your car battery each month – if you notice a lot of corrosion, it’s time for a quick clean. Take the following steps:
- Remove the battery cables. ALWAYS start with the negative battery cable first (marked with either a “-” sign or “NEG” and often black in color). After, unhook the positive battery cable (marked with either a “+” sign or “POS” and often red in color). Once you remove the cables, inspect them for cracking or peeling – replacing old or worn cables is a good idea.
- Remove and neutralize the corrosion. Ready-made battery cleaning agent ($5-15) works best, but you can also use a mix of baking soda and water in a pinch. After cleaning the corrosion away, dry and polish the battery posts and terminals.
- Once the terminals are clean and dry, reconnect the battery cables. Applying corrosion preventative ($7-15) can help if you want to take your battery cleaning up a gear.
Keeping your battery clean is essential if you want to extend your car battery life for as long as possible.
Tip 2: Drive for Longer – How to Charge a Car Battery By Driving
Tip: Driving at all is essential for preserving battery life. If you let your car sit for weeks on end, the battery will discharge – significantly shortening its lifespan.
Your battery gets your car going, but your alternator keeps it alive while the engine runs. The alternator powers most of the car’s electric components – headlights, windows, radio, dashboard features, you name it.
Your alternator isn’t just nifty because it powers safety and quality-of-life features – it also charges your battery as you drive. However, that feature doesn’t kick in instantly – you need to keep your car running for around 30 minutes to charge your battery using the alternator.
As a result, taking short drives (under 30 minutes) can result in a net loss of battery power. However, driving for longer periods of time (over 30 minutes) can help your battery stay topped off – which is vital if you want to extend your car battery’s life.
On the note of electronics and alternators, keeping electrical usage at a minimum can also help extend your car battery’s life. You may want to:
- Avoid using air conditioning or heating when you don’t need it;
- Keep a limited number of electrical devices connected to your vehicle;
- Make sure you switch off components such as air conditioning before turning off the car;
- Turn your lights off after turning off the car;
- Avoid using interior lights when possible.
Tip 3: Avoid Temperature Extremes to Extend Your Car Battery Life
We recently published a blog on how to winterize your car, where we mentioned that extreme cold could wreak havoc on your battery. Cold isn’t the only culprit, however – extreme heat can also cause your battery to drain faster than usual.
To keep your car battery’s life long, try and avoid subjecting your vehicle to temperature extremes while driving or parked. Garages and car covers are great for keeping vehicles at a consistent temperature (and clean to boot). If you have to park outside without a car cover, try and find a spot in the shade and downwind to keep your car at a neutral temperature.
What Is the Average Car Battery Life?
Most cars need a new battery every three to five years. Older batteries tend to have shorter life spans, while newer car batteries can last upwards of five or six years.
How Much Does a New Car Battery Cost?
A new car battery can cost anywhere from $50-350. Pricier or “premium” batteries often last longer and are more reliable. If you need to purchase a new car battery, look for a high-volume seller. Buying from a seller that’s constantly restocking increases your chances of getting a fresh battery.
You should also research batteries to find one suitable for your environment. For example, if you live in a cold climate, you may want a battery with a high cold cranking amp (CCA) rating. When looking for a new battery, ALWAYS consult your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations – getting a battery that falls outside manufacturer recommendations could cause electrical problems.
Signs of a Weak Car Battery
Your car battery may tell you it’s on its last legs without any testing required. If your car:
- Struggles to start;
- Doesn’t turn on electronics efficiently or at all;
- Has dim headlights;
- Requires you to press on the gas peddle to start it;
Or the battery warning light on your dashboard pops up, it may be time to charge or replace it.
How to Test a Car Battery
However, you can also test your battery to see how it’s doing. To test a car battery:
- Get a car battery tester ($15-60). A dedicated car battery tester will give you the most information, but you can also use a multimeter or voltmeter in a pinch.
- Let your car sit for a few days. Letting your car rest before testing your battery allows you to understand how well it holds a charge.
- Unhook the battery cables (again, ALWAYS detach the negative cable first).
- Attach the battery tester. Hook up the red cable clip (positive) to the positive battery terminal, followed by the black cable clip (negative) to the negative terminal.
- Switch the battery tester to “voltage testing mode.” Most car batteries are “12 volt,” and a fully charged battery will read 12.6 volts or higher on the tester. A somewhat charged batter will read 12.4. If the tester reads 12.0 volts or lower, your battery may be giving out.
- After testing the voltage, switch your tester to CCA mode. Your battery should have a CCA rating on the casing – put it into your tester. Then, compare the rating with the tester’s reading. If the tester reads a rating much lower than the CCA rating, your battery is probably getting toward the end of its life.
- Lastly, set your tester to “cranking test mode” and start your car. The tester should read between nine and ten volts if the battery is healthy. If it reads less voltage, your battery may be weak.
Testing your voltage, CCA, and battery cranking enables you to get a good feel for your car battery’s life and how it performs in different temperatures.
How Do You Charge a Car Battery?
As we mentioned earlier, your alternator charges your battery while driving – but it’s not always enough. If your battery tests or performs weakly, it may be time to charge it.
First, you’ll need a car battery charger ($30-150). A portable battery charger enables you to charge your battery anyplace, anytime. Make sure you get a charger made for your car battery’s voltage (as previously stated, most batteries are 12 volt)! Charging your battery is pretty simple:
- Turn off your car and ALL electronics before charging.
- Remove the negative battery cable, followed by the positive battery cable.
- Clean the battery terminals (if you haven’t already).
- Make sure the battery charger is powered off.
- Connect the charger, first hooking the positive cable to the positive battery terminal, then attaching the negative cable to the negative terminal. ALWAYS connect the positive cable first.
- Turn the charger on. Your charger may have specific instructions, including a suggested charging rate and time – make sure to follow them!
- Once the charger is done charging, power off the charger. ALWAYS power off the charger before removing the cables.
- Remove the positive cable first, followed by the negative.
- After removing the charger cables, connect the positive battery cable to the positive terminal, followed by connecting the negative cable to the negative terminal.
Taking care of your car battery can help keep your vehicle in top shape. Want to learn more car care tips and tricks? Stay tuned!