Car batteries are one of the most important components of any motor vehicle. Even though the basic principles of battery design has remained the same for decades, the electrical load on them has only increased tremendously.
Think about it, car batteries have to crank the engine, power external lights, internal lights, infotainment unit, high voltage speaker system, heated seats, massaging seats, power windows, etc.
On average, a car battery lasts for about five years. That said, there are multiple factors affect the life of car battery. For example Weather Temperature, how often the car is driven, electrical accessories in the vehicle, battery construction type, and the manufacturing variation itself.
It’s often difficult to detect a failing battery during a routine checkup. A simple voltmeter can tell the charging level of a battery but it can tell what’s happening with the chemical cocktail inside the battery. You’d be lucky if you notice hesitation while cranking engine because it’s a sign that you should consider replacing the battery before it leaves you stranded on the road.
Normal Battery Life (Manufacturer’s Definition)
Battery manufacturer’s definition of “normal” is quite different than our usage. For them, the normal usage means that battery complete full charge cycle every time, it isn’t subjected to vibration and jolts, isn’t used in extreme temperatures, a substitute trickle charger is used when the vehicle is parked for a long time, it does not power ton of electrical accessories.
As you can see, it’s not practical to follow such a rigorous battery maintenance program on day to day basis. We use our car for short trips to the grocery, the roads we drive on is not the smoothest, We have several accessories inside out car like GPS, phone chargers, upgraded sound system, etc.
Test your Car Battery Using Multimeter
Watch this video to learn how to self-test your battery. If you don’t have a multimeter then look to symptoms that we mentioned below.
Factors Affecting Battery Life
Let’s go in detail about what factors affect battery life and why. It’ll help us understand what’s goes inside the plastic box with a bunch of chemicals. This way, we can estimate the life of battery depending on our usage and maybe extend the life by doing what’s good for the battery.
– Intensity of battery load
We mentioned before that modern generation cars have a ton of electronic accessories- GPS, High output sound system, electric seats with massaging/heating, etc.
More electronic devices deplete that power reserve of the battery faster, faster in the intensity of discharge. This discharge intensity is inversely proportional to the battery life.
For example, a typical lead-acid battery has around 500 charging cycles. But if the electronic load on the battery is 100 percent all the time, the life will reduce to about 150 charging cycles.
In second condition, if only 20% of the battery power is being used all time, we can expect charging cycles to shoot up to 1000 cycles.
– Charging Cycles
A battery’s life is often denoted by charging cycles. One cycle is when a battery is fully charged and then discharged. A lead-acid battery has about 500 charging cycles, AGM battery has around 700 charging cycles, Gel battery charging cycles can be as long as 1000. Know more about different types of car batteries.
All batteries are quite sensitive to the weather temperature. Most people think that only cold temperature is bad for batteries. However, it’s both extremely cold and extremely hot temperature when batteries can struggle.
High temperature affects the battery’s use cycle, while the colder temperatures reduce the battery charging capacity itself. The happy spot for battery performance is between 18 degree to 32 degree celcius.
– Driving Trip Distance
You know that cranking takes a lot of energy. The battery try to recoup that energy via alternator when the car is being driven. But what happens when we drive short distances? You guessed it- the battery is not able to charge itself fully.
If you do it regularly, the battery has this acid stratification process where the concentrated electrolyte starts settling down at the bottom, leaving upper plates starving. Now, you can only expect around 3 year of battery life instead of 5.
Symptoms of Failing Battery
Most of the times the battery fails suddenly without leaving many indications. But you can save yourself from a lot of hassle of dealing with a broken down car by looking for these symptoms-
– Slow Engine Cranking
Starting the engine consumes a lot of power for a short time. The battery needs to deliver that immediate juice to crank the motor. Your battery might be getting weak if you notice that starter motor is taking longer to start the car and it’s not spinning fast like use to.
– Clicking sound from the starter motor
When there is even less power left in the battery, the starter motor will make a clicking noise as it struggles to spin up the engine. In this case, try to turn off all electrical devices in the car and then try to start. Last option is to jump start the car. Read what to do when your battery dies.
– Dimming Headlights
Halogen Headlights of car consume decent amount of power. And since you use it so much, it’s easier to notice when the headlights light up dimmer than usual. This is good indication to get your battery replaced.
How to Extend Car Battery Life
You already know what factors influence battery life. Let’s go over what good habits can extend your battery life:
1) Avoid making short trips in your car too frequently. If it’s not possible to drive long distances every day, do it once a week at least.
2) Inspect the battery terminals for signs of corrosion. This can reduce electrical conductivity. Apply a bit of petroleum jelly after cleaning it when you notice corrosion on the terminals.
3) Don’t keep the electronic accessories on when the engine is not running. Make sure to unplug accessories from the cigarette lighter power output when not in use.
4) If you have an unsealed lead-acid battery, it’s a good idea to check the water level every 2 months.
5) Invest in a good battery trickle charging system if you don’t drive your car that often.
Play the video below to hear what Scotty Kilmer has to say:
You might not be able to control certain things like temperature or even your driving trip. That’s ok, but do what you can and your battery will thank you for it. Again, 5 years is what you can expect out of a car battery.
Also Learn: How to make your car AC Colder