How to Take Care of Your Car Battery

How long do car batteries last? And how often should you change it?

You just don’t think about what makes your car start in the morning, right? The thought of the car malfunctioning just doesn’t occur to a lot of first time car owners. The engine starts when you key in the ignition (or for more modern cars, when you press the button!), the transmission moves to D when you press on the brake, and it moves when you step on the gas.

Whether you’re a car nut, a DIY addict, or just an ordinary guy or girl who wants to keep his car running for a long time, you should be thinking about the car battery in addition to other things you need to maintain. Here’s how to take care of your car battery.

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image credit: Lance Fisher

The function of the car battery

Your car battery provides the power and the spark needed to fire up the engine. The car starter draws current from the battery to start the engine. This requires an enormous amount of electricity, and is sometimes the reason why your car doesn’t start during extreme cold weather. In addition to that, the battery also powers other devices and components in the car that runs on electricity, such as your stereo, heated seats, lights, the car horn, and even defrosters.

If the battery powers all these things, how come it doesn’t dry up?

This is where the alternator comes in–it recharges the battery so that when you turn off the engine, it will have enough power to crank the engine and power the electronics.

Now, if you have a hybrid, or an All-Electric car like the Tesla or the recently hyped Faraday Future concept car, the battery has an entirely different role–because it will power every single thing in the car, including the engine. But there lies the danger, too. If the battery overheats, or it gets punctured or subjected to intense force or pressure, it can burst into flames like some of those well-reported burning Tesla cars.

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image credit: Nick Ares

Different kinds of car battery

Car batteries come in 5 different kinds. Your car manufacturer should specify in the manual the best kind of car battery for your car. Here are the different kinds of batteries for your car:

Wet or Flooded Battery

Probably the most popular type of batteries around. This is partly because it has the lowest price in the market; $50 for the lower end or several hundreds, depending on the manufacturer. This battery type uses freely suspended plates that are insulated from each other. The negative plate is in a separator bag, completely sealed. These batteries maintenance free, which means that they are sealed, no gases are replaced, and you do not need to add any fluids to it. The fluid inside the battery will last until the battery is dead.

Calcium-Calcium Battery

One of the usual problems of wet batteries is the loss of fluids in the battery, which leads to self-discharge over time. A Calcium-Calcium battery reduces fluid loss and has a calcium alloy on the different charged plates. There is one problem with this battery though — there’s the possibility of damaging the battery if it is overcharged. To effectively mix the different densities of the acid in the battery, the bubbles moving in the fluid are important. This type of battery is not too expensive either–you can get one for under 100 dollars.

Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) Battery

A VRLA battery has pressurized valves that will contain the gas in the battery. In doing so, it will mix and form water, which will stop fluid loss in the battery. A GEL battery makes the acid more solid and gel-life. It’s a really good battery, but not the best in terms of helping the starter of your car. It is cheaper compared to the other type of VRLA battery. AGM (which stands for Absorbed Glass Matt) has thin matts which lowers internal resistance. This is great for starting your car because it generates lots of electricity even if it has a small volume. The price for this type of battery is from $50 – $300 depending on the brand you want to buy.

Deep Cycle Battery

This type of battery is the winner when it comes to longevity. You can find them on golf cars, small boats, and even electric cars. These are also used for storing renewable energy coming from sunlight and from the wind. It has thick plates inside the battery that helps boost its capacity charge. The problem, however, is that the discharge rate of this type of battery is pretty high. That’s why they are not used all that much for cars. If you store your car in your garage without driving it for a long time, the battery will not charge sufficiently, and you may find that it discharged or it is dead. In those cases, you will need a portable jump starter. Besides, this type of battery is expensive! They usually start at $200.

Lithium Ion Battery.

This is a very expensive battery and it is being used mainly by sports cars with high performance. It is also perfect for electric cars because it is much lighter compared to the other batteries. But it can help increase the fuel efficiency of a car. But if you don’t want to spend at least $1,000 for your car battery, stay away from this.

Best car batteries

In the United States, most car batteries after market are manufactured by Johnson Controls, Exide, and East Penn. Of these three manufacturers, Johnson Controls make about half of all the batteries sold in the US. But the batteries that these three companies make are being sold under different brands. Different retail outlets may carry different brands, but the manufacturer could be the same.

With that said, here are a few of the car battery brands and the retailers that carry them:

  • Autocraft: Sold at various Advance Auto Parts.
  • Bosch: Available at Pep Boys
  • Die Hard: Available at Sears and Kmart Car Section
  • Duralast: Available at AutoZone
  • EverStart: Available at Walmart
  • Interstate: Available online and at different auto store and repair shops.
  • NAPA: Available at NAPA auto parts stores.
  • Nascar Select: Also available at NAPA auto parts stores.

How to Find the Right Battery for Your Car

When you buy a battery for you car, you need to be sure that it fits and that the specifications of the battery match the car’s electronic system. Otherwise, you will cause serious damage.

Consult your owner’s manual.

Do check the owner’s manual of your car. The technical specifications needed for a car battery will be there. Some auto parts stores will know what kind of battery your car needs, but it is better to go there armed with this knowledge.

Use an online Battery Finder.

If you’re not quite sure the size of battery that you need, use an online service like the Walmart Battery Finder. You can definitely buy from them, but if you don’t want to, you can always look at the specifications of the battery, the battery model it recommended and use that information when you buy a battery elsewhere.

How much is a car battery

If you are in the market for a new car battery, be prepared to pay for around $100 to $400. You can get some under $100, but if you want peace of mind and not worry if your battery can start your car tomorrow, better spend extra now, than if you meet an emergency down the road. If you have a larger vehicle, or a muscle car, definitely prepare to spend a little bit more. Do a little research so you can include the installation fees and recycling costs in your budget.

How long does a car battery last

More than a decade ago, you can only have your battery replaced for free within three months of buying it. You can have a pro-rated warranty for as much as 50 months. These days, however, it is normal to see battery brands offering free replacement within 36 months and prorated warranties are even longer.

Car batteries generally last from 3-5 years. And even with this battery life span, it would still be a good idea to look for the battery brand that offers the longest free replacement period. If you see the warranty code 24/84, it simply means that you can get your battery replaced for free within 24 months, and the 84 refers to the number of prorated months. Although the amount that you will be reimbursed will be pretty low.

If, however, a battery offers 96 months of prorated warranty, then after 4 years, you will get half the price of the battery if it failed. Good deal, right?

Make sure to care for your batteries, however, because you can void the warranty with incorrect installation and low water levels. Even installing high-end audio system in your car may void the warranty.

How to Remove and Replace Car Battery

It’s easy to remove and replace a car battery. Here’s a video that can help you do just that.

How to dispose dead battery properly

A dead battery contains toxic chemicals, that’s why you just can’t bring it to your dumpster. It is harmful to the environment and if you leave it just anywhere, it may pose danger to other people. Here are several ways to dispose the dead car battery properly.

Recycle.

Look online for the nearest battery recycling center. You may also consider participating in AAA’s Great Battery Roundup program, which is generally held once a year near or around the Earth Day. Call the nearest AAA office to get more details.

Bring the Battery with you when you buy a new one.

This is good for the environment, and at the same time, you can save some money. Manufacturers and retailers may refurbish your battery and resell it. Or they may also just send them back to the manufacturer for proper disposal. The battery manufacturer Exide has a recycling program, which you can read about here: http://www.exide.com/en/sustainability/recycling-centers-sustainability.aspx.

Throw it away.

Before doing this, call your city or town’s sanitation department. There should be a designated disposal area for hazardous or toxic materials such as batteries. But please DO NOT just throw it away. You may be penalized by doing so.

 

The car battery is one of the most important components of your car. It will last for a long, long time, depending on how you care for the car and the battery. But if your battery discharges, or dies, you can use jump starters as a temporary measure. But you will need to replace it to ensure that your car will start without any problems even during the winter.

 

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