How Long Should a Car Battery Last?

A battery is a common but essential component of any car’s electrical system, yet most people don’t know the answer to the question: How long should a car battery last? While today’s modern vehicles have come a long way in technology, when it comes to the battery under the hood most cars and trucks still use a common lead-acid battery. So, while the short answer to the question of battery life is, on average, about five years, there are other factors that come into play. A car battery life is mostly affected by its surrounding climatic conditions, including temperature.

Most importantly, the “five years” answer to the question of how long should a car battery last is just an average. So, this doesn’t necessarily mean that right at the five-year mark of a battery’s life it will suddenly stop working. Nor does it mean that a battery can’t fail before five years, or won’t last well beyond five years.

Automotive experts have varying ranges of a vehicle’s battery life. Some will give a range of four to six years, while others might say six to eight years. The key thing to remember regarding battery life is that, while a battery can (and does) fail suddenly, it has typically been losing power over time leading up to its eventual failure. Most vehicle batteries will not have the same power after five or six years that they did when they were first manufactured.

The biggest mistake most car owners make about their battery is simple neglect. This is why most people don’t even think about their vehicle’s battery until they’re stranded on the side of the road, or can’t start their car on a cold morning. Many people might think that their battery life is infinite, or if they have a vehicle under ten years old they shouldn’t have to worry about their battery. So, the answer to the original question of how long should a car battery last is certainly NOT “forever,” or “as long as I own my car,” or even “at least ten years.”

Environmental conditions also play a role in your battery life. Extreme humidity or dryness, heat, cold will all have adverse effects on the life of a car battery. Someone living near Death Valley California should be more proactive about checking their car battery more than someone in Texas. Both places can be hot, but one is more extreme.

Also, batteries tend to last longer in cooler climates than those that are warmer or more humid. So, someone living in Michigan might see a longer battery life than someone in Georgia or Florida. Yet, even Michigan won’t get as cold as North Dakota or Alaska. The best rule is to consider your climate: The more extreme, the more often the car battery should be checked.

Battery testers: The Proper Way To Use Them

car battery tester multimeterA battery load tester is an electronic device built for the sole purpose of determining the state of an electric battery. The testers answer a variety of questions that many users would like to know such as whether the battery is fully charged, has any deterioration in the battery’s performance occurred since its purchase, whether all the terminals on the battery are functional, whether the battery is affected by interference or electrical noise and the quantity of charge present in the battery at a given time.

Although the answers to these questions are not always straight forward, a battery tester enables us to get a better picture of the state of our batteries than we would using other devices.

To determine how much charge is left in your car battery you’ll need a voltmeter or a multimeter battery load tester. For this article purpose we’ll use the example of a multimeter. You can choose between a digital or an analog battery tester. A digital battery tester is more preferred since it is more accurate. With these device you won’t be required to figure out where the needle is sitting on to determine the voltage.

Once obtained, start by turning the car ignition off. Ensure the vehicle lights are also off. Hold the battery tester probes in each hand and connect the positive test probe to the positive terminal of the battery. The battery’s positive terminal will be indicated with a plus sign. The cable that links up to this terminal is almost always red. Afterwards, connect the negative test probe to the negative terminal of the battery. The negative battery terminal will be indicated with a negative sign. Be very careful not to mix up the probes as you might end up frying your battery load tester.

Take the reading and compare. A voltage reading of 12.66 indicates a full charge. 12.45 indicates a charge is three quarters full, 12.24 represent a half full battery. Any reading of 11.89 voltage or less indicates an empty or a faulty battery.

Here are a few important guidelines to remember when you use a battery tester

– Ensure the tester and battery terminals are clean. It’s essential the terminals are clean to produce a meaningful result. Dirt or any other substances such as corrosion might inhibit the flow of charge leading to a false reading.

– Check for possible external damage. A broken or lose terminal can be dangerous and cause a short circuit. If there is a bulge in the battery it’s usually a sign the battery has been overcharged. This can be dangerous as sulfuric acid from the battery can leak and cause you harm as you go about the testing process.

– Allow the battery load tester probes to cool down for two to three minutes especially if you’re testing multiple batteries. The tester probes tend to become hot when in use due to the charge flowing through them and the heat from the environment of the car.

– Never hold the tester probes for more than fifteen seconds when performing a test on your battery. In most cases this will cause irreparable damage to your multimeter or any other tester that you’re currently using.

If you’re not sure about something check out more posts on this blog or consult your battery tester manual. They usually come with detailed instructions on how best to conduct tests using them.

If you are anything like, me your car is your unsung best friend. It goes everywhere with you, has hosted some of your best memories, hangs out with you even when you don’t treat it well and embarrasses you occasionally. Chances are those embarrassing moments are fallouts of heartbreaks you caused knowingly or otherwise. And the battery is the closest thing to a heart that your car has With your car battery tester handy, you can maintain a healthy heartbeat all year round and enjoy the best of adventures.

Winter

This is without a doubt the loneliest season for your car. At the very best, it spends the nights in the cold garage after a day of intense cardio, powering fog and glare lights, rear window heaters and windshield wipers. These are your battery’s most vulnerable moments. You spend those extra minutes waiting for a late buddy in your car, with systems running on an idle engine. You are also more likely to leave doors and trunks half-closed as you rush to escape the cold.

The higher load increases the tendency for your battery to discharge. Turning the cold chemicals in your battery on takes more cajoling than usual. Considering this, your car battery tester should work more often in winter than any other season, advisably every two weeks. Also, to avoid running the car on idle for heating, raise the temperature for a few minutes and shut off the power totally.

If you plan a full car hibernation, you would find good use for a battery tender, which keeps your idle battery with enough charge to get it through the lonely winter. The cold also increases the potential for cracks in the battery’s internal components. Frequent charge tests would reveal any hidden problems.

Spring

With spring comes the thawing of condensed and frozen water from winter, increasing the likelihood of corrosion at the battery contacts. Ice between connections may also have caused ring-type contacts to expand, causing potential loss of contact in transition. For some car models, light sensors may also have piled on so much smog that your lights stay on when they shouldn’t. Just put a little battery love into your spring cleaning routine, applying some dielectric to contacts, cleaning open sensors and vacuuming interiors to minimize humidity and the need for air-conditioning.

Summer

With the warmth of summer comes sweatier hangouts and the increased evaporation of fluids from your car battery. In addition to getting your battery tester busy, ensure to have your electrolytes checked at least halfway through summer. Running your sound system at full blast could also combine with the higher cooling load to strain your battery when the alternator’s capacity is exceeded. To manage this, alternate periods of peak and non-peak use effectively.

Autumn

And before you know it, fall is back around. Make the most of this period to prepare for the cold winter. With the heat of summer may have come the dislodgement of internal sensors that throw crazy signals through your electrical system. Ensure you get those checked out if your dashboard indicates them or you notice anything unusual. In addition, if your battery is already past the AA-recommended average car battery life of 3.5 years, this would be a good time to consider a replacement.

To be safe, most vehicle batteries should begin being checked when the battery is three years old. Car batteries have a manufactures stamp on them to show when they were made, so regardless if the vehicle is purchased new or used it’s the age of the battery itself that needs to be considered.

Simply adding a vehicle’s battery to a routine maintenance checklist can go a long way toward knowing when a battery is starting to fail. Having a car battery checked while having the oil changed, or other routine vehicle service performed, is a good rule of thumb to protect against sudden battery failure.

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