Your car relies on your battery to help start the engine and to power all electrical components as you drive happily down the road, singing to your favorite song. Though your happiness can be quelled when your car won’t start due to a dead battery. Often a dead battery catches us off guard, with no warning. While you can’t prevent your battery from losing its charge naturally, there are ways to get more time out of your battery. Don’t be stranded with a dead battery! Follow our tips on how to identify signs of a bad battery and what causes a battery to die.
What Are the Signs of a Bad Car Battery?
While it would be nice if our car could tell us, “hey, I think my battery is dying. Can you help me out?” Cars aren’t quite that sophisticated–yet. Here’s hoping for the future though, right? While your car may not tell you outright that the battery’s charge is low, there are signs that indicate the battery is struggling to do its part. The most common signs of a dying battery include:
- Clicking sound when turning the key or when pushing start button
- Slow crank
- Dim headlights
- Swollen battery case
- Check engine or battery light on dashboard illuminated
- Difficulty using electrical components
- Wet areas on or around the battery
- Corrosion on and around the battery posts
What Causes a Car Battery to Die?
There are several culprits that can be blamed for causing a battery to die. However, the cause of most battery failures is due to user error, electrical system malfunction, or poor battery performance. A battery that continues to give you trouble is most often caused by:
- Corroded or poor battery connections – The charging system is unable to continue providing power, while driving, through corroded or loose connections.
- Lights left on – While some headlights are programmed to go off after 30 to 60 seconds, if the system has malfunctioned, the lights may not turn off. Headlights and interior lights left on can drain the battery.
- Failed charging system – A battery that dies while the vehicle is moving can likely be blamed on the charging system. The alternator is struggling to help send enough power to the battery, thus causing the car to stop. Loose or stretched belts and tensioners are common reasons why the alternator has quit doing its part.
- Weak battery – A battery that is already struggling to maintain a charge is likely to die. Even minor draws of electricity such as the clock, which continues to run even as the engine is off, can kill the battery.
- Severe temperatures – Extremely hot or cold temperatures can negatively affect your battery. While severe temperatures won’t kill a good battery, they can reduce the charge and cause them to weaken over time. Extreme temperatures are no match for a weak battery and cause them to fail.
- Parasitic drain– Continuous power is drawn after the engine has shut down, usually the result of a short circuit or an electrical device left on such as the trunk light, glove compartment light, or a computer module.
Preventing a Dead Battery
Car battery maintenance is your best defense when it comes to preventing your battery from an untimely failure. Here’s how to get a few more miles out of your battery:
- Keep the area clean by ensuring the area is clear of any dirt or debris. Wipe down the top of the battery and clean corroded battery cables including terminals and connections with a steel brush.
- Avoid using any electrical components when the engine is not running, such as the radio, etc. Before walking away from your car, confirm all lights are off or have shut off automatically.
- Ensure your battery is clamped down and unable to move. Any kind of unnecessary vibrations or movement can jar the battery. This is especially dangerous if you are in an accident, have a sudden stop, or hit a large bump. The jostling could cause the battery to short out and potentially start a fire.
- Keep your battery warm in the winter and cool in the summer. No matter the season, if you’re able, park your car in the garage to help protect the battery from the elements. During the winter when temperatures drop below 32 degrees, consider using a battery blanket to keep the battery from losing too much charge. In addition to the heat brought on from a hot day, you can protect your battery from the heat of the engine by using an insulator as the water in a battery can evaporate. Extreme heat only increases the evaporation.
- Lead-acid batteries lose about 1% of charge every day; though that number increases as temperatures rise over 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t plan to use your vehicle for over a week’s time, utilize a battery tender to help keep your battery charged while not in use.
- Avoid multiple short trips. As you drive the battery is continuously recharged. However, when you only drive for short periods of time, your battery does not receive enough power to be recharged. By continuing this pattern, after a while your battery’s voltage will be so depleted, it will be unable to start the car. Cars like to be driven. Consider grouping all your errands into one trip to allow your car to naturally charge the battery or use a battery charger to help maintain the battery’s voltage. Additionally, the alternator is designed to maintain the battery voltage–not charge a dead battery. The alternator could be damaged if it is frequently charging at a high rate.
How to Charge a Car Battery
The life expectancy of lead-acid batteries is reduced when left fully or partially discharged. A fully charged battery should register at 12.7 volts or more. If the voltage falls below this number, the battery should be recharged. A battery is only charged by one quarter at just 12 volts. Once it drops to 11.9 volts, your battery is considered dead. Keep in mind that most modern vehicles demand more power than ever because of all the power needed to operate electronics.
To charge your battery using a battery charger, follow the directions below. Note: Keep as much distance as possible between the battery and the charger. To prevent a current from flowing before necessary, be sure the charger is not plugged into the wall and is in the “off” position until step 3.
- Locate your vehicle’s battery and identify the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals.
- Attach the red clamp to the battery’s positive terminal and the black clamp to the negative terminal, making sure there is a good connection.
- Plug the charger in and turn it on. Some chargers will automatically turn off once the battery is charged and others may indicate via a gauge when the battery is charged. For best results, read the instructions that come with the charger.