One of the most common questions that surrounds under-the-hood culture is about batteries. When should I change the car battery?
How do I know when it’s going bad? Today we’re going to take a look at four reasons that signify a dying battery, and what needs to be done to take care of the problem before you find yourself stranded on the side of the road.
1. The engine revs a bit, but barely turns over
A faulty battery or uncharged one is typically the reason behind a slow start. When you turn the key, if the car revs at a stuttered pace and seems to lag, it probably isn’t getting the juice it needs from the battery.
You can self-diagnose this by jumpstarting the car, and then driving it for a while. After you turn it off and come back hours later, if the same problem persists, you’ve got yourself a battery or alternator problem. If it won’t hold a charge through driving, it’s the battery for sure.
You can repeat this test a few times just to be sure that it isn’t the alternator. It’s best to hope that it’s the battery, however, as this is typically an easier fix.
2. Absolutely no power at all
It doesn’t take a doctor to figure this one out. If you have no power in your vehicle, the battery is dead. We recommend trying the steps we noted in the last point, starting with the jumping of the vehicle. A completely dead battery will struggle even to stay on for a few moments after the jumper cables are removed.
Be sure to do a complete check including the headlights, stereo/clock, and other dashboard features to see if one works and another doesn’t. If everything seems to be consistent as far as working or not, then it is time to change the battery.
3. You have no confidence that it will start, even though it sometimes does
We all know that feeling. We’re getting ready for work in the morning, unable to shed that nagging feeling that the car might not start when we head outside. Yesterday it did, but the day before it didn’t and you had to book an Uber. It sucks – and is usually a result of a faulty battery. When the battery is unable to hold a charge, it can result in inconsistent starts.
We also recommend checking the dash and other energy-using elements, like we talked about above, to make sure something isn’t staying on and draining the battery. Are you remembering to turn off the headlights? How about the dome light inside the vehicle? Things like this kill the battery overnight, and could be a result of you being too baked to remember to shut off the headlights!
4. You’re worried any more cold cranking or jumping is going to hurt the engine
Here is another telltale sign that it is time to change the battery. Think about how many times you’ve started the car recently that required extra effort, like a jump, a cold crank on a cold day, extra revs of the engine, or giving it more gas in order to get it going. All of these things can have a negative impact on the car’s engine. If you find yourself doing this a lot, get a new battery.
A good rule of thumb is that if you’ve jumped your car more than two times this week, and/or have had to jump it two or more times in a week for multiple weeks in a row, it’s time to change the battery.
With all this talk about changing batteries, we might as well talk a bit about how to go about doing so. We recommend asking a mechanic or parts store employee to verify that this is the issue, and also send you in the right direction as far as which battery to choose. You don’t want a battery that is too big, too small, doesn’t have enough juice, etc. At the parts store, they can look up exactly which battery you need for your vehicle and probably can sell you one onsite.
Changing a battery is easy. Detach the connectors, remove the old battery, put the new battery in place, and re-attach. More specific directions are available on the battery, web, and at the parts store. Obviously, make sure the car is turned off before attempting to remove the old battery!
If it is not dead, recharge it with the best battery maintainer is a good solution.
Battery Life 101
Batteries will normally do the trick for a few years, tops, less if you use the vehicle heavily. If you have owned your car for more than three years and have never changed the battery, now is probably a good time to do so, even if you aren’t yet seeing any of the issues that we’ve talked about here. Some batteries can last as long as five years, some will only last a couple years. Don’t buy the cheapest one at the parts store – it is worth the investment to get a better one that will last longer.
If you keep your car running well, and do required maintenance on it, you’ll typically find that the lifespan of a battery will be extended. You need a good alternator, a careful driver, and regular stuff like oil changes and fluid top offs to have a well-running car. A battery is no different.
Car batteries are kind of like predicting what’s going to be on for dinner tonight. You tend to get that itch that something is happening, and it’s best to get the issue taken care by buying a new battery right away. As with many car-related issues, being active and engaged instead of waiting for something to go wrong is going to reward you immensely in the long run, with less maintenance required and a car that runs more smoothly.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please give it a share on social media. Who knows – you might be doing a friend a big favor! Which types of batteries have you found work the best for long life spans? Leave a comment below.