Before car batteries, early motorists would have to hand crank their car. Over the years, the role of the car battery has increased in importance. Now its role is not just to start the car but to provide power to many electronic accessories. A popular question that we get asked is “How long do car batteries last?” So, let’s look at batteries from choosing the right one, how to look after it, how to tell if your battery is dying and how to dispose of it once it needs replacement.
How long do car batteries typically last?
There are many contributing factors to a car battery’s lifespan. The qualities of the battery chosen, the demands put on it by the car and its electrical system, temperature and charging system. In normal conditions, it is not uncommon to get over 3 years of life out of your car battery.
Some of the most common factors that affect car battery life
Temperature is important to the performance and lifespan of a battery. If it gets too hot, the fluids inside of the battery can boil and the internals can get damaged. In extreme cold, the chemical reaction in the battery slows down reducing the cranking power of the battery. Condensation can also build up inside the battery diluting the chemical mix and corroding the internals.
Car batteries are constantly being discharged and rely on having a good charging system to top them up again. If your car’s charging system (alternator or voltage regulator) is not performing as designed, the battery life will be decreased. This can go both ways: if it is undercharging or not working at all, the battery will not get charged back up after providing power; if it is overcharging, the battery can overheat damaging the internals of the battery.
Batteries are a bit like my dad, they like long drives and can’t stand it when someone leaves the lights on. Long drives will charge the battery and leaving lights on drains the battery. Fully discharging a battery causes a chemical reaction in the battery where the sulphate starts to crystallise and remain on the lead plates, reducing the potency of future reactions that are required to generate electricity.
Exposed metals can corrode, reducing the transfer of electricity. The key connection is the battery terminals; it is also worth checking the battery cable and earth.
The chemistry inside of the battery depletes over time and the batteries potency will decrease over time.
How can you tell if your car battery is failing?
Batteries are a serviceable part. What I mean by that is that they have a lifespan and need to be replaced. Here are some tell-tale signs that you battery is nearing the end of its life:
Slow or sluggish engine cranking
When cranking the engine, if you notice a slowdown in the speed to start the engine, this is a good sign to test your battery.
Dim headlights or interior lights
Incandescent lights are less bright at a lower voltage, so if your lights look dim, it may be because your battery voltage is getting low.
Clicking sound when starting the engine
If you try to start your engine and there is a clicking sound, this could be the lack of power going to the starter motor from your battery.
Check engine light or battery light is illuminated
More modern vehicles will have a sensor built in that monitors the health of your battery. This could show in the form of a check engine light, a prompt on the screen, or the battery may have its own light or gauge.
Battery is swollen or bloated
It can be very dangerous when a battery bulges. The most common culprit is overcharging the battery, and it may be from gas building up faster than the battery can vent. Avoid using batteries that are swelling.
Rotten egg smell
Like the battery swelling, if it smells like rotten eggs, it is dangerous, and you should not use that battery as it is not stable. The smell is hydrogen sulphide which is a result of overheating. If this happens, stop using your battery, don’t even charge it, let it cool, and replace it.
If you have any concerns about the performance of your battery, we offer a free test. If the battery is in the car, we can test the alternator and starter motor at the same time. If the battery is out of the car, we are happy to test the battery and recharge it for you.
Tips to extend the life of your car battery?
Here are some simple ways to look after your battery and make it more reliable:
Charge you battery
Nowadays, there are some very clever battery chargers available. Look for a smart charger that suits the chemistry of your battery (lead acid/calcium/gel/AGM/lithium etc.) and charge it from time to time. This will prevent your battery from going flat and most smart chargers will offer a desulphation stage, which can help repair the damaging effects of sulphate crystal build up.
Keep your battery clean and free of corrosion
Prevention is the key here. We like to use the Nulon Pro-Strength Battery Terminal Protector, which will form a waterproof seal over the terminals. This prevents corrosion build up and provides a consistent connection to the battery.
If corrosion has built up, there are battery post cleaning tools available. We recommend cleaning the terminals and then coating them with a protection product as mentioned above.
Keep your battery tightly secured
A loosely fitted battery subjects it to excessive vibration, which will reduce its life. There is also the risk of it becoming dislodged and the terminal connections coming loose. Fit it securely to avoid these issues.
Turn off all accessories when you’re not using them
Be mindful that when the engine is off, your battery is not being charged, and accessories will drain your battery. If this is a common occurence, it may be worth considering a dual battery and solar set-up which we sell and install at Auto One Browns Plains.
Test your battery regularly
We test batteries for free. As do many other shops and mechanics. The moment that you are concerned about your battery or it shows signs mentioned in this blog, there are few reasons not to get it checked. If you test the battery and it is low, charge it; you may just extend its life! Worst case, you discover a dying battery and replace it before you get stranded with a dead battery.
Choosing a long-lasting battery for your vehicle
Choosing your battery is another element that affects the lifespan and how you handle the moment when the battery does die. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
There are recommended battery sizes for your car. Your owner’s manual should state the battery size. You can also find recommendations from each battery manufacturer. At Auto One, we use a parts look-up system that comes up with a list of options. Choosing the wrong size for your car can void the battery warranty, so it is worth checking.
Cold cranking amps (CCA)
CCA is the power rating of your battery. It is a measure of the battery’s cranking ability for a period of 30 seconds at a cold temperature. This is a good way to see the relevant power for starting a car. Different cars will require different amounts of power.
Reserve capacity (RC)
RC is a measure of time that the battery can sustain a 25-amp draw until it hits 10.5 volts. Look at this rating if you plan to run accessories when the car’s engine is not running.
Most starting batteries will be a lead-acid batteries with a calcium additive. In recent years, fully sealed batteries have become more popular. Prior to that, cars would have accessible batteries, meaning that you could top up the fluids in them. It appears that battery manufacturers can achieve their warranty claims without the need to access and service the battery.
You can also get Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) and lithium batteries, which are increasing in popularity. Most sales of these batteries will be for secondary deep cycle batteries; however, you can also get starting batteries with this chemistry. They typically cost more but offer other benefits, such as the ability to deep cycle and handle vibration for AGM and the weight and discharge capacity for lithium.
There are plenty of different brands available with different offers.This will all depend on what you are after in a battery. At the time of writing, we carry at least four different brands of batteries in stock with different power levels, prices and warranties available.
In the automotive aftermarket, battery manufacturers typically offer the longest warranties. Make sure you choose the correct battery for the vehicle as the wrong selection may void a warranty. Other things to look for are outlets for those batteries, so that if you need to claim a warranty, you can find an outlet that is an authorised dealer of that brand.
It is important to test a battery regularly to avoid getting stuck. I would recommend getting a battery test before the end of the warranty period also.
How to dispose of a car battery safely?
Did you know over 95% of a lead-acid car battery can be recycled? We have relationships with battery recyclers who take the old batteries to get recycled. Simply leave them with us, and we will organise for them to be recycled.
At Auto One Browns Plains, we have a massive range of batteries to suit all 4×4’s and budgets. We have a friendly team that can assist with your choice and a fitment service if you would like us to fit the battery. Call us on (07) 3802 8911 or visit us in store today.