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Update: We updated this article in April 2020 to include an extra tip for extending the life of your car battery.
If you live in a cold climate, and even if you do not, you have probably experienced that moment when you try to start your car, and it turns over a few times before dying. You try it again, and it starts. You breathe a sigh of relief, but you also start to wonder how long, exactly, do car batteries last.
If the battery is getting low, then it is only a matter of time before it dies completely and you are left stranded.
Car batteries have a shelf life, and there is nothing that you can do to make them last forever. There are things which you can do, however, to help your car battery last for as long as possible.
I never want to be in the situation where my car does not start, so I set out on a mission to find out as much about car batteries as I could (just in case, I always keep a set of jumper cables in my car). Here is what I found.
How Long Can A Car Battery Last?
Most car experts will tell you that, on average, a normal car battery will last between 3 and 5 years. This average lifespan can be exceeded if you take care of your battery and use it in the right conditions.
So, what are the right conditions?
Well, temperature and humidity can affect the life of your battery, so if you live in a very cold, very hot, or very humid climate, then expect your battery to be on the lower end of the lifespan spectrum.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot that you can do to make your battery last as long as possible.
Read on to find out how.
How To Extend The Life Of Your Car Battery?
Thankfully, there are a few ways to extend the life of your battery. Let’s take a look.
1. Charge and Maintain Your Battery
If you want your car battery to last for a long time, then regular charging will increase its longevity. The alternator in your car, contrary to popular belief, is not there to fully charge a dead battery. Instead, it is there to maintain a healthy battery.
If you only use your car every so often, the battery can drain. The same will happen if you leave your car sitting outside without driving it (or if you leave it sitting inside, too). It is important to maintain your battery if this is the case.
If you leave your car sitting idle for prolonged periods, a trickle charger (or a charger with trickle charge option) will be your best friend. They are designed to charge your car battery over a long period without overcharging or damaging your battery.
Always remember to choose a charger that delivers the desired voltage and current, as recommended by your battery manufacturer. Not all batteries charge in the same way, however, by opting for a higher-end charger, you’ll be able to charge and maintain the vast majority of battery types.
By paying a little more for a high-end charger, you won’t need to worry about what kind of battery is in your car (flooded, AGM, gel cell, etc.). A quality charger will be able to handle just about any battery type.
2. Limit The Depth Of Battery Discharge
Okay, the title does not do much for you unless you are technically minded.
Each time you use an electronic device in your car, such as your stereo, the AC, wipers, etc., you are consuming some battery power. The more electronics that you are using, the quicker the battery will drain. And, the more power you draw from your battery at any one time, the more you will deplete its life cycle.
With many car batteries, discharging the battery too much before recharging can dramatically reduce the life cycle of your battery.
If you discharge only a little of the battery before recharging, it will give you more life cycles, and discharging too much will give you fewer. Typical lead batters have around 300-700 cycles while gel batteries can have up to 5,000 cycles (gel batteries may cost more, but paying a little more for a durable product always saves you money in the long run).
The key is to only use a few electronics at a time, or to forgo using them completely while the car is not running.
It can be tempting to sit in your car on a warm day with the radio on while you are waiting for someone or the air-conditioning running. While turning off your engine when you are stopped for a while is a good practice, I would recommend cracking a window for air circulation and listening to the noises of the outside world.
3. Avoid Short Trips
The way that you drive can also affect the lifespan of your battery. Doing a lot of shorter trips as opposed to long ones can drain your battery quicker. When you start your vehicle, you are using a lot of the electrical power from your battery, and that then needs to be replenished during your trip.
If you are driving short trips a lot, then your battery does not have enough time to recharge back to full.
This gives you fewer battery cycles and shorter battery life. With enough short trips, this can reduce your battery life by a year or two.
Think about walking when you are doing errands if the destination is close enough or combine lots of small trips into one big one. The less you use your car, the better it is for the environment anyway.
4. Avoid Excessive Heat Or Cold
We all know the feeling of trying to start a car on a very cold day. Cold can take its toll on car batteries, and the result can leave you stranded. But, did you know that excessive heat can take a bigger toll?
Heat can significantly decrease the lifespan of your car battery.
Extremely hot weather can cause the liquid on the inside of your battery to evaporate, along with causing internal damage to the battery itself.
It does not matter if your car is parked or running, the heat can affect it all the same. If you do live in a hot country, it is recommended that you have your battery tested two years after purchasing, and every two years after that.
This compares to four years after purchase for those who live in colder climates, and every year after that.
If we could keep our batteries at a consistent temperature, then we could prolong the life of our battery. That, however, is not always possible.
The ideal temperature range for prolonging the life of your battery is 65-90 Fahrenheit (18-32 Celsius).
Both high and low temperatures can decrease the life of your battery.
I would recommend storing your vehicle in a garage whenever you can. Keeping your car battery at the optimum temperature will help to extend the life of your battery.
5. Install a Terminal Protection Kit
Terminal protection kits are only a few dollars. They are basically felt pads with some grease, and they sit on the battery terminals. The dielectric grease helps to protect the terminals from moisture, and will also prevent corrosion. There really is no cheaper method to keeping a strong contact between your battery and cables. Remember to clean the terminals before installation.
Newer Cars Put More Strain On Batteries
Newer cars come with all kinds of measures to improve the efficiency of your car, but that also comes at a cost. New cars are more efficient than old ones, but they also consume more energy when it comes to on-board computers and electronics.
Many systems are even operating when the car is parked and turned off.
Your battery can be slowly depleted by the small charge that is being used. If your car is sitting unused for a long time, that small charge can soon add up.
The best way to protect your battery is to take your car out for a short drive every so often if it is sitting unused for a long period of time. You only need to drive it a couple of times around the block to partially recharge the battery. Do this every week or two and your battery will be fine.
You should also be careful with cars that automatically switch off when you are stopped, and switch back on when you start moving again. The start/stop system can take extra toll on the battery, and you often need a special (AGM) battery.
How To Inspect Your Battery?
It can be easy to spot potential problems just by looking at your battery. Pop the hood open every so often and inspect the battery visually. You are looking for any signs of corrosion or any other potential problems.
You should also be performing regular maintenance on your car, so your mechanic can inspect the battery too. While they are doing that, they can also check the electrical systems and anything else which can affect the performance of the battery.
When To Change Your Battery?
It is important to replace your car battery before it dies, and the best way to do this is to swap it out when it gets low. So, how do you know when it is time to change your battery?
- If it has been four years since you replaced your battery, then it is a good idea to have the power level checked to see where it is at. You may not notice that your battery is acting differently, but it could fail at any time when low.
- If you notice that your lights are not as bright as they used to be, then that is also a sign that the battery is not holding as much power as it used to.
- The classic test is to try starting your car. If it takes longer to start than usual, then the battery is probably to blame. You can also test it by putting the key in the ignition and turning on the power without starting the engine. If your power starts to falter within the first five minutes, then you need a new battery. If your power lasts for more than ten minutes, then you are fine. Make sure not to try for too long, or you risk draining the entire battery.
- If your battery becomes damaged or shorted, it can leak. If ever you have noticed a noxious aroma when you have popped the hood, it may be gas from the battery. Over time, your battery will become more and more damaged, so the sooner that you can have it checked out, the better.
- If there is ever a white, ashy substance on the metal parts of your battery, they you probably have a corrosion issue. The negative and positive terminals are the most likely spots to become corroded, and that can lead to connection issues, and you may not be able to start your vehicle.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Battery?
The cost of a new battery varies, depending on the model of your car, the year of your vehicle, and the type of battery that you want to purchase.
On average, you can expect to pay around $120 for a typical battery, though higher-quality batteries or batteries for luxury vehicles can cost around $200. For installation, you can expect to add $70 to that price, though you can install a battery yourself if you know what you are doing.
Car batteries do not last forever and will need to be replaced at some point, but there are steps you can take to extend the life of your car battery. If you look after your battery, you can safely drive for seven years or more. Take the time to save yourself some money.