We’ve all been there at least once in our lives. After a long day you go to turn the key in your old car and nothing happens. That’s right, nothing! Nothing at all. You have a dead battery and you’re stuck. It may be too late to wonder but you’re probably asking yourself, how long does a battery last anyways? Well the answer is not quite as cut and dry as it seems. There are actually a variety of factors that go into how long a battery will last in your particular car and not all batteries are built the same.
This article will cover everything about batteries and then some:
- How long does a battery last?
- What does a battery do in your vehicle?
- Why does a battery fail?
- What are the symptoms of a dying battery?
- What else can cause my car not to start?
- How do you extend battery life?
- What about battery warranties?
- How do I fix a dead battery?
- How much do batteries cost?
How long does a battery last?
The one constant when thinking about batteries in a vehicle is that they always have a finite life. That is to say they will die eventually and they will not last forever. Besides this fact, it is simply not easy to determine how long a battery will last exactly but experts say that a good, quality battery will last anywhere from 3 to 5 years.
Yes, that is a huge range but a battery is really a victim of its maintenance and its location. We will get into these specifics here shortly but rest assured, it all makes a huge difference.
First let's talk about what a battery does in your ride.
What does a battery do in your vehicle?
A battery is a device that uses a basic chemical reaction to supply electricity. In a vehicle this electricity is required to operate an electric starter motor that initiates the combustion cycle on an internal combustion engine. Typically vehicle batteries are lead-acid reaction based, rechargeable and fall into a category known as SLI or starting, lighting and ignition. It provides short bursts of electricity to your vehicle's electrical accessories, lights and the aforementioned starter.
The battery is also a crucial part of your vehicle's electrical system and is actually recharged by your vehicle's engine during driving by the engine driven alternator. Basically, your battery and electrical system are part of a simple electrical generator system. The battery is crucial for non-running amps, while the alternator is responsible for running or activated amps. If your alternator fails, it will no longer charge your battery and your vehicle will eventually die due to lack of electrical charge. Both parts need to be looked at if your vehicle no longer starts or cranks.
Why Does A Battery Fail?
First, let’s do a quick run through on how a battery works. Strap in for a second here because we need to talk chemistry because, well, a battery is literally a captured chemical reaction.
- A car battery typically has 6 cells
- Each cell has a lead plate and a lead dioxide plate and is submerged in sulfuric acid
- The acid is a catalyst and it causes a reaction that produces electrons
- These electrons bounce back forth off the plates and are captured in the terminal of the battery as electricity
- Boom! Electrical current!
A battery fails when the plates within the cells are no longer able to sustain a charge. Plates eventually begin to flake and lose usable surface area due to the normal contraction and expansion of the discharge/recharge cycle. The plates also develop a brown “sludge” and this sludge can actually short out a plate, which will then lead to immediate failure. Thus, the death of the battery. The failure can also come from eventual decline in plate capacity without a sudden short.
How do you know a battery is dying?
There are some fairly obvious ways to know if a battery is failing and then there are some not so obvious things that you may overlook if you are not familiar with how cars operate. The most obvious sign that your battery has failed is that your car will no longer start when you turn the key or push the button to start up the car. You may also notice that your interior electronics, lights and even your electrically operated accessories may be slow to operate or won't move at all. This is a sure fire sign that the battery is toast.
Prior to a battery completely dying, there are typically a few other signs that the battery is ready to bite the dust. The most common thing is that your car may take longer to turn on while you crank the key. This is because the starter motor is struggling with the limited power offered by your dying battery and will struggle to fire up the motor. You may also notice your lights flicker or that your interior electrics are slow to operate or in some cases don’t operate at all.
You can also check your batteries charge with a multimeter to ensure the battery is maintaining its charge both while on and off. You should be pulling somewhere 12.6 volts or above at rest and anywhere from 13.7 to 14.7 volts while the vehicle is running.
Here’s a great YouTube video on how to check your battery's voltage.
What Else Can Cause My Car Not To Start?
There are many reasons why your trusty car suddenly may not want to start that have little to do with the battery. We’ll cover the top reasons here but remember, these are not the only reasons.
- Battery corrosion. Part of the maintenance of a battery is ensuring that battery is free from corrosion as too much corrosion can cause a car to not start. For more info on cleaning the batteries, look below.
- Bad starter motor. The symptoms of a bad starter are very similar to the battery. Check battery voltage first and then move on to the starter.
- Dead alternator. If your alternator is dead, it will not longer charge your battery and your car will eventually not start. After a jump, it may run for a while but it will die again shortly after.
- Bad timing belt. If your timing belt is broken or too loose, it will not be able to complete its job of running your engine components (like the alternator, fuel pump, etc.)
- Clogged Fuel Filter. If your fuel filter is clogged with debris, your car will not be able to start due to a lack of fuel flowing to your motor.
How Do You Extend Battery Life?
Maintaining your battery is essential, especially if you live in a warmer climate. No matter how you cut it, living in a warm climate will spell doom for your battery sooner than people who live in a cool climate. Warmer weather causes the fluid in batteries to evaporate quickly and once fluid loss occurs, plate degradation is promptly sped up.
Under the hood, temperatures already run in the 200 degrees fahrenheit range so adding in a scorching day simply magnifies battery destruction. Engine compartments have gotten progressively smaller over time to accommodate everything from crash protection to advanced electronics. Tighter engine bays mean less airflow, meaning less opportunity for batteries to cool. Yikes!
To maintain your battery, there's some fairly simple things you can do to get the maximum life possible:
- Limit Short Drives. Since batteries are recharged after starting a vehicle, consistent short drives can lead to your battery never really getting fully charged. This may not be practical based on your living situation but understand that your battery life, overall, will be shorter if you consistently do short drives.
- Use a battery maintainer. These cheap pieces of kit hook up your battery to your household out and help maintain a complete charge. These are very common for people who own ATV’s, boats, etc. due to their infrequent use.
- Don’t run electronics without the engine on. If you consistently sit with the engine off and your electronics on (radio for example) you run the risk of shortening battery life.
- Keep your battery tightly fastened. If you don’t lash down your battery after replacement or check the straps during the course of ownership, the battery will vibrate in place. This vibration can damage the batteries internal components and shorten its life.
- Keep the battery clean. Dirt and grime on your battery can actually transmit electricity across the surface of your battery which can lead to eventual discharge. Also, be sure to clean the terminals regularly with a combination of baking soda and water.
- Minimize heat. Again, this may not be possible based on your living conditions but also be sure to minimize the heat on your car as much as possible. This could mean something as simple as putting up a shade cover or building a carport for your car to get out of the sun.
What about battery warranties?
New batteries typically come with a warranty that is made to cover you in case of failure. Within this warranty, there are 2 separate components:
- Full Replacement
- Prorated Replacement
As a general rule of thumb, the longer the full replacement part of the warranty is, the more expensive the battery will be. Once the battery falls outside of this initial window of replacement, manufacturers will honor the warranty on a prorated basis and partially cover the cost of replacement depending on how old it is. For example, if you have an 84 month prorated warranty, you’re going to get less money back if it dies in month 83 vs month 36.
In general, it’s good to get the battery with the longest full replacement period that you can comfortably afford. It’s simply one less thing to worry about.
How do I fix a dead battery?
The most common way to fix a dead battery is to “jump” the car by using a common tool called a jumper cable. A jumper cable transmits electricity to your car from another “host” car through a pair of wires that are directly attached to the terminals on both batteries. This essentially provides the jolt of electricity that is usually provided by your battery to start. Typically, if your battery is dead due to your error (like leaving your lights on) then the car will take over once running and charge the battery back up. However, if your battery is already on the fritz due to age or other issues, then the jump won't do much more then get you to your next destination and it will most likely die again.
Your next step is replacement, which is something that isn’t too hard to accomplish if you have a few hand tools and some know how.
The process is fairly basic but to avoid getting into such granular detail, take a look at this video on how to replace your battery.
How Much Do Batteries Cost?
Batteries range in price depending on the type of vehicle you own and the type of warranty that comes with the battery. Industry experts from companies like Advanced Auto Parts and O’Reilly say that batteries range from $100 on up to about $300. A smaller battery would be in something small like a Honda Fit, while a larger more expensive battery may be in a luxury car or large truck with a V8 engine. As with many car related things, frankly, it just depends.
What about selling to Cash Cars Buyer?
If your car won’t start for what seems like the 50th time this month or your car has died on you in the middle of a busy day, it may be time to get rid of your broken or junk car and sell it to Cash Cars Buyer. You may replace your battery, at great expense to you, only to realize that it's not a battery at all. Diagnostic testing is expensive and a seemingly simple repair can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Get the cash you need today and get a fair, fast estimate for your car by visiting Cash Cars Buyer today.