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Everything to Know About Car Batteries

It’s not necessarily a glamorous topic, but car batteries are important to understand because they quite literally keep your vehicle running.

Having an understanding of car batteries can help you avoid finding yourself in a difficult situation.

The following are some of the crucial things to keep in mind, from how a car battery generally works, to how to clean your car battery.

The Basics

Car batteries tend to last for years, but we often find that when they do decide to die, it’s at the worst times.

There are around 100 million batteries replaced in the U.S. each year, and it’s a critical component of your car that keeps it running every time you turn it on.

Your car battery has cells, which have the energy required to start and then run your car. Each time you turn your key, there’s a chemical reaction occurring inside the battery. The chemical energy is converted to electrical energy, which then goes to the start, powering your car.

Power to run your car is measured in voltage. A battery is considered fully charged if it holds 12.6 volts or higher.

When your battery drops to 12.2, it’s considered only 50% charged.  If it’s below 12 volts, then your battery is dead and it’s time to replace it. Along with giving your vehicle the energy it needs to start, a battery also keeps the voltage stable so your engine runs the way it should.

Types of Car Batteries

There are a few types of batteries. Of those, lead-acid batteries are most common.

Lead-acid batteries use a lead-acid reaction.

Lithium-ion batteries are efficient and hold a static charge for a long time, but as a result they’re costly.

NiMh batteries charge quickly but they have a faster discharge rate if a car is idle. You’ll often see a NiMh battery used in hybrid vehicles.

Should You Clean Your Battery?

If your car is having trouble starting, before you buy a new battery, you might first try to clean it. One of the most common battery issues is corrosion, which can be fixed by cleaning it.

Corrosion is a bad conductor of electricity. As it accumulates, it can weaken the battery connection and cause problems in its ability to charge or start your car.

Before you clean a battery, you should disconnect it and make sure there’s no major damage. Then, you can scrub it with a combination of baking soda and hot water and rinse and dry it.

From there, you should reinstall the battery. If you do a full corrosion cleaning and your vehicle still has a hard time you may need a new one.

Signs You Need a Replacement

Before you find yourself in a tough spot with a battery that’s no longer working, it’s good to know the red flags that you need a replacement. Then you can potentially avoid the situation altogether.

One of the most prominent signs of an issue with your battery requiring a replacement is if you have a sluggish or slow engine crank.

The check engine light can be another indicator. Sometimes, the light appears if you have weak battery power.

Anytime you have a light come on and you’re not sure why think about the potential it could be related to your battery.

Having a low battery fluid level can be a sign you need a replacement too.

You can check to see how fast your windshield wipers operate, which will give you some indicators about how your battery is doing.

You should regularly test your battery, but especially before you’re going on a road trip.

AAA reports batteries will usually last anywhere from three to five years. They tend to last longest in the northernmost areas of the U.S. and the shortest amount of time in its southern regions.

If you live in a warmer climate, you should be especially mindful of the condition of your battery. There should be a sticker on the top or side of your battery that will have the date it was made.

Some of the things that can shorten the lifespan of a battery include leaving your interior or headlight on, a charging system failure, or exposure to temperature extremes.

Corroded or loose terminal connections can shorten the lifespan, as can leaving your car parked for an extended period of time.

Overall, you should be mindful of your battery and make checking it part of your regular vehicle maintenance.

 

About the author

Alice Instone-Brewer

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