Your car battery is the unsung hero of your on-the-go lifestyle. Day in and day out it gives your engine the spark it needs to get going. But a car battery has a lifespan just like any other car part and you don’t want to be stuck when it finally bows out. Here’s a few signs to look out for so you can spot when your battery is going bad, and the best solution for replacing it.
This one speaks for itself. If you get in the vehicle and nothing happens when you turn the key, there is a high likelihood that the battery is completely drained. Before you decide that it is indeed a dead battery you need to check the battery connections. Grab your owner’s manual and find where your battery is located. While many are still located under the hood, a fair number of manufacturers have chosen to locate their batteries in places such as under a seat, behind the bumper, or even in the trunk. Once you locate the battery identify the positive and negative terminals via the symbols on the battery case. Try to give each battery cable terminal connection a twist to verify if it is firmly attached. Sometimes the terminals can loosen leading to a no-start condition. If a connection is loose use a battery wrench to tighten it up. If both connections are firm then the next step is a jump start or some time on a battery charger. If neither of those bring it back to life then it is time for battery replacement.
A dying battery won’t have the necessary voltage to give the starter a good constant turn. While it may have enough power to rotate the engine, there may not be enough electricity left to actually fire off the different systems. On a modern vehicle things like the fuel pump, ignition system, and various computers all need a portion of the battery’s power in order to start the engine. If the engine is slow to start but does eventually catch, the weak battery can then be recharged by the alternator. But the problem won’t go away on its own. Eventually the battery will weaken to a point where even being recharged by the alternator won’t hold enough power to start the next time.
If you have ever played with a children’s toy that has old batteries you may have noticed it doesn’t always act the way you expect it to. Movements may be slow, sounds may be garbled or it may stop and start erratically. The same can happen to your vehicle’s electrical system if the battery is going bad. Erratic or low voltage from the battery, especially in a modern vehicle, can cause havoc. The various onboard computers are designed to take readings from systems across the car and depend on certain constants. A sensor that uses variations in voltage being returned from a sensor trusts that the input voltage is a certain level. If that input level is already low then the output voltage will be an even lower reading leading to a potential cascade of incorrect information.
When most people think of vehicle corrosion they picture rusted out fenders from winter beaters driven in northern climates. But corrosion commonly occurs where the battery connects to power cables. Using the procedure previously mentioned, find your car battery and give it a visual check. You are looking for a greenish-grey crumbly buildup on the connections. If the battery clamps have a heavy coating of corrosion then it is a fair sign that the battery hasn’t been changed or maintained in a while. Inside the battery lead plates are bathed in sulfuric acid and over time hydrogen gas can leak into the atmosphere. That gas reacts with the copper metal found in the battery connections and creates copper sulfate, which is what makes up the corrosion you see.
Car batteries can lead a tough life depending on where the auto manufacturer puts them. A battery under a car seat or in the trunk will lead quite a different life than one under the hood by the radiator. Batteries are much better protected now than they were decades ago, but damage can still occur. Vibration caused by driving on rough roads can shake loose the actual components inside the battery, disrupting connections or even allowing components to touch that should stay separated. A loose or missing battery hold-down can also lead to unnecessary vibration or physical damage to the case. Extreme cold weather can actually freeze the battery and lead to a cracked battery case. Any damage to the outside case is cause for immediate replacement as the risk of leaking dangerous sulfuric acid is too great.
While your battery does not have an expiration date on it like the milk in your refrigerator, it does have a few tell-tale signs to calculate the approximate age and in-service time. The most obvious date is the purchase date sticker. This sticker is usually rectangular with round circles featuring the 12 months of the year abbreviated to two letters and the number 1-10 to denote the year within the purchasing decade. The round circles are designed to be removed. The sticker works in reverse, as removing a circle marks the date/year. For example a missing “JA” sticker with a missing “2” sticker would denote a purchase date of January 2022. If the purchase date is older than five years then you are probably due for a replacement.
The battery manufacturing date can also be found on the outside of the battery. Sometimes it is a round sticker with a similar date system to the one found used by the purchase date sticker. A sticker with “1-02” means January 2022. It may also use a letter and a number. The letter stands for the 12 months in order. A sticker that reads “C-2” means March 2022. Looking at the battery case itself it is common to find a manufacturing date stamped right into plastic itself. The date may be easy to read in common MM/DD/YY format. It may also be part of a longer code used by the manufacturer to track production. In this case the first two digits are usually the manufacturing date code and can be read like the round sticker mentioned previously. Again, if the manufacturing date is older than five years then you are probably due for a replacement.
Buying A New Battery
When it comes time for replacement the best solution for peace of mind is a AAA Premium battery. Rugged construction and optimized smart circuit design mean a direct electric power path that delivers stronger starts and higher cranking amps. Water loss is held to a minimum thanks to the calcium-calcium alloy construction that reduces outgassing. You’ll have plenty of emergency power when you need it the most. Each AAA Premium battery is backed by a three year free replacement warranty and a three year discounted warranty. AAA Premium batteries are available at your local NAPA Auto Parts store as well as participating AAA-Approved Auto Repair Shops, NAPA AutoCare Centers, and AAA’s Mobile Battery Service. Life is full of surprises, make it one less with a AAA Premium battery.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
With an automotive writing career spanning over two decades, Brian has a passion for sharing the automotive lifestyle. An avid DIYer he can usually be found working on one of his many project cars. His current collection includes a 1969 Olds Delta 88 convertible and a slant-6 powered 1975 Plymouth Duster.