Are all car batteries the same? In brief, they are not. There are some similarities between them, but there are enough differences that you often cannot use the same battery across multiple vehicle platforms.
Indeed, battery tray sizes vary, and so do the types of 12-volt batteries that go into different vehicles. Finding the car battery that goes with the specific make, model and model year of your vehicle is important when you’re shopping for a new battery.
Today’s Car Batteries
A quick survey of what’s out there will show that most new batteries sold today are 12 volts, but the “12” doesn’t denote the charge level needed to start your car. In actuality, a battery charged to 12.6 or 12.7 volts is considered fully charged, while one that has fallen to 12 volts is discharged and either needs a boost or a replacement. You can use a digital multimeter to test the strength of your current battery.
There are generally two types of batteries available: SLI and lithium-ion. The first one stands for “starting, lighting and igniting,” and it helps to supply power to the starter, lights and other electronic components in your car. Automotive manufacturers place SLI batteries in standard gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, with most appearing under the hood, in the trunk or underneath a seat.
There are also two types of SLI batteries: lead-acid and absorbed glass mat (AGM). The first one is found in most vehicles and once required drivers to periodically top off the water in the electrolyte solution. Today, these batteries are maintenance-free. The second type of SLI battery, AGM, is found in many modern vehicles. What makes AGM batteries special is their ability to manage heavy loads, including all the electronics, safety and convenience features found in today’s vehicles.
Hybrid and electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, which are typically more energy-intensive to create but lighter than SLI models.
While the life spans of both SLI and lithium-ion batteries have improved over the last decades, note that climate extremes can shorten the life of either type.
Tray Fitment and More
Manufacturers do not design a battery tray without considering the battery needed for the vehicle. Indeed, the more electronic equipment is present in a vehicle, the larger its battery will likely have to be, and the battery tray needs to fit the specific dimensions of the battery.
Even in vehicles with similar equipment levels, battery differences are often based on the size of the vehicle. For instance, a heavy-duty pickup truck would have a larger battery than a compact vehicle.
Theoretically, you might be able to swap a battery across vehicle lines, but there is always a risk that essential equipment could be damaged, negating the value of saving a few dollars upfront.
Finding the Right Battery
There are three ways to find the correct battery for your vehicle. First, you could look in your owner’s manual. There, in the battery section, information specific to your vehicle is listed, including the reserve capacity and cold-cranking amps.
Second, if you bought the vehicle new and the original battery is installed, then replacing it with an exact copy of the current one is an option too. On the other hand, you’re usually not limited to one battery brand choice.
Third, you could head to your local NAPA Auto Parts store and ask a retail associate to look up information about your specific vehicle. You’ll likely have a few battery options as well as varying warranties to consider.
Check out all the batteries and battery accessories available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on automotive batteries, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.