Most people don’t think about how to check car batteries. The signs that your car or truck needs a new battery can be subtle: your engine takes a few extra seconds to start; your lights dim slightly when you turn on the heat or air conditioning; you notice corrosion on the battery terminals, or maybe there are strange electrical gremlins. If your vehicle is showing these symptoms, it may be time for a new car battery. Let’s take a look at how to check car battery condition before you end up stranded.
Car Battery Life is Hard
To learn more about car batteries, we spoke to Nick Kovalkevich, automotive battery expert and NAPA account executive for East Penn Manufacturing Co., Inc., a battery manufacturer and NAPA supplier. Kovalkevich discussed how to test, replace and maintain your vehicle’s battery.
Kovalkevich also explained that, although your vehicle’s battery may provide less energy in cold winter weather, heat is its main enemy. Heat speeds the chemical reaction that produces electricity inside a battery. As it does, it sheds the active material in the reaction and decreases the battery’s ability to store energy.
“Heat is the biggest killer of batteries,” Kovalkevich said. “In Arizona, you may get two years out of a battery. In Minnesota, the same battery may last five years.”
Still, battery problems may present themselves in winter, when cold conditions slow that same chemical reaction and limit the energy the battery can offer. It is better to text your battery now before the cold weather sets in and potentially leaves you stranded in a cold parking lot.
Getting a Car Battery Tested
The best way to find out if your battery is on its way out is to have it tested. Your local NAPA Auto Parts and NAPA Auto Care have a special battery tester for car batteries that can analyze them, and most will go out to your car so you don’t have to remove it. The car battery test will help you determine if you need a new battery, or if you vehicle has another electrical problem. A car battery tester will be hooked up to check car battery output. If your battery is no longer up to the task, your can have a NAPA Auto Care near you swap it out for a new one. While you are there it is easy to also have your alternator tested to make sure your charging system is in top shape. A bad alternator can cause a dead battery if it isn’t keeping up with your car’s electrical needs. You may also consider having your battery tested as part of your routine scheduled maintenance.
How to Test Your Car Battery
Learning how to check car battery output isn’t very difficult. For basic at home car battery testing you can use a multimeter. With the engine running check the battery voltage with the multimeter. It should read between 13.7 and 14.7 volts ideally. If it has less than 12.4 volts while running the battery may be in need of replacement. Knowing how to check car battery with multimeter can quickly help you diagnose a failing battery.
You can also use a dedicated battery load tester to measure electrical load handling capacity. These tools have been around for a long time and are able to simulate the heavy drain of an engine start and allow the user to observe how the battery reacts. There are also digital battery testers that that can more detailed information about battery capabilities. These tools simply attach to the battery terminals and perform their test with a push of a button.
Car Battery Replacement Tips
With your car battery check complete you can now decide if it needs to be swapped. If you do need a new car battery, most people can typically handle the job themselves with just a few common tools. Kovalkevich provided a few tips to make the job safe and easy:
- Wear gloves and eye protection
- Never smoke or use an open flame around a car battery (hydrogen gas may be present)
- Keep the battery upright
- For late-model cars, use an OBDII memory saver while replacing the battery (avoid memory savers that use a 9-volt battery)
- Clean the battery clamps and terminals and use terminal protectant spray
- Batteries are 100% recyclable, so return your old battery to your local NAPA store for recycling
If you are installing a new car battery take a few minutes to inspect the battery cables themselves. Over time they can corrode and lose their ability to clamp firmly onto the battery posts. Car battery cable replacement is a little more involved than a car battery swap but it is within the capabilities of most DIYers.
Check out all of the batteries available on NAPAonline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on buying a new car battery and how to check your car battery, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.