As you have probably seen firsthand by now, if your battery isn’t up to the task, your car will not start. There are a few reasons a battery might suddenly let you down, but a key factor to consider is cold cranking amps. What are cold cranking amps (CCAs)? They’re an important property of automotive batteries that you should keep in mind next time you’re shopping for one.
It’s the battery’s responsibility to provide enough initial power to the starter motor to turn the engine over and get the combustion cycle going. Batteries provide a direct electrical current through a chemical reaction that takes place within the battery itself.
Because there are different battery designs available, there are several options and ratings to consider when you’re selecting a battery. Your owner’s manual should specify the recommended battery for your vehicle, but depending on where you live, you might want to consider the CCA rating to choose a battery that will do well in the long haul and not leave you stranded on a cold morning.
It may not surprise you to learn that a battery’s ability is greatly reduced by cold temperatures. For one thing, the cold makes engine oil thicker, creating more internal resistance for the starter to turn against. The chemical reaction that provides power from within the battery itself is slowed too, as is the vaporization of fuel needed for combustion. All of this together means you’ll likely have to crank the starter for longer, draining the battery more than usual on an especially cold morning.
Enter CCAs. The Cold Cranking Amp rating is the number of amps a fully charged battery can produce at 0 degrees Fahrenheit over 30 seconds while maintaining at least 7.2 volts. In other words, the higher the CCA rating, the more amps and power it can produce at colder temperatures. For the average passenger vehicle, a general range you will see on the shelves is around 350 to 650 CCAs, with trucks requiring a higher rating.
Not to be confused with a CA rating (Cranking Amps are rated at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so the numbers are different), CCA indicates how effective your battery will be if you live in an especially cold climate that regularly drops below freezing. If you live in a mild or warm climate, it really isn’t necessary to buy a battery with the highest CCA rating as long as the CCAs of your replacement battery are at least equal to what the original had. Again, your owner’s manual is the first place to look for this information.
There are other measures you can take to help get your car started in cold weather, but replacing a battery with a higher CCA rating isn’t a bad place to start. Consider making this a part of your winter preparedness plan so you don’t get caught out in the cold.
Check out all the battery products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on cold cranking amps, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.