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What Causes a Dead Battery?

A dead car battery.

No one wants to deal with a dead battery, but sooner or later every battery dies. There are lots of reasons why your battery may die, and you can control some of them. Here are some of the more common causes of a dead battery, what you can do to prevent one and how you can get the problem fixed.

No Battery Lasts ForeverBattery on a charger

While it would be nice if you could leave the same battery in your car forever, that’s not how batteries work. All batteries deplete over time and will eventually need to be replaced.

There are lots of variables that can cause vehicle batteries to expire early, but generally you can expect to get three to five years out of them. If your battery is nearing the end of that range, then it’s a good idea to check its charge periodically with a multimeter.

What Causes a Battery to Die Prematurely?

Several factors can either shorten or lengthen the life of your battery. Batteries tend to last longer where temperatures are cooler, so if you live where the temperature soars every summer, expect a shorter battery life. Vibration can also cause a battery to die. If your battery isn’t secure in the engine compartment, then you’ll need to use the correct hardware to hold it in place and avoid excessive wear on internal components.

How You Drive Matters

If your typical day involves lots of short trips where you’re turning the engine off and on constantly, then your battery may suffer. This is because it can’t fully recharge as it would over longer driving distances. If you leave your car sitting for extended periods without starting it, that can also cause your battery to deplete naturally, especially with older batteries.

Parasitic Draw

This occurs when something slowly drains your battery. This might happen if you accidentally leave a door open and the overhead light stays on overnight. Any illuminated light, whether it’s the cargo light, glove box or overhead, can slowly drain your battery, so make sure all lights are turned off and that everything is closed up tightly when you exit your vehicle.

However, while the cause of parasitic draw might be that obvious, it might also be hidden. Aftermarket accessories can be a source of parasitic draw, so consider this possibility if you’ve just had a new accessory installed and are experiencing battery issues.

Is Replacement the Only Option?

Replacement is likely the best course of action in most cases of battery death. There is a chance that topping off a lead-acid battery’s distilled water and acid levels will extend its life. This can be done several times to keep your battery going, but it’s likely only a temporary fix. You also can’t do this with all batteries because most newer batteries use a sealed-cell design. If you’re repeatedly using this method to keep your battery alive, then it’s time for a new one.

You can also jump start a dead battery, but this too may only be a temporary fix. Remember that it’s always easier to replace a failing battery than it is to deal with a car that won’t start.

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 about how to manage your car’s battery, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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