How to Extend the Life of Your Car Battery

With all the modern technology in cars these days, it’s easy to forget that we still depend on lead-acid batteries for accessory electrical current. It’s not likely you can do much about that battery other than wait for it to die in an inopportune moment. Right? There are some common procedures that everyone can take to care for their car batteries and help them reach their expected lifetime. Safety is a priority for us, so we’re talking easy stuff for normal drivers – let’s avoid acid accidents, shall we

Here are 5 ways to insure you’re doing right by your car battery.

1. Know thy battery

Make sure you know when it was manufactured and how long the warranty it’s likely to last.

All car battery sold in the U.S. is stamped with the month and year of its manufacture. So, look for the first two characters in particular: a letter and a number. The letter, “A,” correspond to months starting with January — so “C,” for example, equates to March. The number is the final digit of the year, so “8” means 2008.

Five years (or about sixty months) from the born-on date is a rough estimate for normal battery life, but other factors can move this figure one way or the other. Keep that date in mind if your battery starts to show signs of depletion, such as slow cranking upon starting the car or dimming lights. If the battery is relatively new, maybe you simply need to recharge it; but if it’s been around for several years, you might need a replacement soon.

2. Don’t forget to turn your lights off when you get home

The single most common cause of premature battery failure is headlights and/or interior lights left on overnight, especially if you tend to be a regular culprit of this practice. Most newer cars have auto-off functionality, but most vehicles on the road still don’t, so it’s important to be vigilant here. A chime or other warning to let you know your headlights are on can be hard to distinguish from other sounds, like the one when you open the door with the key still in the ignition. We suggest getting into the habit of checking your lights whenever you shut down your car. Don’t forget to check the dome lights as well. For the typical car battery, a single night with the lights on will have you asking for a jump-start in the morning.

3. When the engine is not running use accessories sparingly

Current day alternators have no problem keeping the battery charged when the motor is running, but if the motor’s off, power-hungry cabin technology can deflate battery in short order. Can you imagine a battery without the engine is kind of like a laptop without its power cord plug in: you’re on borrowed time, and the more you run that battery down, the harder it will be to hold a full charge. Minimize the amount of time you spend using powered accessories with the engine off. It’s tempting sometimes to leave your passengers in the vehicle with music or a movie playing, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it.

Vehicle security systems are a constant drain on the battery when armed. As such, while it makes sense to arm the system in the shopping mall parking lot, it’s not necessary to do so in your own garage, especially if you don’t drive the vehicle daily. In minimum-risk situations, consider locking the car with the key instead to save your battery the trouble.

4. Monitor your battery’s performance

The best sign that your battery’s under the weather is slow “cranking” when you start your vehicle. The usual cheery cranking noise will turn dull and lethargic; you might even find yourself wondering if the vehicle’s going to start at all. The good news is that this doesn’t mean your battery is gone forever. You might be able to recharge it. But you shouldn’t knowingly leave your battery in a discharged state for more than several days; Lead-acid batteries must constantly be kept near full charge to avoid a malady called “sulfated plates”.

So as soon as your vehicle starts sounding sluggish when starting, either drive it around for a good 30 minutes – which should recharge the battery automatically – or take it to a service facility and ask for the battery to be tested and recharged. Keep an eye out for recurring symptoms, which would indicate a need for a replacement battery. Consider it a normal part of vehicle maintenance, just like checking your oil: your vehicle needs plenty of oil to run properly, and it needs a charged battery, too get started.

5. Disconnect or “tend” the battery when parked long term

If you know you won’t be using your vehicle for a few weeks, it’s advisable to give your battery a rest, too, since a small amount of current continues to flow even if the security system isn’t armed. The old-school approach entails disconnecting the negative battery cable (typically marked by a big minus sign), which certainly helps but has the undesirable effect of wiping out all of your electronic settings. If you can justify the expense, is to pick up an automatic battery charger (Battery Tender™ or something similar), which maintains your battery’s charge and lets you keep all those settings, too. You will need a 120 AC outlet to plug it in.

This article is the intellectual property of Simmons BOSS CREATIONS. Any reuse of the contents must include the following attribution:

Marcus Simmons, ASE Certified
Phone: (248) 461-6977