5 Things to Know About Your Car Battery

Auto mechanic replacing car battery


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Auto mechanic checking car battery voltage

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Car batteries are an essential component of any vehicle – they provide the power needed to start the engine and run electrical systems. Like all automotive parts, car batteries will eventually wear out and need to be replaced: A fully charged battery should read 12.6 volts or higher; if the reading is below 12.4 volts, your battery may be starting to fail, and a replacement is likely needed. But how often should you change your car battery, and what can you do to help it last longer? Here are five things to look out for. 

Related: The Best Jump-Starters, Plus How to Jump-Start a Car Yourself

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Your Car Battery Should Last 3 to 5 Years

The frequency at which you need to replace your car battery will depend on several factors, including the age of your vehicle, your driving habits, and the type of battery you have. On average, a conventional gas car's battery will last between three and five years, according to AAA. Some batteries may last as long as seven years, though, while others may need to be replaced after just two. Electric car batteries have a much longer lifespan of 10 to 20 years

Related: How to Save on a Replacement Battery — and Avoid Counterfeits

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Cold Weather Plays a Role

Cold weather can have a significant impact on a car battery. When temperatures drop, the battery's ability to produce an electrical charge is reduced. Frigid temperatures can also cause the battery's fluid to thicken or corrode — making it more difficult for the battery to transfer enough energy to start the engine and power your car's electrical systems efficiently, affecting such things as windshield wipers and the radio. If your battery is already near the end of its life, leaving your vehicle out in the cold can drain what little energy it has left. 

To help prevent battery issues in cold weather, it's a good idea to have your battery tested before winter starts, and if possible, park your vehicle in a garage or covered area. (Take it from someone who left their car parked in the cold in Colorado for two months and returned to a dead battery, RIP). 

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Prices Will Vary

The cost of replacing a car battery can vary greatly depending on make and model of a vehicle, the type of battery it needs, and where you go to get a replacement. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $45 to $250 for a new car battery — with most replacements falling in the $75 to $150 range. 

But there are a few caveats: Higher-end batteries with more advanced features such as longer warranties and more durable construction will likely be more expensive; you can also expect to pay more if you have a battery replaced at a dealership rather than an independent repair shop or mechanic.

In recent years, the cost of car batteries has seen a significant increase. Driven by soaring demand for electric and hybrid vehicles, the cost of lithium-ion and absorbed glass mat batteries commonly used in these vehicles has skyrocketed by 40% to 100%, according to Consumer Reports. Other factors such as supply chain disruptions and tariffs have also affected production and distribution of batteries — resulting in further price hikes. 

Charging battery of an electric car

How Long Does It Take to Charge a Car's Battery?

The time it takes to charge a car battery will depend on the battery's size, the type of charger being used, and the amount of charge remaining in the battery. On average, it can take 10 to 24 hours to reach a full charge if the battery is dead and you use a standard car battery charger; if you use a fast charger, it could take as little as an hour for a battery to charge fully. 

Other factors, such as outside temperature and whether there is corrosion, can also affect charging time. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and guidelines closely to ensure that a battery is properly charged and does not become damaged.

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Gratsias Adhi Hermawan /istockphoto

Tips to Help a Car Battery Last Longer:

Avoid short trips: Drives of less than 30 minutes in city traffic or 15 minutes at highway speeds can strain a battery and shorten its lifespan. 

Keep your battery clean: Dirt, corrosion, and rust on battery terminals can stop the battery from charging and discharging efficiently. To prevent this, clean the terminals and cables periodically with a wire brush and a mixture of baking soda and water

Avoid extreme temperatures: Exposure to extremely hot or cold temperatures can damage a battery and reduce its lifespan. If possible, consider parking your car in a garage or covered area.

Use a battery maintainer: If you won't be driving your car for an extended time, consider using a maintainer to keep the battery charged and prevent it from dying out. You can buy one on Amazon for less than $30. 

Keep your alternator in good condition: The alternator charges your car's battery when the engine is running. If it's not working properly, the battery will not be able to properly charge every time you drive your vehicle — leading to a shorter life.