Your car battery should last about 3 to 5 years – so why are you replacing yours every other year or so?
Let’s find out why car batteries die young, and what you can do to prolong battery life. Then I’ll give you some tips & tricks to ensure your battery doesn’t leave you hanging. Let’s dig in:
Batteries do have a legitimate, physical lifespan called its Calendar Life. If you don’t ignore your battery and care for it well, it will still die – someday. The vast majority of batteries today are replaced long before the calendar life has been reached.
There are 3 phases to a battery’s life cycle. Formatting is when the battery is new and needs to be used gently. Peak is the ideal performance phase, which we seek to maintain for as long as possible. Decline is a slow process, but one that gradually ends in the termination of the battery.
The decline phase can last a long time and continue to start your vehicle reliably. But you may start to notice longer cranking, slower cranking and other indicators.
During the decline you may want to start saving up for that new battery. Or you can recondition old batteries at home and provide them with new life. It’s simple, and crazy inexpensive.
Onto the meat & potatoes:
Corrosion: Check your battery on the first day of each month (or the 15th, or the 3rd Tuesday – whatever works for you – just be sure to do it) to be sure the terminals are corrosion free. The corrosion creates a bad connection and eats away at the metal cable ends. You can clean the terminals with a 3 to 1 mixture of baking soda to water. This mixture just disintegrates corrosion and washes it away. Easy Peasy.
Be sure the terminals are clean and dry. Smear some petroleum jelly on the terminals. The jelly prevents corrosion from taking hold in the first place, and next month’s check is likely to be a simple visual inspection only. “All good” and move on.
Security: Vehicles have a means to hold the battery in place. Some have a wedge that fits into a lip at the base of the battery. Yours may have some long screws with a retainer that goes across the top, or any number of hold down system. Make sure the battery is tightly in place. Excessive vibration will actually rattle the internal components apart and can create a significant safety hazard for you.
Accessories: Leave them off when the car is not running. This means you need to turn stuff like headlights and radio and fans off before you shut down. These accessories drain the battery when the engine isn’t running. The toughest moments in the battery’s life is when cranking the engine to start. Accessories running at the same time can be significantly taxing.
Temperature: Insulate the battery. extreme temperature changes decrease useful life significantly. Most newer vehicles are sold with an insulating wrap, and many even have a cover to help protect your battery. If you have replaced your battery already, these insulators may not have been re-installed. It’s one of the parts that is taken for granted but serves a notable function. You can get one online or maybe even at the local parts store.
Keep it charged: Sounds silly right? If the vehicle is used only for short trips or only driven 3 days a week, it probably isn’t fully charged. All the little computers and radio memory presets take their toll while you’re away. Use a simple voltmeter to check the state of charge and make corrections.
Check the water level: Even today’s “maintenance free” batteries have removable caps. Take the caps off and see that the levels are just low enough for the caps to fit back on. There are individual cells in the battery so just because one looks good, doesn’t mean they all are. If you need to add some water ONLY us distilled water. You can grab a gallon at the grocery store for less than $1.
Overcharge / Overheat: Do NOT overcharge your car battery. This creates heat which will cut battery life in half if not more. Leaving a charger on all the time or running full blast will force oxygen & hydrogen to escape. That combination is literally explosive. Overcharging (or overheating) also evaporates the precious distilled water out of the battery exposing the plates internally. Once the plates begin to corrode, she’s done.