How Long Does a Car Battery Last? The Answer Might Surprise You

The battery is one of the most important components of your vehicle. It supplies the car’s starter and ignition system with electrical current to crank the engine. The battery also serves as an alternative power source when the alternator power isn’t sufficient enough to meet the increased demands of the vehicle.

It’s important to remember that your battery won’t last forever. You can expect to change the battery once or twice in the vehicle’s lifetime. This begs the question, “How long does a car battery last?” 

Even Automobile Experts may have a hard time answering this question with any degree of certainty. There are many factors that can affect how long your battery will last.

The Normal Life of a Car Battery

Under normal conditions, the average lifespan of a battery is about 4-5 years. With that said, there are varying opinions on this topic. You could very well extend the lifespan up to 7 years depending on usage and maintenance. 

Normal conditions mean the battery isn’t subjected to extreme temperatures and it isn’t powering a lot of accessories. But in the real world, there are many factors that could quickly drain the battery and render it powerless in a shorter period of time. There are temperature extremes, vibrations, your stereo, GPS receivers, and other devices.

The typical lead-acid car battery consists of a plastic box and plates of materials like lead and lead dioxide which are suspended in a mix of sulfuric acid and water. This helps form an electrolytic solution that allows the electrons to flow between the plates. This is what produces the electricity to power the engine. There are a host of factors that could disturb this chemical reaction.

Inside a lead acid battery

Factors That Impact Battery Life

Here are few common factors that can impact battery life:

Temperature

The ideal temperate range for the battery to operate in is between 60-90F. Higher temperatures have a negative impact. On the other hand, low temperatures also reduce the overall capacity. That’s why it’s important to maintain an optimal temperature.

The Cycle Life

Different types of batteries have a rated number of use cycles. Gel batteries have a higher use cycle – which is in the range of 500 to 5000 cycles.

Flooded lead-acid (AGM) batteries have a use cycle of about 300 to 700 under normal usage conditions. The higher the number of use cycles, the longer the life of the battery.

Driving Habits

Driving habits have a significant impact on battery life as well. If you use your vehicle for shorter trips on a daily basis, the faster the condition could deteriorate. Every time you start the vehicle, it draws a huge amount of electrical power from the battery. The lost power needs to be replaced by the vehicle’s alternator.

When you use your vehicle for shorter trips, you don’t give the battery enough time to recharge. This can lead to undercharging and acid stratification.

A battery with a 5-year lifespan may deteriorate in under 3 years because of these driving habits.

Depth of Discharge Effect

Your battery is in use every time you use an electronic device. For example, the air conditioning system, GPS, MP3 player, stereo, windshield wipers, and other components consume a lot of power from the battery. 

The more power drawn from the battery, the shorter the life. AGM batteries comes with about 300 to 700 use cycles. With 100% battery capacity drawn by these electronic accessories, the use cycle can be reduced down to 200.

Rate of Recharge

The rate of recharge isn’t the same with every battery. Excessive overcharging can lead to a reduction of lifespan too. 

For example, on average if it takes 12 hours to fully charge a car battery, 90% of the battery will be charged within 7 hours. The other 10% will take another 5 hours to charge. That means it takes about 40% of the total recharge time to complete the remaining 10%. That’s why you should use a charge controller whenever you decide to recharge a battery.This tool will help to regulate the charging rate and voltage of the battery. 

The fully charged status for an AGM battery is between 14.4 to 14.6 volts. For a Gel battery, it should be between 13.8 to 14.1 volts. If your voltmeter reads the battery charge between 11.8 to 12 volts, it means you have a fully discharged battery.

Signs of Car Battery Problems

A dead battery is the most obvious sign of a battery problem. The best way to test a dead battery is with electronic testers available at automotive shops. Technicians will test your battery using the latest testing equipment and tell you whether you need to replace it. This is a test that you should be doing on a regular basis. In fact, it should be included in the routine maintenance plan of your vehicle.

Dimming headlights, strain in cold weather, frequent need to jump-start the vehicle and unusual power fluctuations are some of the indicators of a weakening battery. But newer batteries can simply fail without any prior warning.

Extending the Life of the Battery

Extending the life of your battery isn’t a straightforward thing. In fact, there are many factors that you can’t directly control. Here are some tips to prolong the life of your battery:

  • Avoid short trips as much as possible
  • Don’t turn on the car’s electronic components when the engine is off
  • Regular inspection and maintenance of the battery
  • Check the electrical system of the vehicle for operating efficiency

Final Thoughts

The battery is one of the most important but often overlooked components of your vehicle. At the end of the day, batteries will eventually fail. You should expect your battery to last anywhere from 4 to 5 years, and to replace it once or twice in the lifetime of your vehicle.

References

The Vehicle Lab
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