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When Should You Change a Car Battery? Lifespan Explained

Generally speaking, experts recommend changing your vehicle’s battery every three years. This can vary depending on the type of vehicle you have, the type of battery your vehicle has, the climate in which you drive your vehicle, and how you drive your vehicle.

Some batteries are reported to last as long as six years or as little as one year, but there are usually signs your batteries shows when it needs to be replaced, regardless of how long it is supposed to last.

What are the Signs of a Dying Battery?

replace dead car battery

Fortunately, there are usually some fairly obvious signs of a dying battery. These signs are not always present, but they should not be ignored if they manifest themselves. You can always have a mechanic check your battery status if you are concerned that your battery may be dying.

Prolonged Engine Crank Times

The most obvious sign of a dead battery is when you try to start your vehicle, and it just does not want to start. Before this happens, though, it may be that your vehicle takes longer to start than it should.

Most vehicles with a healthy starter and battery should start after only one or two cranks. If you have to push the starter button or turn the key a few times after you try to start your car, it is a good idea to have your battery checked and change it if it is dying.

If your battery tests as healthy and you are still having issues starting your vehicle, it may be that the starter or alternator is starting to go bad.

Dim Headlights and Underpowered Accessories

Your battery powers all the electronic accessories in your vehicle. Even though your battery is designed to be recharged as you drive, its ability to be recharged will slowly diminish over time. When it finally loses most or all of its ability to do so, your vehicle’s electronics will start to suffer.

Read More: How Long Will it Take to Charge a Dead Car Battery?

The most common representation of this is dimming headlights. If you do not drive a great deal at night, dimming headlights may not be instantly recognizable as an issue, but other electronic accessories in your vehicle like the radio, interior lights, and power windows will show signs of reduced power as well.

Jump Starting is Needed

Sometimes, the earliest warning signs are not immediately obvious, and a jump start is the first step to discovering a dead battery. Repeated jump starts are a sign that you need to replace a battery as soon as possible. Even if you do not struggle with battery issues, it is still a good idea to carry jumper cables in your vehicle in case of emergencies.

Rotten Smell

An unpleasant sign that your battery may be running low on life is the smell of rotten eggs. Sulfur – an element known for its foul smell – is used in the chemical makeup of batteries, and if the battery is leaking, you will be able to smell it. 

Corroded Terminals

corroded battery terminals

If you have ever looked at your vehicle’s battery, you may have noticed a white, chalky, or gooey substance around the terminals. This is corrosion, and it is not necessarily a sign that your battery is going bad, but it is often a sign that your battery might need to be changed soon.

Corrosion can prohibit the flow of electricity to the electrical system of your vehicle and cause electrical malfunctions or cause the vehicle to exhibit signs of a dying battery. 

What Affects Car Battery Life?

Several factors contribute to a longer or shorter battery life than what might be expected. Under ideal conditions, most batteries are expected to last at least three years.

Extreme Weather

Extreme weather – extremely hot climates, extremely cold climates, or climates that feature large fluctuations between the two – can negatively affect battery life.

Cold weather is usually better for batteries than very hot weather, but both can be detrimental. Heat especially helps facilitate a battery’s decreased output as it accelerates the breakdown of interior battery chemicals.

Large fluctuations in weather can also harm batteries as well as many other vehicle components.

Engine and Road Vibration

As smooth as a vehicle is meant to run, the engine still has many moving parts that cause vibrations. Like heat, vibrations also cause an accelerated breakdown of battery chemicals, resulting in decreased battery life.

This is especially true in older vehicles and larger trucks where engine vibration is much more pronounced and less intentionally reduced. Vibrations can also come from rough roads or misaligned tires.

Age

Old age affects just about everything, including batteries. Even under ideal conditions, batteries break down and become less effective over time. As a result, older batteries can also lose charge quicker than brand new ones.

Type of Battery

agm battery

Different types of batteries require less maintenance than others, can hold a charge better than others, or possess a good all-around combination of each attribute.

Most normal vehicles are equipped with batteries called starting, lighting, and ignition batteries. These are the most run-of-the-mill, are generally relatively expensive, and do not require a high cost to replace.

Other vehicles that use a hybrid battery system usually require a more robust setup.

Excessive Use of the Vehicle’s Power Supply

It is well-known that if you leave your vehicle’s lights on after you turn it off, there is a good chance the battery will go dead since the lights use power from the battery and the vehicle is not charging it back up.

Although many modern vehicles automatically turn off the lights when you turn your vehicle off, the use of other electronic systems can also drain the battery. Many modern vehicles also have systems that constantly stay on, even when the vehicle is off. They do use more power when the vehicle is off anyway, but if any one of these systems is not working correctly, the battery could drain even faster.

Many of the newest models often have an automatic engine stop and start system. Even though vehicles equipped with these systems often have heftier batteries to cope with the added strain, it still takes more power to start a vehicle than many other systems use over a longer timeframe. 

What to Look for in a Battery

The easiest way to choose what type of battery is best for your vehicle is to refer to the owner’s manual. That should tell you exactly what kind of battery your vehicle requires.

There may still be some room to choose other parameters if you are looking to upgrade or even if your owner’s manual does not list a specific battery. 

Battery Type

There are three main types of batteries used in vehicles: Starting/Lighting/Ignition (SLI), Lithium-Ion (Li-ion), and Lead-Acid.

All three have benefits and drawbacks, but they all differ in terms of battery life. SLI batteries are the most common batteries fitted to most average vehicles and offer the shortest lifespan. Lead-Acid batteries offer a comparable lifespan, but they require much less maintenance. Lithium-Ion batteries last the longest and are common in hybrid vehicles.

Battery Size

Battery size is important, because not every vehicle takes the same size battery. Size can also determine the type of battery hook-up and stabilizing mechanisms. Buying the wrong size will cause compatibility issues and result in a worthless purchase.

Battery Cold Crank Amp Rating (CCA)

A battery’s CCA rating is a unit of measurement to determine how many amps a battery can deliver at zero degrees Fahrenheit. In short, it is the measure of a battery’s ability to perform in cold weather conditions.

Your vehicle’s owner’s manual should also have this information, but you should never buy a battery with less than the recommended CCA rating. Buying a battery with an equal or greater CCA rating than what is recommended is necessary as long as the battery meets other criteria outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Final Thoughts

Most normal car batteries last about three years. Some claim to last for up to five years, but many experts still recommend having them checked periodically after three years of use.

Several factors can affect a battery’s lifespan such as harsh climate, engine and road vibration, the general age of the battery, and the type of battery equipped to a vehicle.

When it comes time to purchasing a new battery for your vehicle, make sure you know what type of battery your vehicle requires and the recommended replacement interval so that you do not have to deal with a dead one.

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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