Car Batteries - FAQ, General Information, Tips & Tricks
Disclaimer: The information listed here is based on what I have read and experienced over the years. I don't work for any automotive company or manufacture and am providing this information on a best effort basis to help the RFD community out. If you have any doubts or don't feel comfortable doing any of the tests or procedures listed below, please visit your mechanic for guidance. Any information listed here is to supplement anything that is listed in your owners manual.
How long to car batteries last?
This is a very common question that comes up. Typically, a fresh car battery *should* last about 4 to 5 years before it exhibits signs of trouble. Some batteries that have lower Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) (i.e. vehicles with smaller battery sizes) might last less. That being said, I have gotten over 7 years out of the factory Panasonic car battery on my Camry although the cranking was sounding very weak towards the end. Factors that would shorten the lifespan of the battery are:
Most recent model vehicles have significantly more technology onboard than a vehicle that came out a decade ago. Features like engine start/stop, GPS, Infotainment systems, onboard cameras (dashcam), proximity lighting/keyless entry all require battery power and are kept active even when the engine is turned off. Over time, these features tend to wear a battery out and shorten its life expectancy.
A lot of car batteries come with climate specifications. It is associated with the minimum temperature at which the battery will start without giving too much trouble. So if you're living in the colder parts of the world, get a battery which will work in the climatic conditions of the place. A lot of people buy the car in a warmer city and then relocate to another, much colder city and face car problems while trying to start. So this is an important tip to keep in mind.
Overusing the car battery can dramatically shorten the battery life. So don't test it. Keep the front lights off when you don't need them and don't honk too much. Keep the AC and the stereo switched off when your car isn't running. Keeping all the battery operated parts of the car 'on' when the car engine is not running will drain the battery a lot faster.
Battery Wear and Tear
The manner and periods of recharging and discharging directly affect the battery life span. Every time a battery discharges, there is a loss of metal from the plates. If, however, there is any irregularity in this process, the life span decreases adversely. For example, if the regulator used for charging is faulty, if the battery is overcharged, if the discharging period (period of use) is extended beyond the maximum period, you will increase the wear and tear of your battery. If you keep on discharging the battery for too long, there is a reaction called 'Sulphation' that happens inside the battery, that permanently damages it. Other notable factors include improper handling of the battery, improper placement of the battery inside the car, allowing it to be rattled on rough roads.
Regular battery maintenance goes a long way in improving its life. The next time you send your automobile for servicing, make sure that the guy checks your battery. The battery line and the terminals need to be cleaned and maintained to optimally utilize it, so that it won't give any problems in the future. Get the water in the battery topped up and make sure the battery is properly charged when you take delivery of your vehicle.
With that said, here are some things to keep in mind when testing your battery.
Part 1: Voltage Numbers to keep in mind
A 12 volt car battery contains 6 battery cells which are approximately 2.12 volts each. Thus, the voltage of a fully charged fresh battery at 21 Degrees is about 12.72 volts. This number should be slightly lower in colder weather and slightly higher in warmer weather. Please note that the reading should be taken without any load and after enough time for the surface charge to dissipate otherwise it will give you a false indication of the state of charge.
This chart can be used as a reference:
If your crank voltage drops to 9.6 volts or lower, this is a sign that your battery may be getting weak and you may encounter starting issues in the winter. It would be a good idea to perform some maintenance on the battery and place a battery charger to fully charge the battery. If both of these things still give you a crank voltage of 9.6 or below, this means that you may require a new battery and an examination of your vehicle charging system.
Here is a good video on how to test the battery and crank voltage with a multimeter. this video shows the voltage levels of a GOOD battery:
This next video shows the voltage of a bad battery and it does not have enough power to start the vehicle. The key thing here to note is that even though the battery voltage at idle is good, the most important voltage is the CRANK voltage which is below 9.6 volts.
Typical Alternator voltage is between 13.79 to 14.20 volts. On some vehicles, it can be as high as 15 volts. If yours is running higher or lower it could mean that the Alternator's voltage regulator may be problematic. In cases where the voltage is running lower, a serpentine belt that is worn and/or a worn belt tensioner may not provide the required rotation needed for the Alternator to generate the correct charging voltage.
Another area where an Alternator might provide lower than the desired voltage is when there is additional resistance on the ground connections (i.e. dirty/corroded connections). Using a volt meter, measure the voltage between the negative battery post and a good ground on the engine/chassis with the engine running and accessories on. ensure there's no higher reading than .3v dc (300mv). if you see more than that, your grounds need to be cleaned and re-grounded to the ground.
Also, with the engine off, pull the negative terminal, test between the disconnected cable and the negative battery terminal for voltage. This voltage shouldn't be more than a few millivolts, assuming everything's off.
Here is a good video on how to test the Alternator:
Part 2: Battery Testing and Maintenance
How to test a battery to see if it is the culprit:
Please note that Partsource, Kaltire, and Mr. Lube offer free in car battery testing at many of their stores using a conductance tester.
Some good information can be found here: https://www.autobatteries.com/en-us/bat ... e/overview
In some instances, one can restore their weak batteries into better condition. This video will show you how:
It is a good idea to perform some battery maintenance once a year. This video will show you all you need to know about Battery Care and Maintenance:
A popular question that comes up is "My battery was tested to have XXX CCA. When should I replace it?"
While there are many schools of thought about this, it is generally stated that one should consider battery replacement on a proactive base tested CCA value on a conductance test is the same as the stated CCA value on the battery. The logic is that a NEW battery when tested for conductance, will rate between 15% to 30% higher than the stated CCA value (depending on the manufacturer). For example, my Diahard Gold 24F battery manufactured by East Penn, the stated CCA was 650 but the conductance test rated it at 850 CCA. This represents approx 30% higher rated CCA value. I would suggest that you do a battery test every November and monitor the CCA, charge and overall health of the battery. My logic is that the colder the outside temp, the less power the battery has. Sometimes being proactive on battery replacement is the difference between having the car start on a cold day when you need it, vs getting a boost. You have used the BEST part of the battery over the years and are just on borrowed time. To quote Clint Eastwood "Do you feel lucky?"
Here is some good reading about age and resistance testing can be found here:
http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/arti ... resistance
A couple additional notes about CCA:
Each battery manufacturer can choose what value of CCA they post for the specs. East Penn tends to be more conservative while other manufacturers may show the stated CCA to be higher.
CCA values are impacted by the state of charge. That means that if you are doing baseline tests for a new battery, it is best to fully charge the battery and remove the surface charge before running your tests. This also means that if your battery is not fully charged and is old, the CCA can decline very quickly. The battery can work one minute and may cause starting issues the next.
Part 3: Shopping for a battery
What Size Battery Do I Really Need?
A battery should be big enough to allow reliable cold starting. The standard recommendation is a battery with at least one Cold Cranking Amp (CCA) for every cubic inch of engine displacement (two for diesels). CCA rating is an indication of a battery's ability to deliver a sustained amp output at a specified temperature.
Specifically, it is how many amps a new, fully charged battery can deliver at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 seconds and still maintain a minimum voltage of 1.2 volts per cell. A rule of thumb says a vehicle's battery should have a CCA rating equal to or greater than engine displacement in cubic inches. A battery with a 280 CCA rating would be more than adequate for a 135 cubic inch four-cylinder engine but not big enough for a 350 cubic inch V8.
My suggestion is to look at the Owners Manual or see the CCA on your factory battery and use that as a baseline. You can always get a slightly larger CCA battery (within reason) but I would NEVER go smaller. Higher CCA offers a larger margin of safety and will help provide reliable starting on cold days if the battery is properly charged, maintained and in reasonable health. Keep in mind that for batteries to have higher CCA, they have more plates in the battery to generate the power. The downside is that those plates are made thinner to fit the battery and extremely hot days can cause those plates to warp and possibly short. This is why I would not suggest you go with some super duper CCA battery if you experience 30 degree + temps in the Summer or very high under hood temps in the car. This is why you will find that some batteries have markings for "north" or "south" in tests as they are designed and sold for the climates that drivers would experience.
Comparing Batteries from various manufacturers/retailers
Some great information can be found here: https://www.autobatteries.com/en-us/how ... t/overview
When shopping for a battery, it is important to check the date code as batteries start to corrode (or sulfate) if left uncharged for long periods.
An example of date codes can be found here: https://www.firestonecompleteautocare.c ... -codes.pdf
Battery Group Size and Terminal Orientation:
Sometimes when you are shopping for a battery, you might encounter a situation where the exact model you need may not be available and require an alternate size. The questions that always come up is:
1) Will the battery size fit?
All batteries in North America go by a BCI Group Size. You can look at the battery size guide here to see what will fit and what does not: https://www.jegs.com/Sizecharts/bcigroup.html. For example, on my 2012 to 2014 Camry, the standard size is 24F. An alternate can be a Group 34R (with the adaptor) or a Group 35 Battery.
2) Will the terminals line up in the correct orientation and will the wires reach?
You will notice that some batteries come with an R or an F lettering after the Group size. This indicates the orientation of the terminals. For example, a Group 24F and 24R indicates that the positive/negative terminals flipped. When in doubt, take a tape measure and measure the distance from the terminals to the end of the battery closest to the wires. This will make sure that the connections are secure and not getting stretched.
Important: When you are faced with a situation where you need to get an alternate battery size, my suggestion is to always go with the battery with the higher CCA and higher reserve capacity that what the owners manual states. For example, the Group 24F battery alternate is a Group 34R or a Group 35. Many times the Group 35 batteries are smaller in size and the CCA/Reserve may be lower than the 24F model. The Group 34R batteries may have higher CCA/Reserve values than the Group 35.
Part 4: Brands of batteries and their Manufacturers
There are essentially 3 big players that manufacture car batteries: East Penn (Dekka), Johnson Controls and Exide. Exide has had some going concern issues and their quality control has been less than stellar. Canadian Tire worked with Exide in the past to rebrand their batteries into their Motormaster and Eliminator house brands. Poor customer experience and high defect rates prompted Canadian Tire to look for another vendor for their batteries. As of the last couple of years, Canadian Tire only works with East Penn (Dekka) for their in house battery brands and also sells Optima Batteries that are sold by Johnson Controls.
Exide Battery Link <-- I would avoid this brand as other brands are cheaper and more reliable.
Makers of Walmart’s Everstart Maxx, Canadian Tire’s Eliminator batteries (after 2015), Parts Source, NAPA, CarQuest, Active Green & Ross Diahard Gold, Toyota/Lexus and many OEM brands. To find out what part number of batteries exist for your vehicle, you can access the Deka Catalog: http://dekacatalog.com/
COUPON ALERT: Active Green and Ross has a $15 mail in rebate on their batteries from Oct 15 to Dec 15. The link to the info can be found here: https://www.activegreenross.com/files/a ... offers.pdf
Makers of Costco, Optima, and Interstate batteries.
To find out the group size for your battery that is sold at Costco and other retailers, you can use this link: https://www.autobatteries.com/en-us/car-battery-finder
The Costco Canada Battery Lookup page can be found here: https://a.sellpoint.net//w/spworld/p.ht ... 0Selectory
Optima battery lookup information can be found here: http://www.optimabatteries.com/en-us
Interstate Batteries lookup information can be found here: https://www.interstatebatteries.com/battery-finder
As of Nov 13, 2018, Johnson Controls has sold their Battery/Power business:https://www.johnsoncontrols.com/media-c ... s-business
I am unsure on how this will impact their quality of their batteries going forward.
Part 5: How to correctly boost/jump start a vehicle properly
Make sure both vehicles are turned off and NOT TOUCHING
1.Clamp the other end of the red cable (+) to the positive (+) terminal but this time on the battery of the BOOST car.
2.Clamp one end of the red cable (+) to the positive (+) terminal on the battery of the DEAD car.
3.Clamp one end of the black cable (-) to the negative (-) terminal on the battery of the BOOST car.
4.Clamp the other end of the black cable (-) to some unpainted metal surface near the battery of the DEAD car. This is to ground the connection. Do not connect it to the negative (-) of the DEAD car’s battery.
These steps are shown in the image below:
Start the BOOST vehicle. Depress the gas pedal and keep the RPM to over 2000 for several minutes to provide some energy to the DEAD car battery.
After about 5 minutes, make sure the DEAD car has their lights, radio, HVAC settings, Heated Seat, Dash Cam, Phone Charger or just about any device not critical to starting TURNED OFF.
Turn the ignition of the DEAD car to the on position and wait for 5 seconds for the fuel pump to pressurize.
Attempt to start the vehicle. Once started, follow the above steps in the backward order to remove the wiring (i.e. Step 4, 2, 1)
Here is a good video that displays the above procedure.
Another tip is when purchasing or using jumper cables, make sure you use something that is 4 Gauge or thicker. This will ensure that the most current can flow between vehicles. Remember, the LOWER the gauge rating, the thicker the wire. A 2 Gauge wire is thicker than a 4 Gauge. Not the other way around.
Part 6 - Battery Installation
Installing a car battery can be a fairly simple process depending on the vehicle in question and your skill/comfort level. Depending on where you shop for batteries, some stores only charge about $25 to swap the battery and can charge higher depending on how complex it is to change it on your vehicle. This may not be a bad idea to get it installed as the stores will not charge you for the core fee on the new battery (which you can get back when you trade in your old battery). Keep in mind that there is taxes that are charged for the core fee that are not returned. Also, factor in your time , gas costs, cost for tools (i.e. wrenches, cleaning brushes, battery cleaner/protector sprays), the weather (i.e. is it raining/snowing, super hot/cold when you are installing it), and if you are physically comfortable swapping a 45+ lb corrosive acid filled battery around to save a few bucks. The costs of installation over the service life of a battery are fairly insignificant (i.e. less than a cup of coffee).
With that said, if you are adamant about doing the installation yourself to save a few $$ and be a true RFDer, here is a great resource that will show you how to swap batteries for your vehicle:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNGQ9F ... p3A/videos
Please note that I am not a mechanic and can't guarantee that the tips and techniques in the videos presented emphasize all the safety concerns for your vehicle and for you. Again, if you don't feel comfortable doing this, get the battery installed by a competent mechanic.
Part 7 - Additional Information
Important Information about Intelligent Battery Systems (IBS) on some cars
When it comes time to change your battery, it is important to know if your vehicle has an Intelligent Battery System (IBS). This system monitors the battery charging cycle, charge rate, and battery charge level. The onboard systems store the information of your old battery. It is important that when the battery is replaced that this system is reset so that it can learn the settings of the new battery. Many people may just do a battery swap without resetting this system. As a result, they will end up shortening the life of the battery as it may be overcharged.
BMW vehicles use an IBS and this link will show how to reset it after a battery change: https://www.youcanic.com/bmw/battery-registration
Radio Anti-Theft Codes
Please note that before disconnecting your battery, it is important to find out if your radio uses any Anti-Theft code to reactivate the unit. Some manufacturers like Honda use this approach and without the code or the means to reinitialize it, you would not be able to use your radio. The codes will be on a small card generally accompanying your owners manual. Alternatively, you could press and hold the volume select button for 2 seconds and that may reactivate the radio.
The video below will show you how to reactivate your radio on a Honda vehicle:
Keep Alive Battery Options
One thing that is often overlooked when swapping a battery is that the onboard computer will be cleared of various information and this can cause issues. One way to resolve this is to look at Keep Alive Battery Options. This video explains the situation:
How to upgrade your Honda Accord Group 51R battery to a Group 35
In an effort to deliver improved fuel economy, many manufacturers look at shrinking the battery size/weight to the detriment of Canadian owners. Honda has followed this trend for well over a decade and those who have Accords know about the issues with their Group 51R battery in cold weather.
Fortunately, there are ways to upgrade the battery to the Group 35 using OEM equipment. This video shows how to replace the existing factory hardware in a Gen 7 to Gen 8 Accord and install a Group 35 battery:
Note that on some recent models of the Accord V6, they actually can accommodate a Group 24F or Group 34R battery. It would be important that you measure the battery compartment to verify if you can place a battery larger than the Group 35.
Here is an article that was in the Toronto Star talking about Car Batteries and some suggestions:
https://www.pressreader.com/canada/toro ... 1379302759
Starting and Charging - Tips and Troubleshooting
While replacing a bad battery may be required, it is important to make sure that Starting and Charging system is working optimally. The following link will show you how to do this: https://www.knowyourparts.com/category/ ... -charging/