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How long do car batteries last?

Batteries, like tires, are wear-and-tear parts that need to be replaced periodically. I’ve never seen or heard of a battery that lasted for the full life of the car it was originally installed in. How long it holds a charge depends on several factors, like the type of car it’s installed in, the number of miles put on it daily, and the climate it operates in.

On average, a new battery lasts about five years in ideal conditions, though your mileage may vary. By ideal conditions, we mean that the car’s electrical system is in tip-top shape, that the battery regularly goes through full charging cycles, and that it’s not subjected to extreme temperatures on a regular basis.

To elaborate, your car’s electrical system consists of many parts like the alternator, the voltage regulator, plus a real latticework of wires and grounds. An issue with any of the above could shorten your battery’s life expectancy if it’s ignored. Preventive maintenance goes a long way. Keep an eye out for early warning signs, like headlights that dim when you turn on the heater, or instrument panel lights that are markedly dimmer than the day you bought the car.

As for full charging cycles, keep in mind your car’s 12-volt battery dispenses a significant amount of electricity to zap the starter motor into motion every time you start the engine. If your commute is half a mile long, the alternator might not have time to recharge the battery before you reach your destination and turn off the engine. We’re not saying you should live further from work, but if you only drive short distances, take your car on a 20- to 30-minute trip every now and then to ensure the battery gets the full charge it needs.

The effect that freezing-cold temperatures have on a car battery are relatively well known. An engine requires more energy to start when the thermometer dips into the 20s, or below, partly because the oil gets thicker. At the same time, the cold makes the battery less effective. It’s weaker, yet it needs to work harder, and that’s not a good combination. What many motorists don’t realize is that hot weather takes an even greater toll on their car’s battery, and the cause of a dead battery in November might be the July heat. While starting is often easier in the summer, rising temperatures under the hood — where many batteries are located — cause the water in the electrolyte solution to evaporate, and cause the plates to corrode.

This isn’t a huge concern if your battery is located in the trunk or beneath the rear seat. However, keep in mind that it’ll still get pretty hot. Sadly, there aren’t many things you can do when you encounter a hot battery. But there are some preventative steps you can take to avoid the situation. One way is to test your battery periodically, usually conducting a test every other season to ensure that it’s functioning correctly and not overheating. It’s also a good idea to store some jumper cables in your vehicle in case you need them. 

What happens if your battery dies?

how to change a car battery
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Luckily, although it’s inconvenient, repairing a dead car battery is one of the easiest and quickest repairs you can make. It’s not only a quick fix, but it’s also a relatively inexpensive repair. And if you understand the process of restarting the battery on your own, you may avoid all associated costs. There’s a trick to jumping your battery if you have a manual transmission and have access to at least one other person for assistance. Start by pushing your car and putting it into second gear. After you’ve accumulated some speed, release the clutch. Unfortunately, this fix can’t be done by yourself. Another thing you can do is to grab a good set of jumper cables (which should be in your trunk if you’re prepared for events such as this). In this case, you’ll most likely need another car for this to work. The cables will channel a proper amount of electricity from the second car and transfer it to get your motor running. However, having a second car isn’t a dealbreaker. You can purchase jumper packs that can restart your vehicle without another vehicle. 

In conclusion, we examined the process of changing a car battery, which is a fairly straightforward, quick, and inexpensive process. When you’ve figured it out, grab your toolbox, and you’ll be all set.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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It’s rare for a car that’s driven regularly to have a dead battery; it’s more common when cars sit for long periods of time. But older batteries have a harder time holding a charge, meaning they can go flat unexpectedly. Leaving the engine off with power-consuming accessories (like the radio) on can also drain the battery in record time.
Step 1: Get a set of jumper cables
Make sure to carry a set of jumper cables in your car at all times, just in case you end up needing them. Any set will do the job, but we suggest looking for cables gauge 4 to 6 in size, with a length of 10 to 20 feet. Cables of that size should be durable enough to work reliably, and a relatively long length gives you an added degree of flexibility in case you can’t park another car right next to the one being jumped. You don’t want cables that are too long, though, as the extra distance electricity has to travel may decrease the strength of the charge.

Portable jump-starters work, too, but the batteries that power them must be kept charged in order for them to work.
Step 2: Find a power source

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