The Real Reasons Your Car Battery Keeps Dying
Modern car batteries are designed to start your car or truck, run all of the electronics, and maintain the vehicle’s computer memory. But over time, batteries do eventually run out of juice — sometimes way before their time. Here are the real reasons your car battery dies, or keeps dying, and what you can do to get the most out of it.
Les Schwab Tip: If your battery seems to die while you’re driving, it could be an issue with your vehicle’s electrical components or charging system. You might need to visit your mechanic or stop by Les Schwab so we can double-check your battery and connections.
Why Your Car Battery Keeps Dying
While car batteries slowly die over time, high heat, brutal cold, excessive use of vehicle accessories (after-market equipment), and other mechanical issues can shorten the life of even the toughest battery. Read How Your Battery Works to understand why batteries die over time. The top six reasons batteries die include:
Lights left on. That can be your car headlights, dome light, light in the glove box, or trunk light. Even vanity mirror lights can drain a battery if left on overnight.
Parasitic draw. Your car battery can drain over time from stereo components (subwoofers), phone chargers, and anything you leave plugged into vehicle outlets that continue to draw power from the battery after the car is turned off. Other power drains include interior and below-vehicle LED lights.
Loose or corroded connections. A loose connection can damage the battery and/or drain it. Check your battery cables often for corrosion. If you find any, clean it off to ensure a tight connection.
Excessive heat and cold. It seems like batteries die most often in the winter. You go to start your car, and the battery just cannot turn the engine over. But it’s not the cold that kills most batteries. Hot summer months can deteriorate your battery. Then, you notice that lack of power in the winter. To help avoid damage to your battery from heat, park your vehicle in a garage or under a shelter on hot summer days.
The alternator has issues. Once your car is started, the alternator helps it stay charged. But if the alternator is going bad or the alternator belt is slipping, it might not recharge your battery.
Quick trips or leaving your car parked too long. Too many quick trips (less than 15 minutes in length) can degrade a battery. Additionally, letting a car sit for too long without being started (weeks or months) can cause issues.
Age. Batteries don’t last forever. How often you start your vehicle, how far you drive, the health of your alternator, the hot and cold conditions in your region, and more can affect the lifespan of your battery.
How to Prevent Your Battery From Draining, and What Causes It
The life of your car battery depends on where you live, how much you drive, and more. If your car needs a new battery, Les Schwab is here to help with batteries for everything you drive. Here are a few tips to help keep your battery from draining.
Unplug Extra Accessories: Known as parasitic draw, your car battery can drain from stereo components and phone chargers that continue to work when the car is turned off. Also, be on the lookout for glove-box lights, trunk lights, and interior lights that remain illuminated.
Take a 15-minute drive: At least once per week, take your car for a short drive. As long as your alternator is working correctly, this will help maintain the battery state of charge.
Don’t leave your headlights on: Turn the switch to the “off” position, even if your lights go off automatically.
Avoid deep discharging: Don’t leave the lights on or the stereo going while the car is turned off. This can result in a dead battery.
Tighten and Clean Battery Connections: If your battery terminals are loose or corroded, they can drain or damage the battery. It could also cause your car to stall. If you do find corrosion, it’s easy to clean with a stiff-bristle brush (an old toothbrush works great), and a mixture of one part baking soda to three parts water. With a little elbow grease, the corrosion will vanish. Just be careful not to get any of the baking soda/water mixture in your battery or on other parts of your engine or vehicle.
What to Do When Your Battery Dies
Dead batteries happen to everyone. It can be frustrating, especially when you’re late for work. Having a set of jumper cables or a jump starter can get you going again. We’ve put together a jump-start how-to video to help get your car or truck started.
When you’re a Les Schwab customer, you’re welcome to call us during regular business hours. If we’re available, we may be able to drive to your location and give you a jump start.
Need More Help? Give Us a Visit!
Les Schwab gets a charge out of checking your battery. Come on by and we’ll perform a free inspection. Whether it just needs to be recharged or if you need a new battery, we can help, including new batteries for most vehicles.
Seasonal Car Battery Care: Why and How
An average car battery will last 4 to 5 years, maybe even up to 7. But where and how you drive and what the weather’s like in your area affect its life. Many short trips are harder on batteries than fewer, longer ones. In hot climates, you may only get 2 to 3 years out of a new battery.
Unless you’re having obvious trouble, you may just ignore it. But it’s a good idea to get your auto battery checked every fall. As cold weather arrives, the everyday work of starting up and powering your vehicle gets harder, and summer heat may have taken an invisible toll. Those battery problems you run into in the winter likely started in the summer.
What Does Summer Heat Do to a Car Battery?
Hot weather is the harshest environment for car batteries.
When it’s 90 or 95 degrees outside, it’s 140 to 150 degrees under your hood. These high temperatures can cause the water in your vehicle’s battery to evaporate. High heat can also force some of the fluid out of the battery vents in the form of gases. That will cause a chemical reaction with the lead and other metals on the battery connector. If you see corrosion that looks like white or blue crystals on the nodes with + and – signs (your battery terminals), that’s why.
The inside of a typical lead-acid car battery is like a layer cake made up of plates of lead and other components, with the “frosting” being a solution of about one-third sulfuric acid and two-thirds water. When some of that water evaporates or some sulfuric acid is forced out because it’s hot, there's not enough fluid to surround the plates. At that point, they start corroding.
About half of premature battery failures are caused by the loss of fluid in the battery. You may not see this damage, but it will reduce your battery’s efficiency.
Then there are the ways you use your vehicle in the summer. A battery can be pushed to its limit with demands from the engine cooling fan, air conditioning, stereo, and GPS or other gadgets you charge on your road trip. Deep discharges also speed up the battery’s aging. This can happen whenever you use the car’s electrical system while it’s turned off.
How to Take Care of Your Battery in Summer
Avoid deep discharges. It’s fun to park by a lake and listen to music through your car’s stereo and handy to charge your phone from the 12V socket while you’re camping, but draining the battery significantly can damage its internal parts.
Use the car regularly during heat waves. It’s not just cold weather that can damage a battery left unused — heat is harmful to sitting batteries, too. Park in the shade whenever possible. Keeping the temperature under the hood even a bit lower than it would otherwise be will slow fluid evaporation.
Speaking of battery fluid, faster evaporation in the warm months will increase corrosion. Clean any corrosion off the top of your battery once a year and make sure the cables are tightly connected. Corrosion is caustic, so make sure you wear gloves and proper eye protection to do this. Dissolve some baking soda in a bit of water and use a toothbrush to gently scrub the battery terminals and cable clamps.
Why Won’t the Car Start When It’s Cold Outside?
If it’s worked hard over summer, or the weather was really hot, your car’s battery may not be as efficient come fall, for the reasons above. If it’s not operating right it will have trouble holding a charge and delivering cranking power to the engine.
A telltale sign that your battery needs attention is if you notice your car is slow to turn over on chilly mornings but easier in the afternoon. This happens because all the fluids in your vehicle are thicker when temperatures are lower, like syrup that's straight out of the fridge versus warm. So it takes more power to move the motor oil required to crank the engine. Also, the chemical reactions that happen in the battery are slower in the cold.
With newer cars, you might not even have a slow start — your car simply won’t start.
Simply put, your vehicle’s systems need additional output from the battery to operate in colder conditions. If your battery is old, needs recharging, or isn't able to hold a charge, it will struggle to perform in the cold weather.
How to Take Care of Your Battery in Winter
First, get your battery tested in the fall, between summer heat and winter cold. A test will tell you if the battery is fully charged, how many cold cranking amps it can provide, and generally how healthy it is.
Keep a battery charger on hand and use it if you’re driving your vehicle less often in the cold months, you make frequent very short drives, or if you’re having trouble starting in the morning. If you live in a very cold climate where temps can get down to 5 degrees F, consider using a block heater or battery blanket.
A block heater will warm your engine so it's easier to start the car. A battery blanket will, as the name suggests, keep your battery warmer so the fluid keeps moving and it’s easier for the battery to crank the necessary amps when it’s cold out. Depending on where you live, you may want to use both these items — talk to a mechanic to figure out what you need.
Keep jumper cables in your car, as you’re more likely to need them in the winter.
Heading into the cold months, take a few minutes to clean corrosion off the top of your battery and make sure the cables are tightly connected.
We’ve said it twice, but it’s important enough to say one more time: Autumn is the time to get your battery checked to avoid irritating problems in the winter. If your vehicle’s battery is over 4 years old, it’s especially important to get it checked annually.
Need a New Battery? Start Here.
If you’re wondering how often you should change your car battery, how long it takes to change a battery, or why your battery died suddenly without warning, the answer might not be what you’re expecting.
Leaving Battery Installation to the Professionals
At one time, removing your vehicle’s old, dead battery and installing a new one was an easy bit of car maintenance. Today’s vehicles are more complex. And, so are today’s automotive batteries. Vehicles from the mid-90s may require special equipment and care when changing a new battery. In fact, don’t be surprised if you’re not sure how to even unhook your car battery.
The reason for that complexity? Most of today’s cars and trucks are packed with computers and other special electronic equipment that rely on a continuous power supply. Incorrectly changing out a battery can affect your radio presets, security system, power windows, as well as your air conditioning and heating controls.
More importantly, a loss of power during battery installation can also cause unseen issues to your vehicle’s operating systems. Because today’s automotive computers adapt while you drive, a loss of power can negatively affect systems that regulate your transmission, engine efficiency, and battery charging.
Batteries aren’t always under the hood of today’s vehicles. They may be located on the inside of your vehicle, which require a specific battery that needs ventilation to keep harmful gasses out of your vehicle’s interior.
Start at Les Schwab
If you think you have a drained battery, head over to a Les Schwab near you. Our battery installation teams use the latest equipment to maintain power to those sensitive systems during the battery installation process. We also use the latest in diagnostics and testing equipment to check the overall health of your battery, charging and starting systems.
Know the Nearly Dead Battery Warning Signs
It doesn’t take a lot of power to start today’s vehicles, which means you might not get the telltale slow-start associated with a dying battery. You might not even notice your battery is going dead until it’s too late.
Things that can contribute to a drained battery include extreme hot and cold weather, how often and far you drive each day, how long your vehicle is parked in one location without being started, and if you have any aftermarket equipment installed such as a stereo or auxiliary electronics and lighting. See our article How Your Auto Battery Works to understand why batteries die over time and how a car battery recharges.
LesSchwab Tip: Because the signs of a weak battery might not be as noticeable and batteries rarely die at a convenient time, the professionals at your local Les Schwab can check your battery condition for free — even if it isn’t dead.
While it’s common to experience a dead battery in the winter, it’s actually the hot, summer months that cause most battery wear and tear. This is due to an increase in the chemical reactions inside the battery during hot days. When the weather gets cold, that damage is more likely to cause battery failure.
Enjoy up to a Seven Year Battery Warranty
Get a jump on your next battery at your local Les Schwab. We carry automotive batteries for cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, crossovers, RVs, and more. We’ll help you find the best battery for your vehicle and get you quickly back on the road. Our professional installation takes the guesswork and worry out of buying a new battery. Learn more at Les Schwab Tire Centers.