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why car batteries die

Car batteries lose their charge for a number of reasons, including old age, elements in the electrical system that drain your battery, or — no offense! — driver error (leaving your headlights, radio, etc., on when your car isn't running). Find out how to detect a failing battery and how to get the most from a healthy one.

Car battery 101

Life expectancy

The typical car battery lasts 3 to 5 years, depending on the type of climate you live in.

If you live in an area that experiences extreme heat or cold, your battery might not make it to its third birthday. If you mostly use your car for short trips (an average run time of less than 20 minutes), your battery may not have a long life because your alternator rarely gets the opportunity to fully recharge it.

Signs your battery is about to die

Older batteries may show signs of their impending demise. Here are some symptoms that might suggest your car battery's about to kick the bucket:

  • Headlights appear dimmer
  • Your A/C makes strange noises
  • You notice reduced airflow when you turn on your vent
  • Your engine struggles to turn over when you start the ignition
  • Your radio volume isn't working correctly
  • Your power windows sluggishly open and close

Tips for maximum car battery life

There are a few ways to make sure you get the most from your battery:

tip
  • Avoid using your car's electrical accessories (radio, lights, vents, etc.) when the car isn't running
  • Keep your car battery's positive and negative terminals free of corrosion (you can use terminal protector spray)
  • Drive your car for longer periods of time (take the long way every now and then)

Hybrid car batteries

Like a cow with its 4 stomachs, hybrids actually have 2 batteries in most cases. The first is called an HV (high voltage) battery. It's typically a pack of low-voltage batteries stacked together to provide power once your car is running (one of the reasons you get such good mileage), and it's typically quite heavy. The other is a traditional 12-volt battery, which starts your car the way it starts conventional engines.

If your hybrid needs a jump-start, it's probably because of that 12-volt battery. This means the jump-starting process is pretty much the same as for a non-hybrid car. Just to be sure, check your owner's manual before attempting to jump-start your hybrid car. Differences in jump-starting procedure and special precautions to take will be noted there.

Getting to know your car battery

Car batteries can die well before their life expectancy for a number of reasons. Follow our tips and give your battery a little TLC now and then to make sure your battery will live a long and energized life.

Related links

How to jump-start your car
You never know when this skill will come in handy.

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