How to Handle a Dead Car Battery

Dealing With a Dead Car Battery

Battery Tester from OTC

A dead car battery is one of the most common problems facing the automotive public. I’m sure at one point you’ve gone out to a vehicle and found a no start condition caused by a dead battery.

This page will answer the questions of what to do next and how to make the replacement last longer, should it come to that. The first thing to address is how long will it last on average, and at what point should we replace it instead of charging and testing.

The average car battery will last for about three to five years. In some cases you’ll find it fails right in the middle of this scale and needs replacing at the four-year mark. The exception to this rule of thumb is the modern AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) technology. This is found in batteries rated for 6 or 7 years.

Mechanics mark the date they installed the battery. Also look for a date of manufacture found on the top near the branding label. This is when the clock starts ticking. Testers and chargers aren’t to expensive these days and nice to have around the garage. Although keep in mind, when I see regular lead acid batteries 4 years or older I won’t bother testing them.

Duracell Ultra Platinum AGM Battery
Duracell Ultra Platinum AGM Battery

Yes, I’m speaking in general terms and personally I’ve seen them live 7 years and die as soon as 1yr. There are many variables that will help determine how far it’ll go. To follow are some things that can send it to an early grave.

Short trips all the time can reduce the life span. If the vehicle has an average run time of less than 20 minutes the alternator may not have the chance to recharge it all the way.

Many starting cycles coupled with short run times can leave the battery below the ideal charged specification for most of it’s shortened life. Another reason for a dead car battery is exposure to extreme temperature. The internal cranking power is created by chemical reaction.

The outside temperature affects this chemical reaction. This is why you will find that some are encased in an insulated jacket or plastic housing from the factory.

This insulation allows it to go through its normal temperature changes slowly and can extend overall battery life. One of the big mistakes the do-it-yourself and professional mechanics will make is when they replace a car battery they will discard this insulated cover.

This will also shorten the life span of the replacement. The car maker put this on for a reason so don’t forget to reinstall it. Your battery already has enough things to fight against so don’t make the situation worse.

Dead Car Battery Diagnosis

Battery Warning Label

When your car battery goes completely dead, there are a few factors that will determine your next step. If it is more than four years old, you’re best bet would be to replace the battery.

If you’re not sure how old it is your next step should be to charge and test the battery. Note: You should always wear safety glasses and protective clothing. Battery acid is dangerous stuff!

On the positive side, battery chargers and testers have come down in price in recent years. These are good tools to have around. This way you’ll have what you need when faced with dead battery problems.

Get the Most Out of New Batteries

If you take care of your battery, it will take care of you. Regular maintenance is a good habit to get into. If you want it to last to the five-year mark, you’re going to have to take care of it. This is not to hard to do.

Auto Facts repair manuals
Auto Facts Repair Manuals

The stuff to use is called terminal protector spray. If you apply this product to a new or clean terminals, it will greatly reduce the amount of corrosion that builds up.

Corrosion can prevent proper automatic charging from the alternator. This is so important on cars that are primarily used for short trips. Following this procedure every six months, will help it last much longer.

This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With that said, a dead car battery is a fact of life. Prepare for when this happens.

To avoid getting stuck somewhere make sure you have a good set of battery cables, flashlight and safety glasses in your vehicle. You also want to be familiar with the hook up and operation of these cables. In my opinion, an even better solution to the dead battery problem is to have a jump box on board.

Don’t forget to check the charge level every couple of months and recharge as needed. Having your own battery jump box can avoid the problems of hooking up the jumper cables to another vehicle. It’s also nice to be able to jump your vehicle without having to ask somebody for help. These jump boxes have also come down in price over the last few years.

Jump n carry 600
Jump n carry 600

My own personal battery jumper is about five years old and has saved my neighbors and me many times. I own the jump n carry 600 that has been updated to the 660 model.

This thing has 1700 peak amps at 12 volts. If this monster doesn’t jump your vehicle then it has another problem. I have jumped dump trucks, construction equipment and buses as well as my girlfriends 2004 Toyota Camry SE with my jump-n-carry.

This unit may be overkill for the do it yourself mechanic and it has no reverse polarity protection so you better hook it up right. If your looking for a lighter duty model with built in protection than I would recommend the Stanley J5C09 jumper that comes with a reverse polarity alarm. It’s available below for an affordable price and even has a 120psi compressor.

All the tools listed below and talked about above come with easy-to-follow instruction manuals. Learning how to use these cranking and charging system tools assures you know what to do the next time when faced with a dead car battery.

The OTC tester above also diagnoses the charging system. If a car does a lot of sitting take a look at the charge maintainer. For more independent reviews click on the product and view testimonials from automotive enthusiasts.

Testers, jump boxes and chargers can give you piece of mind and independence. Most use simple indicators of green or red that takes the guessing out of diagnosing problems. This next page discusses the guidelines you should follow when replacement is necessary. Also the two top items to consider to avoid future car battery problems.

Learn more about do it yourself auto repair from a few of my best articles on many subjects. This next link takes you to my main page about DIY auto repair.

A lot of people ask me what my favorite brand is or my go to replacement. I’m a fan of the Interstate brand. When it comes to picking out a replacement you don’t want to get old stagnant stock.

Interstate is one of the best selling brands and with a lot of movement comes a lot of stock rotation. I’ve bought old batteries before in a pinch when I didn’t have the luxury of choice.

If it’s been sitting for a year you can knock this off the average life span. Luckily I have a favorite store in town that stocks the old faithful green and white brand I prefer. Use the same professional online program I use to fix your own car.

I put together a screen capture video that shows you some of the key features and exactly how the program can help you fix your own car. Learn more about All-Data online auto repair manuals. If you are looking for additional dead car battery resources I can point you toward a couple of good web sites. (They open in a new window) The consumer reports battery buying guide.

Video from E-how to that shows you how to replace a dead car battery.

Learn more about this car auto repair website and the mechanic that built this page about dead car batteries on the homepage. This next link will take you there and answer your Automobile questions.