What’s Wrong With My Car: 5 Signs Your Battery Is the Culprit
Your vehicles battery is like it’s heart. Without that battery, your vehicle wouldn’t have the power to do anything else. So it’s important to understand at least a little bit about your battery, and to know the most common signs of a battery that needs to be replaced.
About Your Battery
For the purpose of this hub, I’m going to be referring to your average vehicle battery for most vehicles made between 1952 and 2010. These batteries are usually called “wet-cell batteries” with two terminals (either side or top post). These batteries the stock batteries that come within your average vehicle, so this short guide should be plenty reliable unless you have an after market battery with special needs, such as a Dry Cell battery.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, I want to impart on you, some general wisdom about your average battery. Make sure to write down this info or bookmark this page if you have any trouble remembering it all:
Batteries normally have a life expectancy of 2-3 years max, even if they say they will last up to 5 years (make sure you get a receipt and warranty for any “long term” batteries). This isn’t necessarily because the manufacturers were lying, but like most “professionals”, they were only referring to the battery lasting that long if you only every used it to start and car and not to run any accessories or extras – EVER.
Optimally, you should replace your battery every 2.5 years (BEFORE you have problems)
Your Battery is dependent on three main components to do it’s job properly – your alternator, starter and battery terminals.
An old battery, even if it doesn’t give off any obvious symptoms, can effect your vehicle in negative ways that will slowly add up to a big repair bill. (hence the importance of replacing your battery before you have problems with it.)
Unless you have a special battery, you’re average battery doesn’t do so well in extremely cold whether, which is often why you have to pump the gas or turn the key back to prime the fuel pump, and do a little dance to get the truck or car started on chili mornings.
Here’s Your 1st Sign….Engine Cranks, No Start
If you’re engine is turning over, but won’t start, the likely culprit is your battery. This symptom is most often mistaken for a bad starter or an alternator problem. 94% of the time, it’s really your battery that reads as “good” under the ampmeter, but is just a few volts shy of what your vehicle needs to run efficiently.
When you find yourself with a car that won’t start, you’ll want to use jumper cables or a jump-starter box to get your vehicle running again. Follow that up by making sure to let it run for at least 30 minutes. After that time has passed, the real test comes next. You’ll want to turn the engine off for at least a minute, then start it again. Do this two or three times to make sure that when you stop to get gas, you won’t be stranded with a dead battery.
Now, at this point, most batteries will recharge from the alternator and be fine for a day or two. Make sure you do NOT take that time for granted. Use that time to hunt down a new battery and replace it BEFORE you end up stuck in the middle of nowhere with no juice in your battery.
Here’s Your 2nd Sign… No Lights, No Start, No Cranking
This one is pretty straight forward and the easiest challenge to self-diagnose. Your battery powers all the accessories and lights in your car, especially when the alternator is not running. So if you find that your car just seems to be completely void of all signs of life, then your battery is the first place you should be looking.
Be aware in this situation, that if your vehicle doesn’t even have the juice to work the lights, crank or turn over – that it could also be a combination problem concerning your battery and your alternator.
Here’s Your 3rd Sign…. One Minute It Starts Fine, Then Next It Won’t
This is what’s considered an “intermittent” problem, and is a sign that you either have a Parasitic Draw or your battery terminals are loose, broken, corroded or calcified. Check out the battery cables first, as they are usually the first culprit and they are easier to check yourself. Make sure they have firm, secure fit onto the battery posts. There should be ZERO play in them, you shouldn’t be able to wiggle them even an inch when they are tight. Also make sure that the cables going to the terminals are not frayed or falling apart; if they are, replace them ASAP.
With a parasitic draw, you’ll want to see your favorite mechanic or read up on the care and feeding of an Ampmeter or Voltometer, as these are the tools you’ll need to check your alternator, accessory lights, fuses, radio, alarm and all other components for a parasitic draw that is draining your battery. This is a fairly common problem, and is often indicated by a habit of having the car start right up if you drive it several days in a row, but it then fails to start if you let it sit for a day.
It’s less common, but still worth noting: Sometimes your battery is not big enough for your vehicle. There have been plenty of times when I’ve seen even a well seasoned mechanic get the wrong battery for a specific vehicle, causing a wild goose chase for some omnipotent starting problem. Make sure you look up your car online or ask in an auto parts store and find out what level of Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) and voltage your car needs to start and run properly.
Here’s Your 4th Sign…. Difficulty With Cold Cranking
If you look at your battery, somewhere on it, you should find a label that says something to effect of “Cold Cranking Amps”. Those amps are responsible for giving your engine enough energy to get started for the first time of the day, which is generally referred to as “cold cranking”.
Often times, battery’s will give drivers this most obvious sign that it’s losing its longevity, and yet most people miss that really obvious symptom of a dying battery.
It’s less common, but still worth noting: Sometimes your battery is not big enough for your vehicle. There have been plenty of times when I’ve seen even a well-seasoned mechanic get the wrong battery for a specific vehicle, causing a wild goose chase for some omnipotent starting problem. Make sure you look up your car online or ask in an auto parts store and find out what level of Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) and voltage your car needs to start and run properly.
Have you guessed what this? That’s right!
It’s when you find that you are regularly having to put extra energy into starting the vehicle. You know what I’m talking about. You get in your car, and the first thing you find yourself doing – is tapping on the gas pedal. Then you go to start the engine, and all you get for the first few minutes is lots of weak rotations of the engine. After that and after you’ve officially gotten frustrated with the car that’s going to make you late for work, it suddenly starts up and sustains idle.
Now, what I mean by “Regularly” having to do this more than 3 times per week. That being said, if it is particularly cold when your vehicle does this, that is fairly normal. Though if it doesn’t stop doing that when the weather warms up, you’ll want to get a new battery within the next 3 months.
Here’s Your 5th Sign…. You’ve Jumped It A Lot
I have a simple and hard rule that I follow when it comes to having to jump your battery, which can drain the battery for others reasons besides being old, such as having a bad starter, fuel pump, bad alternator, you left your headlights on or door slightly open or you ran out of gas.
Now, for whatever reason your battery has died, requiring you to jump it – the rules is this:
***If you have had to jump your vehicle more than 3 times per week, it’s time to replace your battery.***
You would be surprised, but even a fairly new battery can turn into a dud really quickly if it has been jumped more than three times in a weak. It isn’t the batteries fault though, it’s actually the fault of the jump box or use of jumper cables, because they work by figuratively “shocking” your battery.
Now, you might think I’m crazy about replacing the battery after such a low jump count, but hear me out. One of the most common things I see happen in relation to vehicle battery problems, is that the driver/mechanic will assume that because the battery wasn’t old or wasn’t the specific culprit of the battery draining, that they don’t make the time to get a new battery. Then, when they can’t seem to figure out what the problem really is, they keep jumping it until finally the alternator and starter go bad, leaving you with a need for an new alternator, starter AND battery.
Save yourself the headache and just replace the battery if you’ve had to jump the battery more than 3 times in a week. You won’t regret it.
In my years as a mechanic, one thing I have learned is that an old battery or loose battery cables, can cause really big problems that make it appear as if there is something wrong with your vehicle all together. Even experienced mechanics and DIY’ers are sometimes stumped by a simple problem with a battery past it’s prime, until they realize they’ve ruled out all other potential problems (and then some!). That’s one of those “doh!” moments, when you realize you could have saved yourself an hour of diagnostic/repair time, just by checking the battery and surrounding components.
Now, there are other signs of a dying or dead battery vs. other issues with your vehicle. Though I’m going to save them for Part 2 of this hub. In the meantime, I’m glad you’ve taken the time to read all the way through this hub and have started to consider when you will next replace your battery.