You wake up early, get ready for work, grab your coffee on the way out the door, and head outside to your car — only to discover that the battery is dead. Sure, knowing how to jump-start your car battery can likely get you back on your way, but if it continues to happen, you might have a bad battery on your hands. Simple car maintenance — like our favorite car maintenance tips — and good habits can help keep your car battery in good condition and extend its life.
Why do car batteries die?
Be aware of some important signs that your car battery is dying. If you try to start your car and find the battery is dead, one of the following reasons is likely the culprit, according to Fidel Lerma, car expert and business manager at EBA Automotive in Texas.
You left your lights on
Electric components of your car, like the lights and radio, put a strain on your battery, especially when the car is idling. If you forget to turn off your headlights or one of the interior lights, there’s a good chance your battery may be dead the next time you go to turn on the engine. Your car heater and AC can drain your battery too. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. Make sure they’re turned off while the engine isn’t running.
Your car’s alternator isn’t working
The alternator and car battery work together to make the engine turn on. A warning light will likely illuminate on the dashboard to warn you when the alternator isn’t working properly. Here’s a guide to understanding your car dashboard symbols, which can be helpful in this situation.
Your battery is getting old
Car batteries have an average lifespan of three to five years. Many factors can influence how long your battery lasts, such as how often you drive, what car accessories you use, and where you store your car.
The weather is too hot or cold
Extreme cold or hot temperatures and car battery life don’t mix well. They’ll weaken the battery and shorten its lifespan. Try to store your car somewhere with good air circulation and out of direct sunlight. Heat makes a car battery corrode more quickly than normal. Cold temperatures also weaken an idle battery, so be mindful to keep the charge at a good level during the winter by following some sound winter car maintenance tips.
Your battery has a parasitic drain
A parasitic drain can occur when there’s a short in the electrical system or when too many electronics and car accessories are connected to the car. Even if the car is turned off, there may be a constant drain on the battery. Some drainage is normal and shouldn’t be an issue if you drive regularly. It will likely shorten your battery’s life if the car sits idle for a long time.
There’s a bad connection at the battery terminal
It’s possible for connections to come loose or for corrosion to build up on a car battery. Even if the battery itself is healthy, this may block the transfer of power that starts the engine, making it look like the battery is dead when it’s not.
How to stop a car battery from draining
You can take some proactive measures to keep your car battery from dying. Add these three steps into your routine to keep your battery at a healthy level of charge.
Mix in some longer car journeys
If most of your car trips are short local rides, try to mix in some longer trips a couple of times a week. This doesn’t mean you need to go far. A 20- to 30-minute car ride should be enough to keep your battery at a healthy level.
Keep your battery well-maintained
Pay attention to your battery and note when dirt or corrosion begin to collect on it. You can use a water and baking soda mixture to clean it off when it does. Also, keep an eye on fluid levels, particularly in warm weather. When the fluid evaporates, it will weaken your battery’s charge.
Don’t let the engine idle
Turn off the engine and car accessories when you’re parked in your car or sitting and waiting for someone. The level of charge won’t be able to keep up with the drain coming from the radio, AC, or heat.
It’s also important to stay vigilant so that you don’t let the battery drain consistently. This will weaken it and shorten its overall life. If you follow the tips mentioned, your battery should have a healthy and long lifespan.
How to keep a car battery from dying when not in use
There are times you can’t drive your car regularly, especially if your car is in storage or you are on an extended vacation. Lerma recommends putting these tips into action to avoid coming back to a dead battery.
Invest in a trickle charger or battery maintainer. These gadgets add a slow charge to the car battery when the car isn’t being driven. There are a variety of models you can look into, including some that are solar powered.
Consider disconnecting the battery. Another option is to unplug the negative terminal on your car’s battery. This will prevent parasitic drain as accessories like your car’s clock will still use the battery even when the car is turned off. Looking to get the most mileage out of your vehicle? Take active steps to extend your car’s battery life and help keep your car running smoothly.