When to swap out your car battery

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Car battery

A new car battery is an often-overlooked, but very important part of vehicle maintenance. Image from Flickr.

It’s a sound (or rather, lack of a sound) that everyone dreads. Turn your ignition switch, and hear just a click-click. It could mean that you just left the lights on overnight, or it could mean that your battery is dying. Knowing when to replace your car battery can help cut down on these unfortunately surprising moments of being stranded.

How a car battery works

Most 12 volt car batteries work in essentially the same way. Lead-acid batteries combine diluted sulfuric acid with lead plates to store chemical energy. Call on the battery for power, and it puts out electrical energy by running the acid over the lead. Eventually, the lead plates run out of charge, and they must be recharged before they can be used again. Finally, though, the components wear out and the battery can no longer hold a charge.

When to replace a car battery

Depending on the kind of conditions you use your car battery under, you could need to replace it as often as every two years. Under average use, most batteries last three to six years. “Heavy” or “taxing” usage of your car battery could include things such as:

  • Driving or storing your battery in extreme cold (such as hard winters)
  • Not refilling the battery with distilled water regularly
  • Running energy-expensive add-ons, such as alarm systems, off your battery
  • Jump-starting your batteries or other’s batteries regularly

Usually, when you are getting the oil changed or taking your car in for maintenance, you can ask for the battery to be checked. If you are certain that the alternator and belts that charge the battery are good, and it tests with low charge, it is time to replace it.

What to do with your old car battery

Old car batteries, even if they are not holding a charge, can still be useful. You should never throw away a car battery – the sulfuric acid in them can be very damaging. Instead, take the battery to a local recycling center. Usually, a dead car battery will net you between $3 and $5 dollars – not a huge amount of money, but enough to treat yourself to a latte for changing the battery in your car.

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