How Long Does a Car Battery Last? How to extend car battery life in 2020

The longevity of a car battery depends on many factors, one of which is the quality of the product. This aspect is directly related to the price, in which case it would be a smart decision not to search for the cheapest alternative. Some manufacturers are providing 3 or 4 years of free replacement warranty, but it would not be a mistake to assume that their products are in the middle or high price range.

In addition to the usual maintenance work, there is a set of measures every car owner can take to prolong the life of the battery. So, how long does a car battery last? First of all, it is necessary to understand the processes that are happening inside the battery and what can directly influence them.

Table of Content

  • 1 How do car batteries work?
  • 2 A car battery
  • 3 The car battery charging process
  • 4 How long should a car battery last?
  • 5 When is it necessary to change the battery?
  • 6 Factors that can impact battery life
  • 7 Signs that my battery might fail
  • 8 How to increase car battery life?
  • 9 Battery charging

How do car batteries work?

A battery as part of a car’s electrical system is a source of power for the electrical component in the event of insufficient generator power or when the internal combustion engine is off.

A rechargeable battery is a chemical source of direct current, the principle of which is based on the process of converting the energy released by a chemical reaction into electrical energy.

How Long Does a Car Battery Last? How to extend car battery life in 2020

A car battery

One of the advantages of a car battery is its reusability. The car battery charging is realized through the passing of the current in the opposite direction received from an external charging source. At the same time, chemicals obtained as a result of the battery discharge process regenerate the active starting products.

The car battery charging process

Structurally, the battery is a dielectric box, divided by internal partitions into several compartments. Usually there are six compartments, each of which contains a small capacity battery. All batteries in six compartments are combined into a single battery.

The top of the battery cell is closed by a single lid of the dielectric box. The cover has a series of holes through which electrolyte flows into each battery, and which serve as windows for the terminals of the two poles of the battery.

Each of the composite batteries has two alternating blocks of positive and negative plates. Plates of one polarity are welded to special fastening elements on partitions, the design of which connects the terminals of all batteries to each other.

Structurally, the plates are made in the form of grids made of an alloy of lead, antimony and calcium, which have the properties to slow down the process of discharging the battery by increasing the time of electrolyte decomposition.

The active substance obtained from an aqueous solution of sulfuric acid and red lead is pressed into the grid of plates to increase the capacity of positive plates and the same solution with lead haze is used to increase the capacity of negative plates.

The blocks, consisting of interconnected plates of the same name, have pole terminals in the form of pins.

The design feature of the blocks is that the positively charged plates alternate with the negative charge plates, being located between the latter. Due to this method of arrangement, there is usually one more negative plate, which protects positive plates from destruction or deformation.

The short circuit of positive plates with negative plates is eliminated due to their placement in special shaped separators made of thin porous plastic that have the form of envelopes. Such properties of the plastic material cause the flow of electrolyte through the walls of the separators, reducing the internal resistance, as a result of which the discharge current reaches a high power. The design of the separators also prevents short circuits in case of active substance spill.

How Long Does a Car Battery Last? How to extend car battery life in 2020

The terminals of the car battery are made in the form of cones of standard sizes. This shape of the terminals ensures strong contact with the wire terminals even if they are worn. In order to prevent incorrect connection of the leads when installing batteries in the vehicle’s electrical system, the positive leads have a larger diameter than the negative ones.

The holes in the lid of the dielectric duct, through which electrolyte is poured into each compartment, are closed with stoppers that have small diameter vents to allow gaseous products that form during the operation of the battery to exit.

The battery is one of the most important elements of the electrical system of the car. This is exactly why its reliability is the key to safe operation of the vehicle.

How long should a car battery last?

Ideally, every car owner would want his car battery to last for no less than 10 to 15 years. Manufacturers usually provide 2 or 3 years of full warranty, but there is no telling when something may go wrong.

The main causes of technical problems with the car battery before the warranty period expires are manufacturing defects.

This is a short list of some of the potential issues:
  • Displacement of separators as a result of failure of the process equipment during battery assembly.
  • The deformation of negative or positive plates during welding work during the manufacture of the connection.
  • The overall poor quality of welding joints.

It should be noted that the leading manufacturers of car batteries seek to reduce these situations to a minimum by introducing modern quality management systems and better control at all production stages. Therefore, the reject rate in the total number of products rarely exceeds 0.3%. This makes it possible to provide a long-term warranty on products.

How Long Does a Car Battery Last? How to extend car battery life in 2020

When is it necessary to change the battery?

In the optimal conditions without violating the technical regulations of the manufacturer, the battery can last for at least 5 years. A number of factors may significantly reduce its life. The main ones are the critical discharge and recharging of the battery, which are equally harmful. Another factor is defective electrical equipment in the car, including the generator and the starter. Accordingly, to extend the life of the battery, you need to carefully monitor the overall technical condition of the machine.

Factors that can impact battery life

It should be noted that the most durable batteries are produced on the basis of calcium or hybrid technology, the plates of which are made by casting. This is especially true for batteries of the highest price category. The term of their active operational period often exceeds the average of 5 years, closely approaching the eight-year mark.

We have analyzed the factory defects that lead to a short battery life. Now let’s take a look at factors that the car owner can control.

  • Freezing of the battery

A frozen car battery in extreme conditions leads to a decrease in the density of the electrolyte. As a result, the battery case may crack and the electrolyte will drain. As a rule, this happens if you add distilled water after parking the car, which is why it does not mix with electrolyte. In frosty weather, it is necessary to pay special attention to the level of charge and the state of the electrolyte. If the car has not been used for a long time, do not be lazy to recharge the battery from time to time.

  • Overheating

High temperatures also adversely affect the vehicle’s battery. On hot summer days, when the electrolyte temperature reaches +35˚C, the course of chemical reactions inside the battery is accelerated and the electrodes start to wear out much faster. When the temperatures rise even more, battery life decreases significantly. On hot days, the device should cool as much as possible.

  • Extreme charging

The process of charging the battery and the voltage in the on-board network from a regular automotive generator is monitored by a special electronic device – a relay-regulator. It can often fail, and the driver does not notice any signs of a malfunction. At this time, the voltage applied to the battery can be very high. As a result, the electrolyte in the battery begins to boil and evaporate, and the plates become bare. The density of the electrolyte increases. All this leads to the sulfation of the electrodes and the destruction of the active mass. In simple words, the battery capacity is significantly reduced, debris appears in the electrolyte (sulfuric acid lead crystals), often a short circuit occurs in one or several banks. This process is irreversible and soon leads to a complete inoperability of the battery and its replacement.

  • Incomplete charging

Incomplete battery charging is no less harmful than overcharging. The reason for undercharging can be poor generator performance, frequent and prolonged starter operation, too much power consumption or electrical breakdown (due to oxidation of the terminals on the battery or alternator). It is important to remember that after the engine is started by the starter, the battery takes a heavy “hit” – it takes about 30 minutes to charge it after that. Incomplete charging is facilitated both by long vehicle downtime and frequent, but short trips. Incomplete charging in winter is particularly dangerous – the battery may simply freeze.

  • Current draining

It should be noted that after shutting down the engine, electricity from the battery continues to be consumed until the entire system of the car stops working. As a rule, it takes up to 20 minutes. In such cases, electricity is spent on forcibly cooling the motor with a fan or to ensure that the alarm is working. This kind of current drain does not carry any danger to the battery.

However, so-called “parasitic” current leakages due to malfunction of electronic components, resulting in a deep battery discharge, often arise.

  • Driver’s actions

Most often, the battery fails due to the mistakes of the car’s owner. For example, very often the driver forgets to turn off the parking lights or headlights. After a few hours, the battery is completely discharged, after which internal damage occurs with almost one hundred percent probability – irreversible sulfation of the plates. No matter how many times you try to restore such a battery, it will not return to its previous capacity, its service life will be reduced.

In order for the battery not to fail you at the most inopportune moment, it is necessary to monitor not only the battery itself, but also other vital elements – the generator, its diode bridge and driving belt. Devices like a voltmeter help to detect any types of problems with the battery.

Signs that my battery might fail

An experienced driver, when confronted with a number of evident signs, will immediately understand what the matter is and draw the appropriate conclusions.

If you want to know how to tell if car battery is dead, then it is necessary to pay attention to these manifestations:
  • If the engine starts with difficulty, not only in the cold season, but also in the summer – you probably need to change the battery in the car. It simply does not hold the charge, and the starter does not have enough energy to start the engine.
  • If your car is equipped with an on-board computer, and it constantly tells you to charge the battery – this message cannot be ignored.
  • If you check the battery with a multimeter after long trips, and it shows a low voltage level, an urgent replacement of the battery is necessary.
  • If the liquid inside the battery is dark, change the battery immediately. It is actually dangerous to drive the car with destroyed plates, as it may provoke an explosion.
  • Sometimes it does not hurt to even smell the battery. In case of unpleasant putrid odor, it must be replaced with a new one.
  • A simple test can also be listening to the radio in the car for an hour. If after that the car doesn’t starts as usually, it means that the battery is losing its charge quickly.

And, of course, if your battery is older than four years, it’s time to think about purchasing a new one.

How Long Does a Car Battery Last? How to extend car battery life in 2020

How to increase car battery life?

Any battery must be kept clean of dust, especially the ventilation holes; otherwise the battery will be quickly discharged. The surface can be cleaned from time to time from oil and other dirt stains with a cloth moistened with a 10% solution of ammonia.

Be sure to timely check the terminals and, if necessary, tighten them. When disconnecting the terminals, you should always start with the negative. They should be completely dry when you install them back.

It is critical to regularly monitor the density and level of electrolyte in batteries, periodically pouring distilled water. The heat plates should always be immersed in it; otherwise they will quickly begin to deteriorate. However, the excess of electrolyte should be avoided: the optimum level is about two centimeters above the upper edge of the plates.

Other important rules are:
  1. It is crucial to prevent mechanical damage to the battery – this can lead to leakage of electrolyte and damage to both the battery itself and the surfaces of the car.
  2. In winter, the battery suffers the most severe loads, so in winter it is better to make short trips less often and to refrain from starting the engine too often. The battery of any car must be recharged before winter.
  3. You should not keep the battery completely discharged. It has to be charged periodically, without allowing deep discharges.
  4. If you plan to stop using the car for a long time, it is best to disconnect the battery altogether, but even in this case it is necessary to recharge it once every two or three months. In winter, the removed battery should be stored indoors at positive temperatures (up to +30 degrees), because the freezing temperatures can harm it.

Proper maintenance and constant attention is required even by modern, maintenance-free car batteries – this is a guarantee that the battery will function for a long time and there will be no unpleasant surprises on the road.

Battery charging

In preparation for battery charging, it is necessary to follow these steps:
  1. Clean the battery of dirt and dust, and carefully remove the terminals.
  2. Inspect it for mechanical damage, electrolyte “boiling” or leakage.
  3. Open the battery plugs, inspect each of the cans and assess the level of electrolyte in them. If there is not enough electrolyte, then this shortage should be filled with distilled water.
  4. Pay attention to the color of the electrolyte and its transparency. Electrolyte must be completely transparent. If the electrolyte has a dark color or some sort of particles float in it, then this electrolyte is not suitable for charging.

After the preparatory work, you can proceed to the charging itself. Take notice!

Terminals from the charger are first attached to the battery, and only then the charger is plugged into a socket.

Charging batteries using constant voltage implies a direct relationship between the battery level and the charge voltage. For example, at a charging voltage of 14.4 V, the battery will charge in 2 days, and at a voltage of 16.5 V – in just 1 day.

The combined charging method is the most common and modern with the new chargers. With this method, the battery is first charged with a constant current, and at the end – a constant voltage. The whole process is fully automated and does not require human participation and control. When the battery is fully charged, the charger turns itself off.

Sometimes it happens that there is no time and a very fast recharging is needed to start the engine. For express charging, you must remove the battery terminals and connect the terminals of the charger, keeping in mind the polarity. Set the current controller to maximum for 15-20 minutes and then disconnect the charger. This option is not very useful for the battery and reduces its service life, so using it too often is not recommended.

Full charge will retain much better battery functionality, and with such a charge it will last much longer than with express charging. New batteries are usually fully charged.

How Long Does a Car Battery Last? How to extend car battery life in 2020

But sometimes it happens that because of the long storage, they partially lose their charge. Such batteries before operation should be revived. In order to do this, you need to charge them for several hours with a constant voltage method with a low current value. For new batteries, you cannot apply the method of express charging.

In some instances, it just so happens that there is no specialized charging device at hand, in which case car owners want to find out how to charge a car battery without a charger. There are methods by which a car battery can be charged without a charger, but they are all potentially hazardous and are never recommended to be used. This can be done through a laptop charger for example, but the current has to be adjusted and a bulb, connected in series, may be connected between the charger and the car battery.

By choosing a quality product, you won’t even need to think about warranty in most cases, but this doesn’t mean that maintenance is not necessary. If you pay attention to the state of the battery and make sure that it functions properly, then it will certainly last for a lot longer than anticipated.

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