It always happens at the worst possible time. You’re late for work already. You rush out the front door with your car keys in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, and your cell phone precariously perched between your shoulder and your ear as you finish up a last-minute conversation about the 9 o’clock meeting with a client. You wiggle into the front seat and push the start button. You can hear the engine trying to start “er-rur-rur-rur,” but it never turns over. Ugh. Your battery is dead.
Car batteries can drain overnight if you leave the lights on or there is a problem with the electrical system. However, most of the time, there are warning signs for drivers who are observant enough to see them. If you know what to watch for, they might save you from missing that all-important meeting at work and keep you from being late to pick your kid up from school.
1. Sluggish Start
Starting a car requires a significant amount of power. The vehicle cannot use gas to start the engine. It relies on the stored energy in the battery to turn on the engine. If the battery is low on power, it cannot provide enough energy to the starter to start the engine.
As the battery begins to wear out, you may notice that it takes longer for the car to start. It may rev for a few seconds before finally jumping to life. In the late stages, it may even take a few tries to get it to start.
Your car may also be slow to start if the battery connections are covered in corrosion. You can easily remove this build-up using a stiff wire brush. However, if the car is still slow to start after cleaning off the battery posts, the battery itself may be the problem.
2. Lights but no Action
There are many electrical components of the car that operate off battery power when the engine is off. You may hear the radio come on and see the headlights illuminate the inside of the garage when you try to start your car, even though the engine gives you little to no response. Turning the key may only result in a click followed by a buzz.
While a dying battery has enough power to run the car’s smaller electrical systems, it does not have enough amperage to start the engine. You may be able to jump the car to get it to your local auto repair store in Riverton or Bountiful, but you should not trust the battery to start the car reliably until you get to the root of the problem.
3. Aging Battery
Depending on where you live and your driving habits, your car battery should last between four and six years. The age of your battery is the number of years since it was manufactured, not from the date it was installed in your vehicle.
If you don’t know how old your battery is, look at the sticker on the battery itself. Some have the date of manufacture clearly marked on them. On others, the date may appear as an alphanumeric code. For example, a battery marked 11-19 was manufactured in November of 2019. It may also appear as L-19, as letters are sometimes used in place of numbers to represent the month. January would be “A,” February would be “B,” and so forth, skipping over the letter “I.”
Once your battery is four years old, you should have it checked regularly. It is not likely to last much longer, and routine checks can prevent you from being stranded across town when it finally dies. Many automotive stores will do a free battery check for customers.
4. Smelly Battery
Car batteries in good condition are odorless. If yours suddenly begins smelling like someone left a carton of raw eggs under your hood, yours is probably leaking. The rotten egg smell results from the battery venting hydrogen gas and probably sulfuric acid as well. The leaking acid can get on other engine parts under your hood, causing expensive damage. You should address this smelly problem as soon as possible to minimize the repair costs.
5. Low Battery Fluid
Car batteries are lead-acid batteries. It works when electrons move through the fluid in the battery from one lead electrode to the other. If the fluid is low, the electron cannot move as easily, and the battery cannot operate at capacity. You can check the battery fluid level through a translucent window in your car’s battery. If the top of the fluid is low, your vehicle may exhibit signs of needing a new battery.
Tips for Extending Your Battery Life
- Go the Distance – Short trips around town do not give the engine enough time to recharge your battery. If most of your driving is 20 minutes in duration or less, your battery won’t last as long. Consider taking your car on long drives to allow the battery to charge fully.
- Get Out of the Heat – Extreme temperatures are brutal on your car’s battery. Excessive heat, in particular, can cut months off of its life expectancy because it speeds up corrosion and evaporates vital fluids. If you can keep your car in a garage, carport, or parked under a tree, your battery may last longer.
When your car battery dies, almost nothing else in the car works the way it should. It can happen anytime and leave you stranded just about anywhere. You can save yourself a lot of hassle if you can spot the signs of battery trouble and have it replaced promptly.