Common Signs That You Might Need a New Car Battery

June 14th, 2024 by

A mechanic is shown performing a car battery replacement near Mason.

We’ve all been there. You try to start your car on a chilly Ohio morning, only to find that your battery isn’t up to the task. Whether you’re headed for a little tailgating at Paul Brown Stadium or taking the family to explore Loveland Castle, a dead battery can easily throw a wrench in your weekend plans. While it can be frustrating for any driver, there are some easy ways to spot a declining battery well before it turns into a minor emergency. From dim headlights and warning lights to slow starts, odd smells, and spotty performance from your vehicle’s various electrical systems, there are a few obvious signs that it might be time for a car battery replacement near Mason. Let’s outline some of these common symptoms, take a closer look at what a car battery does, and review a few quick tests that can help you gauge its performance and lifespan.

What Does the Battery Do?

While many of us are taught that a battery’s only purpose is to start a vehicle, that’s not exactly true. Your car battery performs five vital tasks necessary to keep your vehicle running, so maintaining good battery health and keeping up with scheduled replacements is always a good idea. Let’s walk through some of the expected and unexpected roles that your battery fulfills and learn just how important it is in the grand scheme of things.

Starting: We’ll start with the most obvious job your battery performs: starting the vehicle. While this might seem pretty straightforward, many fail to realize that a car battery doesn’t start the engine by itself, but rather supplies power to a starter motor responsible for spinning the engine to initiate the internal combustion process.

Powering Electrical Systems: The alternator is in charge of powering some of the vehicle’s more power-hungry components, such as the headlights, power windows and doors, electric steering system, and heated seats, but that doesn’t mean the battery is just loafing around. A car battery typically supplies juice to some of a vehicle’s dashboard components, like warning lights and indicators, which are important for safely operating a vehicle and checking for any potential malfunctions.

Temporary Power: While your battery isn’t really designed to power the electrical systems and components that are usually handled by the alternator, it can help out in a pinch. When your vehicle is shut off, the battery can run headlights, wipers, and the stereo for a short period of time, but relying on it in the long term is a surefire way to drain it.

Surge Protection: A power surge or short circuit can lead to significant and expensive damage in today’s vehicles, but the battery also helps with this. In addition to its other duties, a car battery acts as a surge protector, absorbing energy spikes and acting as a last line of defense against shorts.

Preserving Memory: Vehicles are packed with a host of electronics that need a little power to maintain different settings and memory functions. From your customized seat positioning to your stored radio presets, a car battery supplies a tiny amount of electricity to keep these settings from resetting every time you turn off the vehicle.

A battery warning light is shown on the dash of a vehicle.

When to Replace

Ideally, your car battery should provide between four and five years of solid service life, but many factors can cause a battery to give up the ghost well before its time. These include frequent, short drives where the alternator doesn’t have enough time to recharge the battery, cold temperatures, extreme heat or humidity, corrosion, and even a faulty alternator. Aside from just keeping an eye on the calendar, there are a few easy ways to tell if your battery might be nearing the end of its useful life. These include:

Dim Headlights: Dim headlights are one of the most obvious signs of a failing battery. Headlights that get brighter when accelerating and start to dim when running at an idle are a tell-tale sign of a bad battery. These can be hard to notice when you’re behind the wheel. If your headlights don’t provide as much illumination as they once did when driving at night, you could be in the market for a new battery.

Warning Lights: A low battery can also trigger a number of warning lights on your dashboard, depending on the specific make and model. Many vehicles are designed with a dashboard battery indicator light that will turn on when the system detects a depleted or malfunctioning battery, but battery-related issues could also cause the check engine light to rear its ugly head. In the case of a check engine light, you’ll want to grab an OBD-II reader and scan the vehicle for diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) to narrow down the specific issue.

Slow Starts/No Starts: Another common sign of a drained battery is an engine that won’t turn over or takes an excessively long time to get started. This is especially common on cold mornings, but any sluggish battery should be assessed if you have doubts or frequently rely on a jumpstart to get things moving.

Dim Dashboard Lights: Your battery keeps your dashboard lights and indicators illuminated. If these lights are noticeably dim or start to flicker, it’s usually a pretty clear sign of a compromised battery. Keep in mind that many dashboard lights can be manually dimmed, so check to make sure the brightness isn’t cranked down before placing the blame on the battery itself.

Slow/Malfunctioning Electronics: Since your battery powers the windows when the engine isn’t running, windows that are slow to roll up and down can be a common sign of a low battery. If you’re experiencing slower-than-normal performance from your power-adjustable seats or spotty performance from your car radio while the engine isn’t running, a drained battery could also be to blame.

Corrosion: A crusty battery with terminals caked in blue, white, or copper-colored corrosion is a sign of a battery that’s well past its prime. A little corrosion is usually nothing to worry about and can usually be cleaned with a wire brush and some baking soda, but if your battery looks like it’s been covered with a snow cone from King’s Island, there’s little that can be done.

Smells/Bulges: Corrosion doesn’t necessarily mean that your battery has sprung a leak, but a noxious smell or a battery case starting to bulge are signs of an internal rupture that can lead to serious consequences like fires or explosions. If you notice a distinct rotten egg smell or see some odd bumps breaking out on the case, head straight for your local mechanic or dealership so that it can be dealt with by professionals.

A multimeter tool is shown being used to test a battery.

How to Test

If you’re looking to avoid having to sheepishly approach a stranger with a set of jumper cables or make the dreaded call to roadside assistance, there are a few easy ways to check in on the health of your battery before it’s past the point of no return. One of these tests is fairly simple and requires no specialized tools, while the other calls for a multimeter. While these aren’t common in every household, they can often be found for as little as $20 and are a cheap and effective way to root out some of the most common electrical issues that might pop up around the house or under the hood of your vehicle.

Headlight Test: Dim headlights are a useful way to spot a failing battery, but as we touched on above, they can be hard to spot when you’re in the driver’s seat. If you want to play DC detective, simply park in your driveway or garage and turn on the engine and headlights. Ask a friend or family member to stand within view of the headlights, then rev the engine and have them assess whether the lights become brighter in response. This is a sign that your battery is not supplying enough power to the headlights while idling.

Multimeter Test: If you want a more gadget-based approach to battery assessment, turn your headlights off, grab your multimeter, and set it to 20 DC volts. Touch the black negative probe to the negative battery terminal and the red positive probe to the positive terminal. With the engine turned off, have a helping hand turn on the headlights and take a reading with your multimeter. At a temperature of around 80 degrees, a fully charged battery should read around 12.5 volts. A reading of 12.3 volts indicates a battery that’s around 75 percent charged, while a reading of 11.8 or lower means you might have as little as 25 percent of a full charge.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of a dead or dying battery, McCluskey Chevrolet is here to help. While many drivers across the Greater Cincinnati area know us as a trusted source for a wide variety of new and pre-owned vehicles, few realize that we also operate an extensive service center equipped to handle all your vehicle-related needs. From our full-service collision and body shop to our fully stocked parts department, our team of experienced service technicians can handle any maintenance or repair task from headlight to tailpipe. Simply make an appointment and drop off your vehicle, and we’ll get to work while you head down 126 to enjoy a little Skyline Chili. Whether you’re in the market for a new battery, oil change, tires, or brakes, or simply want to shop our inventory of authentic Chevrolet accessories, McCluskey Chevrolet is your one-stop shop. If you’ve noticed some spotty performance from your battery, have been experiencing some slow starts, or simply think it’s time for a replacement, stop by today.

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