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Car Battery Symptoms

Learn about the car battery symptoms that could indicate a potential automotive disaster.

Car battery symptoms that should be a cause for alarm include stalling, dim headlights, and sluggish starts. [©2009, Jupiter Images]
©2009, Jupiter Images
Car battery symptoms that should be a cause for alarm include stalling, dim headlights, and sluggish starts.

Recognizing car battery symptoms can help drivers identify potential problems before they end up on the side of the highway, unable to start their car.

A car battery works by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. This happens when positive and negative plates contact with electrolytes, which in a battery is a mixture of sulfuric acid diluted in water. The electrolyte concentration can cause problems with the battery if it isn't at the appropriate level, which happens most often during extreme weather. At a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit the electrolyte concentration should have a specific gravity of 1.265, according to Edmunds.  Signs that a car battery might fail include:

  • Hesitant start-up
  • Failure to start
  • Stalling
  • Dim interior or exterior lights
  • Weak power that causes issues like a quiet radio

Battery Size

The primary purpose of a car battery is to start the car and keep it running. Often, manufacturers use a small standard battery to accomplish this. If prematurely car owner experiences frequent battery trouble, a repair shop might recommend upgrading the standard battery to a larger battery. While this might allow the battery to operate for its full lifetime, the size can also cause problems. A larger battery may leave no room for a necessary layer of insulation. The insulation works to keep the battery from overheating in warmer climates and to keep it warm on cold nights. Without insulation, the electrolyte in the battery might evaporate, causing the battery to die.

Car Battery Maintenance

If symptoms indicating the battery might die are present, there are things that can be done to extend its life. The first thing is to check the battery connections. Corroded or loose connections can prevent the battery from working correctly.

According to Auto-Facts.org, short, daily trips may prevent a car battery from achieving a full charge, which can shorten its life. To prevent this, a person should drive the car for longer than 20 minutes at least once a week to allow the alternator to fully charge the battery. If the battery is having problems, a person can plan to drive the car during the daylight when the headlights won't be needed. It also helps for the radio to be turned off, as it draws power.

After a Car Battery Dies

When a car battery dies, there are two options. The first is to try to revive the car battery. This can be done with jumper cables or a battery charger. Jumper cables are a good option for batteries that still have some power, but not enough to start the car. To use jumper cables, they must be connected from a battery with power to the one without. Before attaching jumper cables, both car engines should be turned off. The jumper cables have clamps marked for the positive and negative terminals of the battery. With the terminals connected, the person should start the car with the working battery. Then the car with the weak battery can be started. According to Consumer Reports the weak battery may need to charge for 20 minutes before it gets enough power to work correctly.

Battery chargers work the same way as jumper cables-- they transfer power to the battery. To use a battery charger, the battery cell caps should be removed and the battery cables taken off. They are then replaced with the clamps from the battery charger. Some chargers allow the voltage to be set, which should be 12 volts for a standard car battery. The other option is to replace the car battery with a new one. Car batteries typically last three to five years. Many repair shops offer free installation with the purchase of a battery. Some shops may also recycle car batteries as well, which means the consumer won't have to worry about disposing of the old car battery.

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