One of the most overlooked components of any vehicle is the battery. This moderately-sized block of power source is what supplies your starter motor as well as the ignition system with the electrical current your car needs to crank your engine. It also serves as an additional power source during instances when the power supplied by the alternator is simply insufficient to meet increased demands. It also serves as a great electrical reservoir. However important your car’s battery is, it will never last forever. So how long does a car battery last?
The ‘Normal’ Lifespan of Your Car’s Battery
Car enthusiasts and experts have greatly varying opinions as to the actual lifespan of an average car battery. Some would say it should last a good 5 years while others would claim you could very well extend it up to 6 or even 7 years. It’s worth noting that all of these figures are taken under ‘normal’ conditions. When we say ‘normal’ we actually mean the right temperature and humidity, the right full charge cycles, and right power loading. Sadly, our idea of ‘normal’ is having all the electronic gadgetry inside our car in full operation, driving in the worst possible road conditions, and a whole lot more.
Given the poorest driving habits under the worst operating conditions imaginable, you’d be lucky to have your battery running for a minimum of two years, 3 years max.
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Factors that Can Impact Battery Life
To get a better understanding of the average lifespan of your battery, it is imperative to take a look at the various factors that can significantly impact its lifespan.
- Cyclic life
Different types of car batteries come with different numbers of use cycles. For instance, it is known that flooded lead acid batteries or those with absorbent glass mat (AGM) systems typically have a use cycle of about 300 to 700 with normal usage. Gel batteries, on the other hand, can have significantly higher use cycles in the range of 500 to 5000 cycles, again with normal usage. The fewer the number of use cycles, the shorter is the lifespan of your battery.
- Depth of discharge effect
Let us try to simplify the effects of depth of discharge. Every time you use an electronic device on your car – the AC, stereo, DVD, GPS system, windshield wipers, and many others – you are actually consuming a lot of your battery’s power. The accessories can deplete it of its power reserves a lot faster than when you’re using as few electronic gadgets as possible at any given time. The point is that the more power that is drawn from your battery, the greater is the reduction in its life cycle.
For instance, we mentioned that a typical AGM battery will have about 300 to 700 use cycles. However, with 100% battery capacity withdrawal, you’re essentially reducing the use cycle to only 200. Compare this with only 10% of your battery power being used by your car electronics and you can extend the same AGM battery’s use cycle to 3200.
This has got to be one of the most important factors that can have an impact on the life of your car’s battery. Ideally, batteries operate best in a temperature range of 65 to 90° Fahrenheit. Unusually high temperatures can lead to a significant reduction in the battery’s use cycle. Unusually low temperatures also lead to a reduction in the battery’s overall capacity. As such, maintaining optimal operating temperatures is crucial to ensuring the longer life of your battery.
- Rate and voltage of recharge
The speed of charging a car battery is not uniform. For instance, if a battery would take about 12 hours to become fully charged, it will take about 7 hours to charge it to about 90%. The remaining 10% will be charged over a period of 5 hours or roughly 40 percent of the total length of time it would take to have the battery fully charged. It is for this reason that a charge controller be used whenever recharging car batteries to help regulate the charging rate and the voltage.
Excessively overcharging your VRLA battery can lead to its ultimate failure. Do take note that if you have an AGM battery, a fully charged status should be between 14.4 and 14.6 volts. For a Gel battery, you’re looking at 13.8 to 14.1 volts. If your voltmeter reads anywhere between 11.8 and 12.0 volts, that means your battery is already fully discharged.
- Driving habits
As absurd as it may sound, your driving habits can have a significant impact on your battery life. Generally, if you drive daily shorter trips the faster your battery’s condition will deteriorate. The thing is that every time you start your car, it requires a huge amount of electrical power from your battery. This will have to be replenished by your car’s charging system.
Now if you have very short commutes or even very frequent brief trips, you are actually not allowing your car battery to get fully charged. This leads to undercharging resulting in acid stratification. To put it simply, the more frequent and shorter trips you have, the more that you are not charging your battery very well. This leads to a very short battery life. So instead of looking at a 5-year battery life, you’re now potentially looking at 3 years max.
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How to Extend the Life of Your Car Battery
Extending the life of your car’s battery is not really a straightforward thing since there are certain factors that you simply cannot control. While this may be true, you can observe the following tips:
- As much as possible, avoid going on frequent short trips.
- Regularly inspect your car’s battery for signs of corrosion and other potential problems.
- If your engine is not running, don’t turn on your car’s electronics.
- Have your car’s electrical system thoroughly inspected for operating efficiency.
Determining how long your car’s battery will last is actually dependent on a host of factors. While many of these simply cannot be controlled, you can nevertheless improve your driving habits to make the most out of your car’s battery.