Car Batteries: A Complete Guide to Understanding, Maintaining, and Selecting the Right Battery for Your Vehicle

Your vehicle’s electrical system is complex. Many smaller components, the battery included, work together to deliver critical power to all its subassemblies. If one part of that network fails, you’ve got problems. While the car battery is a common point of failure, you can take steps to avoid running out of juice and getting sidelined. This short guide explains what you need to know about automotive batteries: how they work, when to replace them, and where you can find the best ones for your money. 

Introduction to Car Batteries

Automobile batteries serve several important purposes. They provide power to the starter, deliver current to the electrical systems, stabilize the voltage supply, and then recharge from the alternator while you drive.

Vehicle Battery Designs

Most batteries have a basic design. They each have a positive and negative terminal, indicated by red and black colors respectively. As for the internal chemical reactions that produce current, car batteries accomplish this feat through several different designs:

Lead-acid, the traditional battery style with two plates inside an electrolyte solution
Absorbent glass mat, using an electrolyte-soaked fiberglass mat separator between the battery’s positive and negative plates
Dry cell, containing a thick electrolyte paste between the two plates
Gel cell, which includes a thick gel electrolyte solution
Lithium-ion, which relies on a lithium-cobalt oxide cathode and a graphite anode plus an electrolyte solution to generate current

Most vehicle batteries are made to deliver short bursts of current. There are a few exceptions, however. Some more robust batteries are designed for maximum power, with higher cold cranking amperage to ensure your vehicle starts in frigid temperatures.

Common Battery Problems

Typically, automotive batteries only have a three- to five-year lifespan. However, your mileage may vary based on your driving habits, road conditions, and electrical usage in your vehicle. If you tend to drive infrequently or distances of less than five miles each time, your battery may drain faster than usual.

When you’re experiencing electrical issues in your vehicle, it can sometimes be hard to tell whether the car alternator or the battery is the underlying problem. However, you can look for some telltale signs of a faulty battery:

Complete starting failure
Weak engine turnover
Dim headlights and dash lights
Sulfur odors

In some cases, needing to press the gas pedal when turning the key may point to battery issues. Finally, there’s the obvious battery warning light on the dashboard. Automotive parts retailers such as AutoZone have battery testing services at their store locations.

Dependable Batteries for All Makes & Models

Whether you’re shopping for a replacement battery in advance or as a last-minute replacement, you have many options for sourcing a high-quality power cell. Top-rated brands include AC Delco and Duralast, both with several models to support the needs of commuters, long-distance drivers, and those who regularly brave extreme conditions. Even better, you can take advantage of car battery delivery services if you happen to be stranded or stuck at home — no tow truck or rideshare service necessary.

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