How Long Will a Car Battery Last?

The electrical system is one of the vital parts of any vehicle, with the car battery being its central point. You wouldn't believe just how many processes are controlled by it. Everything from starting the car, igniting the fuel and air mixture, and engine management, all the way to the headlights, traction control, safety features, audio and infotainment systems. 

It’s safe to say that electricity is equally as important as fuel. However, most people take their car battery for granted and then are left unpleasantly surprised when the car refuses to start in the morning; or worse, leaves you stranded on the side of the road. These are just some of the many reasons it’s important to know about your car battery. Let’s dive into how long a car battery lasts and how to recognize signs of a failing battery...before it’s too late. 

How long does the typical car battery last?

While there is no definitive answer to this question, and not even the car battery manufacturers can provide you with a precise figure, the typical car battery will last in accordance with the manufacturer’s specs for that particular battery type. The average battery tends to fall into the 3 to 5 year range. However, we will explain all the factors that affect the life span of a car battery so you can figure out what to expect for your batteries’ life expectancy:

  • Type of driving – If you typically only use your car for short trips, your battery will likely die sooner than if you use it for longer trips. During long drives, the battery is able to fully recharge, which will actually help to prolong its life. Of course, if the car sits for a long time, the car battery will slowly self-discharge over time and die out. 
  • Heat – If you live in an environment with a moderate climate, there is a strong chance that your battery will last longer than average. Batteries in warm or tropical areas manage to endure 3 or 4 years of use on average. But excessive heat is an enemy of car batteries, as it makes them deteriorate much faster than usual.
  • Vibrations – Outside of environment and frequency of use, vibrations have some of the most profound effects on the life of your battery. The car battery must be firmly placed in order to ensure that vibrations will not damage the battery's internal contents and cause it to fail or die out.

Knowing all this, also keeping in mind the typical 2-year manufacturer's warranty for car batteries, we can safely say that the industry's average is about 4 to 5 years in most cases. For vehicles driven in hot and humid climates, the average is closer to three years. However, some diligent owners have reported that they used the same battery for seven or more years in some cases. 

How Do You Test A Car Battery?

Let’s say you just bought the used car and you don't really know how old or in what condition the battery is. You want to test the battery and see if it still has some life left in it, or if you should replace it and get a new one. 

To go about doing this, you can always use the multimeter or similar device the check the battery voltage. But what if you don’t have a multimeter? There is a simple-yet-effective method to check if your battery still has some life to it.

  • Turn on your cars’ headlights and leave them on for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not start the engine; just turn on headlights, which should shine bright as usual. 
  • Have another person crank the engine on the car while you observe the headlights. 
  • If the headlights flicker or dim slightly, the battery condition should still be ok, if not potentially rechargeable. If while cranking the engine the headlights go out or the engine becomes slower or even stops, it’s a clear sign that the battery is on its last leg. 

Signs That Your Car Needs a New Battery

While your vehicle may be functioning perfectly, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean that your car or truck is not in need of a new battery. There are several common signs that indicate a need to visit an auto-parts store or a mechanic as soon as possible.

  • Slow Cranking Engine – The slow cranking of an engine, or a complete failure to start the car, is often a sure sign that your battery is near the end. The reason is simple; the car battery has lost all of its power and can no longer successfully start the car. You can attempt to recharge it with a long drive, but chances are, this will only be a stopgap solution, and a dead battery will likely happen again and potentially leave you stranded. 
  • No Power at all During Ignition – In some cases, you could face the situation where the car is just literally dead when you turn the key, failing to start or initiate any sort of action it seems. No cranking, no lights, not even a light on the dashboard. In this instance, a jump start is likely your only hope in the short term. In the medium-term, a new battery is needed before any dependability can be restored to the vehicles battery system and electrical systems. 
  • Temperamental battery – A clear sign of a faulty car battery is when the unit seems to become susceptible to "mood swings." One morning everything is fine, and the car functions as it should. The next morning, you have trouble starting the vehicle. This pattern is seemingly intermittent, but never concludes or finds resolution by using the vehicle. In this case, it’s often that the battery has a problem recharging and is an indication that in may be nearing the end of its life. 
  • Worn-down battery – If you have experienced any of the above symptoms, perhaps you have jump-started your car to get it running again. It’s certainly an effective way to get it operating again. But it does come with some long-term consequences. Over time, it can damage the car battery. A sudden surge of power from an outside source can alter the unit’s chemical balance and ultimately damage the battery. If this occurs too often, then chances are your battery is run down to a point of no return and should be replaced. 

Before you make the decision to buy a new car battery, be sure to check the alternator. The alternator is a mechanical device that turns the engine's kinetic energy into electric power and is responsible for recharging the battery while driving. If the alternator is broken, the battery will not recharge, no matter how long you drive. This will leave you with the drained battery and no cranking power, even if the battery itself is in full working condition. If you notice that after a long drive you have issues starting your vehicle, it’s likely that you have an issue with your alternator, and not with your battery. In this case, take your vehicle to your mechanic and have the issue addressed as soon as possible.