For drivers, there are few things as frustrating (and stressful) as a car that won’t start because of a dead battery.
Save yourself the headache of dealing with dead batteries by knowing how to spot a faulty or failing one before it causes you any trouble.
Identifying a faulty battery, however, isn’t always the easiest thing to do. But if you know what to look for, you can keep yourself safe and save yourself the trouble of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead car and faulty battery.
Signs of Faulty or Failing Battery
- Intermittent car starts. One of the most telling signs that something is wrong with your car battery is experiencing intermittent car starts. If you find your car starts are becoming inconsistent – one day it starts fast, the next it takes several tries – then there’s a chance something is wrong with your car battery.
- Sluggish engine cranks. If your car starts, but you notice the engine is struggling to crank over, then it may also indicate a failing battery. Sluggish engine cranks are one of the signs of a dying battery, resulting in more time and effort to fully start your car’s engine.
- Weak lights / dead electronic system. Because they’re primarily powered by your car battery, your car’s headlights and electronic system are good tools for checking the current state of your battery. If you notice your headlights constantly dimming, or if they simply won’t turn on like they normally do, then your battery may be starting to fail. Dead windshield wipers, unresponsive automatic locks and locked automatic windows can also indicate a dead or faulty battery.
- Swollen/ Corroded/ Smelly battery. Some batteries show signs of decline before they fail or become faulty. Swollen or bloated battery cases are a clear sign that something is wrong with your battery, even if it appears to work normally. This swelling can be caused by exposure to extreme temperatures, and it can significantly decrease the life of your battery. Corroded battery terminals can affect its performance and even cause it to fail when it’s extremely corroded. Some faulty batteries can also vent gas when its damaged, emitting a smell similar to rotten eggs.
- Battery indicator warning. Your dashboard’s battery indicator is designed to alert you if there’s anything wrong with your car’s power system, and it’s especially useful for identifying battery issues before they get worse. If this indicator lights up when you start up your car, make sure to check your battery system. Keep in mind, however, that this light may not always indicate battery failure; issues with your car’s alternator can also trigger this indicator. But when you see this light up, it’s always a good idea to check your battery anyway.
What Causes a Faulty Battery?
To prevent a faulty or failing battery, it’s helpful to know what causes batteries to deteriorate in the first place:
- Age – Although batteries are designed to last for years, they don’t last forever. Most car batteries often last anywhere between 3 to 5 years, depending on the model, your car and the demands placed on it.
- Dirt / Corrosion – Excessive dirt or corrosion on your batteries (particularly the terminals) can affect the conductivity of your battery system and decrease its performance.
- Loose Connections – Loose cables on the battery terminals can disrupt the flow of power in your system, which can make malfunctions more likely.
- Extreme Temperatures – Although extreme temperatures won’t affect new batteries much, it can impact weak or damaged batteries to the point of failure.
- Faulty Electronics – Electronic devices on your car (ex. lights in glove box or trunk) that malfunction and continue to draw power unnecessarily can drain your battery and cause it to fail sooner.
Better Safe than Sorry
When dealing with car batteries, remember that it’s always better to err on the side of caution and conduct constant checks of your battery. By fixing or replacing your car battery before it fails or becomes faulty, you can save yourself the trouble of being stuck with a dead car when you least expect it.
If you want extra peace of mind when driving out in long trips, consider bringing a generator with you to provide power during emergencies. You should also invest in a battery monitor to keep track of your vehicle battery’s health.