Finding the Right Battery for You
Simply put, the best car battery is the one that gives you no problems. You just know it works and you never have to think about it. Unfortunately, batteries do not last forever and eventually you will have to find a new one that fits your vehicle. It’s a process that everyone has to go through.
Before you look for batteries, you must make sure you actually need a new one. The old one should be completely malfunctioning instead of being discharged. Make sure to have it tested before you get a new one. If in fact you do need a new one, then realize that you can save a lot of money by buying a new one and installing it yourself. It can be a rewarding challenge.So how do you find the right one for you? Typically, the right one will be the freshest, heaviest, and equipped with the largest reserve capacity and cold cranking amp performance. There are certain brands that have all of these characteristics, but you need to do your due diligence and make sure it will fit your vehicle.
What It Does
Basically, the battery powers your car. If it’s dead then your car is dead. It’s that simple. It also provides electricity for power windows, power locks, lights, and your car accessories. It can also be referred to as an SLI battery. This acronym stands for starting, lighting, and ignition. And that’s precisely what it does- it starts, lights, and ignites your car.
Finding the Correct Size
Size in this case refers to height, width, and length. Brands come in separate group sizes in order to fit in the car’s tray. You need to know the right size for your car. To do this, you can refer to the car’s manual to find group size and specifications. It’s very important that you get the right fit. Otherwise, there are going to problems. Buying the wrong size is a huge waste of time and money, so just make sure you have the right size before you buy.
The Reserve Capacity (RC) is an important metric that refers to the standing power of the vehicle. The RC is the time in minutes that the battery can supply the minimum voltage to keep car running in the event that the fan belt or alternator fails. Needless to say, it’s good to have a long RC. A long RC can save you in an emergency and keep you from being stranded somewhere.
The RC is not typically written on the label. You have to do your own research or ask a store employee.
Be sure to look at the car manual’s recommended RC rating. It’s good to be exact. You can’t just buy the longest RC you can possibly find.
Note: There is a direct correlation between weight and RC. Heavier batteries have lead in them and therefore typically have a longer service life.
Cold Cranking Amp Importance
Another important measure is the Cold Cranking Amp (CCA). CCA is a measure of the amount of amps a specific model will support for half a minute during 0 degree weather. Basically, the CCA determines the ability to start your car during cold weather. As I’m sure you know, it’s much harder to start your car when it’s cold. The engine oil becomes thicker and chemical reactions become slower.
Naturally, the higher the CCA the better. But the level of CCA you need largely depends on your location. CCA is much more important for those living in colder climates. Residents in warmer climates don’t have to worry about having a high CCA. It would be a waste of money to buy a brand with additional CCA if you don’t need it.
It should be noted that CCA and CA are different terms. CCA is based on delivering power at a temperature of 0 degrees. In contrast, CA is based on a temperature of 32 degrees. The CA is usually going to be higher than the CCA.
Tips on choosing the CCA Rating:
Look in the car owner’s manual and see what the manufacturer’s recommendation is for a CCA rating. Don’t get a brand which is much higher or lower than what is specified. If you can’t get the specific brand or CCA level, then it’s best to get a CCA that is slightly higher than the manufacturer’s recommendation. But again, climate will come into play with your purchase decision.
Before looking at brands, you should consult you car owner’s manual to see what their recommended brand is. If that brand is too expensive then buy a battery with the same specifications. It will take some research but it will also save you money.
There are only three different manufactures and they all make several different brands.
Here is the list:
Delphi: AC Delco and EverStart
Exide: Champion, Napa, Exide, and EverStart
Johnson Controls Industries: Optima, Duralast, Kirkland, Diehard , Motorcraft, Interstate, and EverStart
The Best Brands
Again there are only three manufacturers, but the brands can differ in quality. You certainly don’t have to buy one of these brands three brands. The specifications are what matter the most. Just be sure that you don’t buy a cheap brand. The cheapest brand could actually be the most expensive in the long run. It could have defects and give you poor performance. You might also need to change it out much more often.
Optima batteries are highly rated and come in three separate categories marked by color . The blue top is for RV’s and marine boats, the yellow top for deep cycling, and the red for automotive starting. If you have an RV then you should obviously go for the blue top. It will give you more recharge and more running time. The yellow top model is perfect for cars with a lot of different accessories. These accessories can range from sound systems, hydraulics, and anything else you can think of. Power is supplied for a longer period of time because it’s a deep-cycle battery. Lastly, there is the red cap which is for standard automotive vehicles. It’s a high performance option with a both a high CCA and RC. Optima batteries are on the expensive side and usually cost around $125 to $250 dollars. Read our review to learn more about optima batteries.
This is the brand that was originally supposed to ‘last forever.’ This slogan no longer applies, since cars themselves are lasting much longer than before. However, Diehard batteries do last a while and are highly recommended by a variety of sources. They batteries have high CCA and RC. Diehard batteries can only be purchased at Sears and come with a three year replacement warranty. Prices can vary, but you can expect to pay around $150 to $300. Click here to read our diehard battery review.
This is a quality brand that will easily pass every test. You will usually never have a problem with an AC Delco. They are well-made and built to last. The prices range but in general they are more affordable than other brands. They also offer one of the best warranties- a four year free-replacement period. You can buy an AC Delco at a retail store or at a service center. Our detailed review of AC Delco batteries can be found here.
Where to Purchase
There are three different ways to purchase: online, at a retail store, or at a dealership.
Purchasing online can be the easiest and most convenient method. Those who purchase online usually know exactly what they need and have no hesitations. Batteries are heavy, but you can get free shipping on most batteries from Amazon.com. The disadvantage of online shopping is that you have to wait for your order to arrive. If you need one now then forget about buying online.
Another option is to purchase one at a retail store. You can go to a store like Walmart and get a low-priced brand. The downside is that the retail stores won’t always install it for you. Therefore you could be on your own for installation. This isn’t a completely hands-off approach.
Retail Stores that sell batteries:
- Sam’s Club
- Trak Auto
Service centers are the completely hands-off approach. They will test, install, and make sure you get the right fit. You are going to have to pay more, but the price is still reasonable. It can be worth going to a service center just because of installation. The quality of service is usually better than at a retail store.
Batter Service Centers that Install Batteries:
- Pep Boys
It’s not recommended to go to a local service station. This is simply because they won’t have as much selection or have a fresh inventory. Both of these are big factors when finding the correct one. You should only go to one of these places if you have no other choice.
Luckily, a failing battery might be covered by your vehicle warranty. A lot of vehicles come with a 36 month free-replacement warranty. In that case, head over to your dealership. You will probably be given some type of discount. When choosing a new model, it’s wise to look for one with a long free-replacement period. It’s also good to note that warranties can be voided if there are signs of neglect such as improper installation or low water levels.
Age is a big consideration. It’s a fact that every single model will lose its strength over time. This is because batteries self discharge due to permanent sulfation. So therefore you want to buy a fresh one. Fresh is considered anything 6 months old or less. In order to make that determination, you have to look and find the manufacturing date. Date codes are typically printed on the label or the case. It can be difficult to translate the date codes because every manufacturer has its own unique format. It’s usually best to ask the dealer or manufacturer.
The date codes typically begin with 2 characters:
1. The Letter: signifies the month ( A is for January, B is for February, C is March etc)
2. The Digit – signifies the year (9 is 1999, 0 is 2000, 1 is 2001, etc.)
Good to recycle Old batteries
Batteries contain acid and toxic lead so it’s important to recycle them. If you buy from a retail shop then they will recycle the old one for you. Also if you bring it to an automotive store then you might get some cash or a discount for the exchange.
The Right One for You
Be sure to stay away from used batteries. You don’t know the exact history, so it could be dangerous. It’s not worth trying to save a few dollars. Also, it’s highly recommended that you buy a portable charger for emergencies. Make sure you know you to use it too.
The right model will give you peace of mind, and that’s what really matters. It should start your car every time (even in the cold) and save you in emergencies. The correct option for you will have all these qualities and fit with your car specifications.