Few things are more disruptive to your day or evening than attempting to start your car to find that the battery has died.  A car battery can die for a variety of reasons, many of them avoidable. Here are your car battery tips for avoiding car battery drain and optimizing car battery health.

What can drain your car battery

The first step in avoiding car battery drain is knowing what can cause the battery to be drained.  This information and these car battery tips can help you avoid that.  

  1.  Repeatedly driving your car short distances can drain the battery as the engine and alternator don’t get enough time to recharge the battery.  People also often will continue to use accessories while driving when the battery is not fully charged or has just been boosted, like the radio and air conditioning, that drain what power the battery has left.  If you are an infrequent driver, or you have a short daily commute, ensure that every 1-2 weeks you take the car for a longer drive in order to ensure the battery is recharged to its full capability, or invest in a battery charger
  2. High temperatures can drain a car battery.  Whenever possible, park in the coolest, shadiest location possible.  
  3. Very low temperatures can drain a car battery.  If you live in an area that experiences cold winters, ensure you invest the extra money in a battery specifically rated for extreme cold weather starts.  Plugging the battery into a properly rated charger can also avoid this problem.  
  4. Dirt, grease, and loose or corroded battery cables.  Maintain cleanliness around the battery area.  Dirt and grease trap heat. Simply cleaning off this area with a rag or paper towel can keep the dirt and grease from accumulating and trapping the engine and outside heat to the battery.  Loose or corroded cables can also cause battery issues.  Make sure all cables and bolts are tight.  If you notice wear and tear on the cables, schedule an appointment with your mechanic as soon as possible.    
  5. Leaving items plugged into your car USB or other charging ports.  These items will continue to draw power from the battery when the car is turned off, even when the item does not indicate that it is still charging.  Aftermarket GPS devices and cell phones are common culprits of battery drain.
  6. Leaving on accessories in the car.  This is the most common reason for dead batteries.  Leaving on the interior or exterior lights. Other issues can relate to items being left on, such as something leaning against the seat adjuster or other accessory settings changers.  These can quickly drain power and can often be difficult to detect. 
  7. The battery is old or weak.  The battery should be changed every 4-5 years.  A battery chronically weakened by drain can become unable to hold a charge or to hold a full charge.  If you are experiencing this, the battery should be changed.  The battery can sometimes be salvaged short term with the use of a battery charger, but these remedies are short term and should not be relied upon as a permanent solution.  
  8. Purchase roadside assistance.  These days you can pick up a basic roadside assistance package starting at around $50.  These usually include at least 4 service calls.  Some battery purchases come with roadside assistance for boosts and other battery-related issues.  It’s better to purchase these items when you don’t need them, but remember if stuck in a bind, most roadside assistance plans can be used 24 hours after purchase.  
  9. Regularly maintain your vehicle.  Other poorly maintained parts and systems can place a strain on your battery; such as underinflated tires.    
  10. Invest in a car battery charger. You can pick them up for under $100 and the higher-end models can do some battery diagnostics.  A charger ensures the battery is able to start if you park your car for long periods, go on vacation, or end up with a drain for an alternate reason that you cannot immediately find.  It ensures you will be able to start and drive the car until you can source the issue and/or afford the repair. The reality is that car issues most often crop up when you can least afford them.  Investing in a battery charger now may save you a lot of inconvenience down the road.  
  11. Electrical problems.  After leaving the lights on or something plugged in, the most common source of battery drain is a bad fuse.  The fuses can be checked easily with a small tool available at your local automotive store.  Changing the fuses can be a simple and inexpensive fix.  Fuses are a few dollars per package and can be purchased most cheaply at WalMart.  The drain can also be due to bad wiring, bad installations, or wear on the wires themselves.  When you’ve ruled out the possible issues that are easiest to check, it’s time to look into the electrical systems and components.
  12. Issues with the charging system.  If you have done basic checks and the car still will not start, ensure you don’t have an issue with the starter or alternator.  A bad starter does not cause battery drain, but can often be confused for a battery issue if the car will not start.  Starters are relatively inexpensive to have repaired, similar to a battery replacement.  The other possibility is a bad alternator diode.  A bad alternator diode can prevent the battery from being recharged.  When checking the starter or alternator ensure there is no issue with the belts and belt tensioners as these may also cause issues leading to battery drain.

Car battery tips if your battery is dead

  1. If you drive a manual transmission and you are experiencing battery drain issues,  try depressing the clutch when starting the car. It takes some of the load off the battery.  This can be used as a trick to sort of ‘jump start’ the car when the battery is low but the lights or other still come on so you can tell that the battery is not entirely dead.
  2. Get a boost.  These days almost everyone has a set of booster cables in their car.  Just remember to make sure that everything is properly grounded.  A battery pack booster will do the same job as a boost from another car.  
  3. When all else fails, call your local auto club for a boost and/or tow.  

One of the most important things to remember when dealing with issues relating to your battery is that there is a difference between battery amperage and voltage.  Amperage turns the engine over, voltage keeps it going.  Your battery may have enough voltage to keep the car running once boosted, but not enough amperage to get the car to start.  Issues with amperage can often lead people to believe that the problem is not the battery when it really is.  Always remember, when in doubt, take your car to a properly licensed professional or expert.