Car batteries are the mighty power suppliers allowing us to start up an engine and then use it throughout the drive. It delivers power to all electric systems in a car, including dashboard elements, headlights and taillights as well as operating other electric items such as airbags or in modern vehicles, electrically assisted drive. Batteries are usually built using lead-acid compounds placed in six cells. Lead and lead oxide plates filled with an electrolyte such as diluted sulfuric acid creates the static field holding the power inside. In order to maintain a steady level of power while consumers draw out power, the battery is charged using the alternator – a generator powered by an accessories belt connected to the crankshaft pulley.
While, in perfect conditions, batteries should be able to go through unlimited charge and recharge cycles, outside factors such as wear and chemical reactions cause batteries to drain and store less and less power over time. Usually, a battery is supposed to be effective for 3 to 5 years. The lifespan of a battery highly depends on its usage; driving a car often and for prolonged periods of time will benefit the battery, allowing it to live longer. On the other hand, having the car parked for extended periods of time without running will cause the battery to lose efficiency, leading in the end to inability to start the car.
In order to figure out if a battery is failing, a few signs must be accounted for. Usually, the engine cranks slower than usual when the battery is draining. This happens as the starter cannot draw enough power from the battery to get the engine spinning. On other vehicles, a check engine light will glow on the dashboard when the battery is failing. While the check engine light usually goes on for more than one reason, it is best to firstly check the battery levels before anything else. When batteries tend to reach the end of their lifespan, corrosion starts to appear around the positive and negative posts as acid starts leaking out.
Finally, when the battery on your car has been running for three years, a yearly maintenance check should be performed to ensure it is still able to function at full capacity. Batteries can work well over three years without any problems, but also failure will happen at once after such a period of time.
Other elements that can cause a battery to fail and require replacement are improper charging from the alternator. The generator inside the alternator uses a voltage regulator to ensure it does not deliver more voltage to the battery than it actually needs. As with any other equipment, voltage regulators can fail or malfunction, thus delivering an increased voltage to the battery; such an accident may cause the battery to overload and physically inflate, rendering it useless.
Replacing a car battery can be done in an automotive service unit for a fairly low price, but it can also be done as a DIY (do it yourself) project. However, when time comes, changing a battery that released its acid to the outside is not recommended to be done by others than qualified personnel. Battery acid can rip clothes and seriously injure the skin, causing permanent damage.
In the end, one should be aware that even a battery lasted more than 6 years without any sign of damage, a change should be performed anyway as the battery is fairly old and unexpected damage may occur over night, leaving one in the impossibility of starting the car in the morning to go to work.