Tires. Brakes. Oil. Batteries. If you’ve owned a car for more than a few years, you’ve likely spent money on all of these things. That’s basic maintenance. But why is it that replacing your car battery is such a frustrating experience?
For many of us, it’s because a car battery is an unexpected purchase. You can feel your brakes wearing down over time. You can see your tires going bald. But you don’t really interact with the battery at all. Day after day, it reliably allows your car to start. Until one day it simply quits.
There is nothing worse than getting behind the wheel of your car, turning the key, and getting no response. But for many consumers, this is the first and only sign that their battery need to be serviced.
All of this hassle can be avoided by performing a little preventative maintenance, and taking the time to select the proper battery for your individual needs. This doesn’t mean that you go and pick the most expensive one off the shelf. Just because the sales rep says it’s the best, doesn’t mean it will be ideal for your needs. Instead, you need to pick the battery that is designed for the environment you live in, and your driving style.
In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at a few of our favorite car batteries. First, we’ll look at the specific options available, and what they have to offer. Then, we’ll show you how to determine which one will work best for your vehicle.
TL;DR: we’ll be comparing these three batteries
|Optima Red Top||ACDELCO AGM Pro||Optima Yellow Top|
|SEE BEST PRICE >||SEE BEST PRICE >||SEE BEST PRICE >|
|Lead Acid||AGM||Deep Cycle AGM|
|All Sizes Available||All Sizes Available||Most Sizes Available|
Optima Red Top: The Longest Lasting Battery
If you just want to slap a new battery in your car and never have to think about it again, it’s probably worth spending the money on an Optima Red Top. These things will outlast almost any other battery on the market.
That cylindrical look of the batteries enclosure isn’t just for show. Most starting batteries are a series of flat lead places suspended in an acid bath. As your car bumps up and down the road, these plates start to break, move, and generally wear out. What Optima did was make a spring-like coil out of lead and give each cell in the battery its own separate plastic housing. This means that the battery will stand up to a lot more use and abuse, even if you’re driving on rough or bumpy roads.
What does this mean for you? The Optima red top can last up to 8 years without being replaced. It costs a little more, but you won’t have to think about that battery problem for a very long time.
ACDELCO AGM Pro: Ideal for Cold Climates
If you’ve ever slung a battery up to install in your vehicle, you’ve probably heard some liquid sloshing around inside. This is because the batteries are actually filled with a mixture of water and sulpheric acid. But here’s the problem with water – it freezes.
If you live in a cold climate, you’ve likely had trouble with your car not starting in the cold. We’re not talking about a chilly day in California here. We’re talking sustained below-freezing temperatures.
Do you have a block heater installed in your vehicle? The freezing point of most batteries is right around the same temperature where oil starts to thicken. If you need a block heater, you need an AGM battery.
AGM batteries are still technically lead acid. However, AGM uses an Absorbant Glass Matt (that’s where the name comes from.) This is a large sponge-like material that absorbs the sulpheric acid so that it doesn’t need to be diluted in water. Because this acid doesn’t really freeze, these batteries provide the same amount of starting current no matter what the temperature.
Optima Yellow Top: Ideal for Accessory Power
Ever leave your lights on overnight and wake up to find your battery dead? If you do the math, this night not make sense at first. Starting your car can take, on average, 600 amps of power. Your lights, on the other hand, might only use 1 amp. Since your battery has a certain capacity, you should be able to run your lights for 600 times the length of time that you can start it. With these numbers, your lights should be able to stay on for days.
This is one of the main differences between starting batteries and deep cycle batteries. Starting models are designed to deliver huge amounts of current in short bursts. Sustained low-power draw situations harm starting batteries. However, there are a few batteries on the market designed for combined duty cycle. Optima is already one of the top brands, and their yellow batteries can deliver both short bursts of starting current, as well as long periods of current supply at a low leve.
If you have an upgraded car stereo, or regularly leave the stereo or lights on, then you need an Optima yellow top. These are some of the best dual cycle batteries on the market, so you won’t have to worry about your battery dying just because you forgot the lights on.
Can I Revive My Old Battery?
The three batteries we looked at above come at a premium price, but they should last many years longer than you typical bargain priced car battery. However, just because your current battery isn’t working doesn’t mean that it’s totally dead in the water. There are some circumstances where they can be revived.
First, let’s look at why car batteries die. There are two common reasons. First, it could just be worn out. If you’re driving your vehicle every day, and haven’t had any electrical problems, this is probably the case. In this situation, replacing the battery is the only thing to do. However, it’s also possible that your battery is just sulphated. Sulphation occurs when a battery sits for a long time, or is drained beyond it’s minimum voltage. This can happen if you’ve had your car parked for a few months, or if your alternator has died. If this is the case, sulphation can be reversible.
All you need is an inexpensive desulphation charger. You simply remove your battery, leave it on this charger for 24 to 48 hours, and try it again. It’s about a 50/50 chance of working, but a handy thing to have on hand. Another advantage of a desulphation charger is the fact that it can extend the life of your battery, so it might be worthwhile to have around if you are willing to spend the money on a high end battery.
What Size do I Need?
One of the most common misconceptions about car batteries is that they are model specific. In most cases, this is simply untrue. Sure, there were a few luxury vehicles in the 80s and 90s that used their own brand-specific battery. Electric cars and hybrids may also need something different. But almost every vehicle on the road can use one of the three batteries we’ve recommended above. All you need to do is pick the correct size.
Here is a chart of the most common battery sizes. Your existing battery should have a group number on the top. For example, our truck has a Group 34 battery. But if you’re unsure, you can check this chart and compare the measurements to find out which battery fits your vehicle.
|26 - 70||8.2||6.9||7.8||TOP & SIDE|
|34 - 78||10.3||6.8||7.9||TOP & SIDE|
Is it really worth buying a high end battery instead of a cheap model?
In our eyes, it is absolutely worth it. A properly maintained and designed battery can last you ten or more years, while a cheap battery might only last a year or two. Not only is there obvious financial savings over time, but the peace of mind knowing that your car is going to start every time is well worth it.
We will say, however, that some consumers will benefit much more from a high end battery than others. If you regularly have problems with your battery dying, then that’s an obvious sign that what you’re currently using isn’t working. Your battery shouldn’t be a recurring problem, and one of the three models we recommended above can solve it for good.