Nearly every driver experiences a bad battery at some point. You know the deal: You go to start the car, but the engine barely turns over or doesn’t turn over at all. Sometimes jump-starting the car helps—at least for a little while. In other instances, the battery is too far gone to respond to a jump-start.
Issues such as these are warning signs that your battery may have gone south.
Bad Battery Symptoms
The battery supplies power to your car’s starter motor to crank the engine. Also, the battery powers the vehicle’s electrical system whenever the engine is off. You can learn more by reading this article on how a car battery works.
Car batteries typically only last three to five years before requiring replacement. If you have a bad battery, here are some of the symptoms you may encounter:
Engine Doesn’t Crank or Start
If your engine doesn’t crank or start, you may have a bad battery. In such a scenario, when you turn the ignition key, you’ll either hear a clicking-type noise or no noise at all, indicating a loss of battery power.
Engine Barely Turns Over
A weak battery often results in an engine that cranks slowly and has a hard time starting. Also, in some cases, the engine may turn over a couple of revolutions but the car won’t start.
A weak battery usually (but not always) causes both the interior and exterior lights to be dim when the engine is off.
Engine Starts and Stays Running After Getting a Jump-Start
If the engine starts—and stays running for an extended period of time—after being jump-started, you probably have a bad battery. But before jumping to conclusions, you’ll want to make sure the battery wasn’t simply discharged.
The battery can become drained if something (e.g., the headlights) was left on. It’s a good idea to take your car to an auto parts store and have your battery tested. The service is usually free and will give you a definitive answer.
Illuminated Dashboard Lights
In some cases, a bad battery can trigger dashboard warning lights, such as the check engine light and charging system light.
How to Tell If Your Car Battery is Bad
A lot of people blame the battery whenever their car fails to start. But it’s important to note that there are two primary types of no-start conditions: crank-no-start and no-crank-no-start.
In a crank-no-start situation, the engine cranks normally (or faster than normal), but does not start. On the other hand, in a no-crank-no-start scenario, the engine either barely cranks or doesn’t crank at all.
If you’re dealing with a crank-no-start situation, you can rule out the battery altogether. That’s because the battery supplies power to the starter motor to crank the engine. So, if the engine cranks normally, that’s an indication that the battery is okay.
A crank-no-start problem usually indicates an issue with air/fuel delivery, spark delivery, or engine compression.
Meanwhile, a no-crank-no-start scenario often indicates a bad battery. But there are other possibilities as well, ranging from loose battery terminals to an internal engine failure. You’ll want to test the battery to be sure it’s to blame.
You can check the battery’s state of charge using a digital multimeter (DMM). To learn more, check out our article on how to test a car battery with a multimeter.
It’s important to realize, however, that the state of charge test does not tell you whether the battery is good or bad—it merely tells you how much of a charge the battery has at that moment.
Determining the actual health of the battery requires a battery load test. A professional can perform one of these battery checks for you using a handheld, digital analyzer. Most auto parts stores will perform a load test free of charge. You can choose to leave the battery in your car for testing, or you can remove it if the vehicle does not start.
How Much Does Replacing the Battery Cost?
Typically, a traditional lead-acid battery costs between $50 and $120 if you install it yourself. Expect to pay more if your car requires an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery or another type of special battery.
Read this article on how to replace your battery if you would prefer to DIY.