Ah, the battery. It's one of the most important components in any vehicle, and it's terribly vulnerable after months of cars idling about while in lockdown. So much so, that front-page news are reminding drivers en masse to check their car's battery's before getting on the move again. Usually, batteries running flat are caused by parasitic drains that slowly trickle away your charge.
It's easy enough to make this mistake at times. Sometimes, we accidentally leave our lights turned on, or the radio still blasting 1980s pop while we're halfway in bed. Even while the engine is fully turned off, some things keep using up the battery, like your car's alarms, computers, keyless entry, or clock. A bad fuse or faulty alternator could empty the battery, too. But this isn't always the case.
The battery, like any hard-working part of a car, will eventually wear out and die. It's not something you can control, as batteries are sooner rather than later - often around five or so years - destined to go to electrical heaven. But how can you tell that your car's batteries are on their way out? Well, here are not one, not two, but six distinct signs that your car's battery is due for a replacement...
1. Dim Lights
The battery is the primary source of electricity for your entire vehicle. Therefore, it can be fairly easy to tell when your battery is going the way of the dodo just by the way it behaves. For instance, check and see how your lights are doing. Not only the head- and tail-lights, but also have a peek at the interior dome lights or ambient lighting.
Are they a bit dimmer than you remembered it being last time? In that case, your battery's charge might not be as strong as it used to be. Every electrical component has a threshold for them to function properly. If your lights - the headlights are the best place to start - aren't shining as brightly as before, then it's clear that the battery needs a check-up.
2. Electrical Or Electronic Problems
Following the theme of how your lights flicker and shine, it's time to see if the rest of your car's electrics and electronics are working as intended. Modern cars, especially, have loads of these around. Everything from the radio, power windows, windshield wipers, power seats, or the infotainment system counts. Now, have a look at how they're behaving.
Is your radio constantly cutting in and out, or is the infotainment system shutting itself down? Are the windshield wipers moving a bit too slowly? Maybe the power windows sometimes get stuck, or the cigarette lighter might stop heating up? In that case, there's clearly something wrong with your car's electrics. If they all happen at once, then the battery is the number one suspect.
3. Slow Engine Crank
Among the most common signs of a failing battery - and no doubt the first that you'll usually encounter - is a slow engine crank. Remember that your car's engine requires a small burst of electricity from the battery to spark the combustion process. Thus, the engine comes to life. If there's something wrong with your battery, then the engine won't be able to crank as quickly.
This is since the battery won't be able to provide enough of a charge to the starter. Alternatively, it might be able to create a sufficient charge, but it just takes a bit longer for the battery to make this happen. It might take a few seconds before the engine breathes into existence and starts. A slow engine crank is often the final nail in the coffin for that poor old battery.
4. A Clicking Sound During Ignition
This is one step above the lethargic engine cranking from earlier, where the engine doesn't even start at all. In fact, turning the key to start the ignition might emit a clicking sound. Often, the clicking sounds are in rapid bursts. This is a sign that the available charge in your battery is far too low for the starter solenoid to even crank the engine.
As the battery slowly fails and loses its charge, the electrical current sent to the starter will gradually become weaker. That clicking sound you hear is the starter solenoid and starter motor trying to start, but there's not enough charge to get it going. When you hear that clicking noise, it means that your car's battery is either completely dead, or is very nearly close to dying.
5. Dashboard Warning Lights
Cars are generally very good at warning you when things are about to go wrong. These come in the form of warning lights, or sometimes entire warning signals displayed on your dash. It can tell you quite clearly that its sensors are detecting that there are things amiss. Be it a 'low oil' level or 'service engine soon' light, you'll do well to keep on top of these once they light up.
For your battery, there is a distinct and dedicated battery warning indicator. That red battery warning light often means that your car is running on its battery power only, not a problem directly tied to the battery. In other words, it means that the battery isn't being charged up, or there might be a fault with the alternator or the electrics. It's only a matter of time before the battery dies, too.
6. Backfiring Or Misfiring
Even while you're on the move, there are still some chances that you can catch onto early signs that your battery is expiring soon. One way to notice this is with backfires or misfires, which you'll be hard-pressed to miss. Backfires happen due to intermittent and sporadic sparks during a car's combustion process. Whenever it can't spark fully, unburnt fuel can gather in your engine's cylinders.
It's only when this built-up fuel sparks completely, that its ignition is sudden and violent enough to cause your car to backfire or develop a misfire. Note, however, that backfires can be caused by reasons other than your battery or electrical components. But when your battery isn't able to provide adequate charge for the combustion to burn efficiently, backfires and misfires can happen.
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