One of the worst feelings I have ever had was leaving my last class in college at 9:30 at night. I went to my car, opened the door, sat down in relief that the day was over and tried to crank my engine.
But all I heard was clicking.
The lights dimmed, the gauges went haywire, and I was stuck in the school parking lot with a car battery that was completely drained. I didn’t carry the tools and devices I recommend you keep in your car, so I had to call for help.
Luckily, the security team at the school had a portable battery jumper, so I was able to drive out of the empty parking lot in 10 minutes.
I never found the problem with my vehicle. I didn’t leave any lights on. I didn’t have any nifty electronics plugged in. And FIXD didn’t find any warnings from the vehicle. My only guess is that my alternator was going, or my battery simply needed to be replaced – it ended up being the battery.
This led me down a rabbit hole trying to understand what leads to battery drain.
Your Mechanic has a wealth of information on this topic, and a few of the key things that they claim to drain batteries are:
Your battery relies on your vehicle’s alternator to recharge when the vehicle is in motion. But when the vehicle is off, the battery will still provide power to exterior and interior lights.
If you leave the trunk of the car open, the door open, interior light on or headlights on, your battery will be drained.
Since the alternator is unable to operate at this time, there’s no means of recharging the battery, so if enough time passes, your battery will die.
There was a time when I would be able to leave my key in the forward position and listen to music for 30 – 40 minutes without the vehicle being on. When my mother used to go into the grocery store, and I would do this time and time again without an issue.
Today, I have a 2015 Civic, and I did this for 20 – 25 minutes, and the battery was completely dead.
All of the new components, backup cameras and screens drained my battery very fast. Newer vehicles are energy hogs thanks to all of these new components, so you shouldn’t leave the key in the forward position for long if you don’t expect the battery to be completely drained.
A topic that I really wanted to discuss is the existence of battery parasites. When the vehicle is turned off, there are some devices that will continue to drain the vehicle’s battery. The battery will still keep the radio’s presets in memory, the clock will continue to count up properly and the security alarm will demand power, too.
But if there is faulty wiring or a poor installation, the battery can begin to drain.
The drain is abnormal, and it will cause the battery to slowly deplete. Again, in my one vehicle, I had a security alarm go haywire without knowing it. I went out to my vehicle and kept hearing this odd clicking sound.
When I went to start the vehicle, the battery was depleted. But I noticed that the clicking was actually the vehicle’s doors locking over and over again. The problem was that the alarm went haywire and would continue to try locking all of the doors the entire night.
I had to disconnect the alarm because something was faulty.
If you notice that your battery is draining for no reason, remove all unnecessary electrical components including chargers and anything plugged into a USB port. A component that is working perfectly today can become faulty and drain your battery overnight.
Charging systems are required to operate nearly every moment that your vehicle is in motion. These systems work to ensure that your vehicle’s battery is charged, but when these systems go bad, the first sign of a problem is usually the vehicle not starting.
Charging systems that go bad can actually drain the vehicle while they’re running.
A quick way to check this is to see if the alternator is producing 13.5 – 14.5 volts of power. When you’re driving, you may notice that the headlights begin to dim and the radio may not work properly.
If you’re experiencing this, have the alternator and battery checked – your vehicle will stall eventually.
Extreme weather will take a toll on your battery’s lifespan. What happens is that the battery will start to be damaged thanks to extreme temperatures of 100F+ or 10F or less. These extreme temperatures will cause sulfate crystals to build-up in the battery.
These crystals will impact the lifespan of the battery, making it unable to hold a charge as well as it did originally.
And there’s another issue: charging. Not only will your battery deplete faster, but it will be harder for the vehicle to charge properly. If you drive short distances often, the battery will not have enough time to recharge and will eventually deplete.
Yes, time will cause your battery to drain. Time means that the vehicle’s battery has been charged multiple times, causing the battery to eventually lose its full charge capacity. You will need to change your battery every few years.
AAA claims that you’ll need have the battery tested every year after the third-year mark.
Most batteries will last 4 – 7 years before they need to be replaced. Purchasing a higher-end battery will extent the battery’s lifespan and will offer better cranking power, especially in cold weather.
Checking your battery allows you to uncover any issues that may drain the battery faster and leave you stranded on the side of the road.
And don’t forget to clean battery terminals to make sure that corrosion isn’t making it more difficult for your vehicle to start.
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