With typical driving, a car battery usually has a lifespan of three years of trouble-free driving. At that point, you might need to charge it. But what if you park the car and just let it sit? In that case, how long does a car battery last without driving or charging?
This post will take you through a variety of scenarios to help you gauge how often you might need to start up a car in order to preserve the battery life.
How Long a Car Battery Lasts Without Driving
Although no two vehicles or batteries are exactly the same, estimates can be made. So if you’re wondering how long a car battery typically lasts when the vehicle sits idle, here are some broad averages.
First, it’s strange but true: Although many things wear down with use, a car’s battery can “die” within a couple of months if it’s not used. Here’s why: Your car battery takes chemical energy and transforms it into electrical energy when you start the ignition. That electricity then powers the radio, clock, and other accessories.
When you park your car for an extended period, the battery can go dead — meaning, not operate without a charge — as quickly as in two months’ time.
As for how long an electric car battery lasts, the answer is about the same. Electric cars are fueled solely by electricity stored in the battery. Teslas, for example, are all-electric. If the battery is in good shape and fully charged, it might take a month or two to lose power.
Then there are hybrid cars, which are fueled by a combination of electricity and gasoline. How long a hybrid car battery lasts when not in use depends on the battery. Vehicles with 12-volt batteries may drain more quickly than other kinds — in as little as one month. See your owner’s manual for guidance.
What Can Drain a Car Battery When the Car Is Off?
Older batteries won’t hold their charge as long as new ones. But there are many other reasons for a battery to “drain” faster:
• Electrical problems: bad cables, blown fuses, spark plugs
• Corrosion on the battery
• Alternator problems
• The charging system itself
If you suspect one of these issues, see our advice on saving on car maintenance costs.
How To Save a Car Battery When Not in Use
As noted, using your car allows it to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. If your car will be sitting idle for a while, it’s a good idea to take it out for a 15-minute drive once a week to allow the battery to recharge.
Simply turning the ignition on and off is not enough. This sort of usage may cause more harm than good. If you’ve got more than one vehicle at home and use one as your primary vehicle, consider using the secondary vehicle more often.
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How To Keep a Car Battery Charged When Not in Use
Consider using a “trickle charger.” These devices, which are attached to the car long-term, recharge the battery at the same rate it typically drains. There are different types of chargers that can be left connected to your vehicle for varying lengths of time. Make sure you get the type that’s appropriate to your car model and you understand how it should be used.
Steps To Take if a Car Battery Is Dead
If you accidentally leave the lights on (or some other accessory), you probably just need to juice up the battery again.
When there’s no obvious reason that the battery is drained, check for corrosion on the terminals that connect the car battery to the charging system. If you see white deposits, try brushing the ashy material off with a wire brush and baking soda.
If the first two scenarios don’t apply, you may have a defective battery. The problem can also be other faulty or worn-down parts, such as a battery cable, terminals, or alternator. In that case, you’ll need the parts repaired or replaced.
How Much Replacing a Car Battery Costs
If you’re going to DIY, a new battery can cost less than $100. If you’re going to hire a mechanic to have the work done, it may cost up to $500 depending on the make and model and the mechanic’s pricing.
Battery replacement — and other car maintenance costs — aren’t covered by insurance. Find more insurance tips for first-time drivers.
How To Jumpstart Your Car With Cables
When you jumpstart your car, you use the power from another car battery to give yours a “jump” and allow it to operate again. If a jumpstart doesn’t work, then it’s more than likely you need a new battery.
First, park the two cars close together, turn them both off, and open the hoods. Take out your jumper cables and untangle them. Hook the red/positive clamp to the positive terminal of the battery that needs a charge. Then attach it to the working battery’s positive terminal, using the red/positive clamp.
Take the black/negative clamp and connect it to the negative terminal of the working battery. Attach the other black/negative cable end to a surface on the car with the dead battery — somewhere that’s metal and unpainted.
Start the working car, then see if the other car will also start. Turn off the working/jumper vehicle. Carefully remove the cables in the reverse order that you attached them. Let the car with the newly charged battery run for at least fifteen minutes.
Some insurance policies cover jumpstarts as part of their roadside assistance option. When deciding how much car insurance you need, weigh the cost of this extra against the added convenience.
How long the battery charge lasts can vary. If it goes dead again, have your battery checked out to see if it needs to be replaced.
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How To Know When a Car Needs a New Battery
When your battery will no longer hold a charge for long, you’ll need to replace it. A good rule of thumb is to replace your car battery every four years.
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Car Insurance Resources
As mentioned above, some car insurance policies offer roadside assistance options. The next time you’re sitting down for a personal insurance planning session, consider the pros and cons of these kinds of extras.
To find the best rates you’re eligible for, shop around on an online insurance marketplace.
Recommended: How Much Does Insurance Go Up After an Accident?
How long a typical car battery lasts depends on how often you drive or charge it, how old the battery is, the type of battery, and more. A new car battery should last about four years on average. The cost of a new battery can be as little as $100 if you replace it yourself. Otherwise, a mechanic may charge you up to $500. Keeping your battery free of corrosion may extend its life.
To protect your investment, SoFi can help you compare auto insurance rates from top insurers easily and quickly. We’ve partnered with Experian to bring you a true comparison insurance shopping experience, using the right blend of technology and human interaction.
How long does a car battery last without charging?
A car battery can last three to four years if you’re regularly using the car. If you leave lights on or park the car for an extended period, then it may need charging before you can drive it. A “trickle charger” can help maintain the battery in a car that’s in storage.
How often do you need to start your car to keep the battery from dying?
A car battery can often stay in good shape for a month even when you don’t drive the vehicle. However, if you want to make sure the car is ready to use in case of an emergency, take it for a 15-minute drive once a week.
How long can a car last on just the battery?
If your alternator fails when you’re far from home, you can typically drive up to 200 miles on battery power alone. That’s assuming your battery is in good shape and fully charged. Of course, it’s best to get the alternator repaired or replaced as soon as you can.
Photo credit: iStock/Fernando rodriguez novoa
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