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Best Car Battery Buying Guide

Be Proactive Being attentive to your battery's maintenance and mindful when the time for replacement is approaching will ensure that you can choose a replacement on your own terms, including properly researching and conveniently scheduling. Test Batteries Annually Inspections should be part of an owner's routine maintenance, but it is especially important to check before…

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Be Proactive
Being attentive to your battery’s maintenance and mindful when the time for replacement is approaching will ensure that you can choose a replacement on your own terms, including properly researching and conveniently scheduling.

Test Batteries Annually
Inspections should be part of an owner’s routine maintenance, but it is especially important to check before taking a long road trip.

Car batteries typically last from three to five years, according to AAA, spanning from 58 months or more in the furthest northern regions of the U.S., down to less than 41 months in the most southern regions.

While almost all of today’s car batteries are “maintenance-free,” we recommend having your battery load-tested by a mechanic annually once it is 2 years old if you live in a warmer climate or 4 years old if you live in a colder climate. Doing so tests its ability to hold voltage while being used, and the results will let you know when it’s time to start shopping.

The battery’s age is also a strong indicator that it’s time to consider a replacement. The manufacture date can be found on a sticker affixed to the top or side of the battery. A battery made in October 2018 will have a numeric code of 10-8 or an alphanumeric code of K-8. “A” is for January, “B” is for February, and so on (the letter “I” is skipped).

A Battery Should Fit Your Car and Driving Needs
Car batteries come in many sizes. Among those that we have tested, there’s significant variation in which is the top performer from year to year, and from size to size. This makes it impossible to make simple recommendations by brand or model. It also means you shouldn’t assume that buying the same battery model you are replacing will get you the same results.

Make sure you get the right size and terminal locations (or type) for your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual or an in-store fit guide before shopping.

In some cases, owners can replace an AGM battery with a traditional flooded one to boost longevity in hot climates, but it’s best to consult a mechanic first. Many cars come with AGMs to support an increasing array of electrical components, and the charge system may be configured specifically for an AGM battery.

Make Sure It’s a Fresh Battery
Batteries lose strength over time, even when in storage. For optimum performance, purchase one that is less than 6 months old. Three months is even better. Most have a shipping code on the case. Some use a letter for the month (“A” for January) and a number for the year (“8” for 2018); others use a numeric date.

Recycle Your Old Battery
A battery’s toxic lead and acid can easily be recycled, and most retailers will dispose of the old one for you. When buying a new battery at a store, you will probably pay an extra charge that will be refunded when you return the old battery.

Compare Warranties
It is important to choose a battery with the longest free-replacement period you can get. A battery’s warranty is measured in two figures: the free-replacement period and the prorated period—which allows only partial reimbursement. A code of 24/84, for example, indicates a free-replacement period of 24 months and a prorated warranty of 84 months. But the amount you’ll be reimbursed usually drops off pretty quickly once you’re in the prorated period.

Be aware that signs of neglect—such as low water levels and improper installation—can void a warranty. So can heavy-duty use, such as for high-end car audio and marine applications, if the battery is not recommended for it.

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