What to Look For When Replacing Your Car’s Battery
Your battery is one of the most important and easiest-to-swap parts in your entire car. Yet somehow, most of us rarely pay it any attention until it we’re left stuck in a parking deck somewhere. Car batteries are rechargeable, and that’s why we have alternators. But like the same AA versions that power your TV remote, eventually they won’t hold a charge, and the more extreme or hostile the environment the less likely they’ll be to cooperate.
So if cold or hot weather is on its way, get your electrical system tested; if you’re getting oil at the auto parts store anyways and that battery is more than three years old, a quick diagnostics test would at least give you piece of mind going forward. The worst case scenario is that you’ll discover that your precious Diehard is about to “die hard,” and that fortuitously your car happens to be parked in front of an auto parts store.
But the minute you walk in the door things get a little overwhelming: Not every battery will fit in your car, and there are various trim levels, cold-cranking amps, and technologies that you’ve never heard of sitting on the shelf in front of you. Gold, silver, platinum, tungsten, iridium, kryptonite, adamantium… which one should you buy and why? Starting with the size that fits your car is key, so get sized properly and know that while pricier options can offer spill-proof designs, greater shock resistance, and longer life, upgrading to a better battery is purely up to you and what you think your car may need over time.
Here we’ve laid out some of the more popular options, and weighed their pros and cons to help you make a more informed battery-buying decision.
Everyone recognizes an Optima battery when they see one, with its brightly colored red, yellow, or blue top, and unmistakable six-pack design. These are some of the hardest working batteries on the market today, and their patented Spiralcell Technology makes it possible for them to be over 15 times more vibration resistant, and mountable in any direction save for upside-down. They also are spill-proof, and carry a cycling power that puts almost anyone else to shame.
While the Redtop version is recommended for commuter cars due primarily to its high cold cranking amps and extended lifespan (which is typically double that of a traditional battery), it’s the Yellowtop model that is the real showstopper in this lineup. Designed to have triple the life of a normal battery, this top-tier option is designed to offer both extra cycling and recharging power for trucks equipped with winches, or anyone with a banging sound system who demands quality audio time. Boat owners also get some love from Optima with the Bluetop battery, which has been designed to handle dual-purpose tasks, and can double as the ideal candidate for RVs, as they typically feature juice-draining creature comforts.
While I have used the aforementioned Optima Redtop in my project car for years, it’s the AGM carbon version from Braille Battery that adorns the engine bay of my beloved RDX build, code-named: “Project Black Pearl.” Designed and built via a manufacturing process that uses recycled lead, plastic, and stainless steel, this heavy hitter hasn’t let me down over the years, and with its “Sealed Valve Regulated Design,” there is no risk of acid spills, thus making it more environmentally conscientious.
The version I use has 1,380 Pulse Cranking Amps (PCAs) and has been clad in carbon, which withstands extreme temperatures and vibration better than plastics and looks bad-ass to boot. Still not enough power and reliability for you? Upgrade to one of Braille Battery’s Lithium Ion offerings and you’ll get the world’s first and best lithium option, which has been tailor-made to fit directly into OEM mounting points. With its ability to be fully recharged in less than 30 minutes, 70% reduced weight, and three times the average life cycle, it is no wonder that these top-shelf starting points are used by factory racing teams for Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette Racing, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Lola, Mazda, Nissan, Porsche, Toyota, and countless others. Available with anywhere from 150 to 2800 cranking amps, Braille batteries are even used in the planes that fly over our heads and the boats that blow by us on the water every day.
While Braille batteries are designed to be lightweight, environmentally friendly, and multi-purpose, Kinetik batteries are designed from the ground-up to offer the ultimate cycling power on the planet. Made from 99.9% pure lead, and manufactured in a state-of-the-art robotic computer-controlled facility, these electrical powerhouses are 100% made in America and are a great option for anyone who needs extra oomph and doesn’t give a damn about weight savings.
Available in a PRO, REV, and BLU series, these batteries respectively come with three-, two-, and one-year warranties, and can be had in trim levels that weigh up to 74 pounds! So if you’ve got a tailgate set-up that needs a new battery or two, look no further than here, because powering a mountain of electronics puts a ton of strain on your car’s electrical systems, and the last thing anyone wants is a blown power supply.
This next contender is the complete opposite of the last option when it comes to assembly. Odyssey batteries are a division of EnerSys Energy Products Inc., which has plants in 17 different countries. Heralded as the “global leader in stored energy solutions for automotive, military, and industrial applications,” this corporate giant features a huge number of options for every form of vehicle imaginable, from seven-second drag cars to fully autonomous semis in the deserts of Nevada.
But it’s likely that neither of us will ever need these kinds of batteries, so going with one of Odyssey’s “Performance Series Batteries” is probably the best place to begin. Fashioned around a core that is 99.99% pure lead – not lead alloy, like many conventional batteries — Odyssey’s plates are far thinner than its competition, which makes it possible to fit more of them inside its shell. More plates mean more surface area, which equates to more power when you need it most. Another notable thing about Odyssey batteries are their “death throes,” which are quite prolonged, so that drivers can see it slowly coming on, unlike conventional batteries which tend to crap-out without warning of any kind.
5. Store brands and dealer spec
Our final option for the day is the one that is most often opted for by drivers, and it has everything to do with convenience. Auto stores across America stock their own line of batteries, and they can range anywhere from the most basic economy box of leaky lead, to a hardcore unit like the Diehard one shown here, with its 930 Cold Cranking Amps and four-year warranty. Which circles us back to what I said at the beginning of this article, because no one really pays attention to their car’s battery until it leaves them stuck in a parking deck somewhere, and when they do replace it they have to buy whatever is immediately available to them, which often means buying a “store brand” version.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with an AutoCraft Gold battery from Advance Auto, or a Duralast Platinum from AutoZone, it’s just that because people tend to neglect their vehicle’s starting and charging systems they typically don’t spend the time researching what works best in their vehicle. You may save some money on these more inexpensive offerings, but you will typically get more power, reliability, and longer life out of the ones that are pricier and nicer. So if you find yourself stranded because that economy, lead-filled box of power isn’t cutting it one morning don’t blame the system — you get what you pay for, and when it comes to automotive electronics spending more typically means better batteries.