How To Choose A Car Battery

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Your vehicle’s battery is one of the most important parts on your car. Without one, you wouldn’t be able to generate enough power to turn your car’s starting motor and eventually, the engine itself. Your car’s battery also supplies electrical power to many other systems throughout the vehicle.

But batteries aren’t built to last forever, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up replacing your battery several times throughout the life of your car. There are countless battery options available, so how do you know which is the right one for your vehicle?  In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 of the best car batteries available, as well as how to choose a car battery. Finally, we’ll give you our top battery pick.

5 Of The Best Car Batteries

Optima Red Top

How To Choose A Car Battery [A Buyer’s Guide]

Optima batteries consistently rank among the top batteries on the market, and it’s for good reason. They pack a ton of power in a relatively lightweight package. The Red Top option is particularly known for being a fantastic choice for drivers who live in extremely cold conditions, as they’ve proven to be reliable in even the lowest temperatures.

The Optima Red Top is also an excellent choice for those who will be doing more extreme driving like hot rodders and off-roaders. That’s because they’re built to take a lot of vibration and jarring and keep functioning. Many inferior batteries won’t hold up to the kind of abuse that these motorsports dish out.

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The popular Red Top 34/78 model is built to produce a whopping 800 cold cranking amps (CCA) at startup. We’ll discuss CCAs in more detail below, but suffice it to say that this means the Red Top will ensure you have ignition power no matter what kind of weather or environmental conditions you’re driving in.

In addition, the 34/78 provides more than an hour and half of reserve power capacity, so you can run accessories without the engine being on for some time before having to worry about a dead battery.

Finally, the Red Tops are a breeze to install and don’t require any maintenance whatsoever.

The only downside is that the Optima batteries can be on the expensive side. As someone who used to drive a diesel pickup with not one, but two Optima Red Tops under the hood, I can vouch for the hit to the checkbook!  The good news is that I could literally go years without having to worry about replacing them.

Pros

  • An impressive 800 Cold Cranking Amps
  • Ability to start in extreme weather conditions
  • Extremely resistant to vibrations

Cons

  • High price tag

Mighty Max ML35-12

How To Choose A Car Battery [A Buyer’s Guide]

This battery definitely has a specific kind of client in mind. The Mighty Max ML35-12 is a rechargeable solar battery that can be used in a wide variety of vehicles. This battery is used in cars, but also boats and even farm implements. The battery is built tough, despite the fragility that many other solar devices conjure up. They’ll also last a very long time.

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That long lifespan is due in large part to the battery’s deep cycle ability. The deep cycle feature has a minimal impact on the battery’s overall lifespan but will run for a long time. What’s more, that long functionality is not impacted by weather conditions or temperatures.

Finally, installing the Mighty Max ML35-12 is simple and versatile. It can be installed in virtually any position and the users don’t have to worry about the battery leaking or spilling. Like the Optima batteries, the Mighty Max doesn’t require any maintenance.

Pros

  • Wide range of vehicle applications
  • Rechargeable solar capabilities
  • Easy installation and maintenance
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Runtime without recharging is much less than traditional batteries

AC Delco Professional AGM

How To Choose A Car Battery [A Buyer’s Guide]

The AC Delco Professional AGM battery is a perfect choice for someone who is looking for an affordable battery for everyday use. While it’s not meant for the kind of extreme performance that, say, an Optima battery boasts, it does exceed most OE specifications for the major car manufacturers.

The AGM battery from AC Delco is leakproof, so it’s still a good choice for vehicles with challenging mounting points for their batteries, as the required maintenance is virtually nil. Furthermore, this battery has a history of lasting longer than many other similarly priced replacement batteries.

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The battery’s design ensures that it operates at a cool temperature, reducing the risk for fires and shorts. In short, it’s one of the safest replacement batteries you can find for your vehicle.

Pros

  • Meets or exceeds most OE specifications
  • Extended battery life
  • No maintenance required

Cons

  • A few users complain that the price is a bit high, but given the extended lifespan, we feel it’s still an affordable option

DieHard Advanced Gold AGM Battery

How To Choose A Car Battery [A Buyer’s Guide]

DieHard batteries are another excellent choice for those drivers who put their vehicles through intense use. They can hold up to a tremendous amount of vibration. In addition, with the ability to produce 772 cold cranking amps, it boasts plenty of starting power.

The real key to this battery’s supreme performance lies in its construction. It makes use of an electrolyte suspension system that serves to protects the internal parts of the battery. This adds superior protection against shorts, but it also enables the battery to function in even the most extreme temperatures.

Like many of the other high performing batteries on our list, the DieHard Advanced Gold Battery is spill and leak proof, as well as maintenance free. In addition, Die Hard boasts that this battery is 20x more resistant to vibration and last twice as long as other acid batteries.

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Pros

  • Excellent vibration protection
  • Long life expectancy
  • Maintenance-free

Cons

  • Won’t work in all types of vehicles

Optima Yellow Top

How To Choose A Car Battery [A Buyer’s Guide]

We’ve book-ended our list with another product from Optima. The Optima Yellow Top is another fantastic battery option. Like its Red Top cousin, the Yellow Top offers tremendous cranking power and with its 98 minutes of reserve capacity, it’s a great choice for drivers who have a ton of auxiliary, power-eating accessories on their vehicles.

The Yellow Top boasts 620 cold cranking amps and will work equally well in both extremely hot and cold conditions. Like the Red Top, the Optima Yellow Top has a tremendous lifespan thanks to its extreme vibration resistance. Optima actually claims that the Yellow Top will last up to 3 times longer than most conventional batteries.

Thanks to the Yellow Top’s spiral cell design, it’s completely leak-proof and extremely safe for the environment. It also means that it can be mounted in just about any position you can imagine, once-more making Optima a premium choice for off-roaders and other extreme motorsports enthusiasts.

Pros:

  • Superior cranking ability in extreme temperatures
  • Excellent vibration resistance and lifespan
  • Can be installed in any position

Cons:

  • Highest price tag on the list

How To Choose A Car Battery – A Buyer’s Guide

Even our short list of 5 of the best car batteries on the market can be a bit overwhelming if you haven’t given your power needs much consideration. Before you make a final decision, it’s important to consider exactly what kind of battery you need, as well as the important attributes of the battery itself. We’ll discuss each of those in more detail below.

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How To Choose A Car Battery [A Buyer’s Guide]

What type of battery do I need?

All batteries are meant to supply power to your car’s components, but they’re not all designed to be “universal.”  Here are some of the more common “types” of batteries and their purposes.

Starting

A starting battery is the most common form on the shelf, and it’s likely what you’ll be shopping for if you find your car won’t start. As the name implies, a starting battery is meant to supply power to your vehicle’s starting motor and ignition system. They’re designed to produce short bursts of power, as opposed to long, steady streams. As such, starting batteries need to be recharged often. Your vehicle’s alternator takes care of this, but if you find yourself hooking up an external charger more and more frequently, it might be time to shop for a new starting battery.

Deep Cycle

Deep cycle batteries will usually cost a bit more than your standard staring battery but it’s for good reason. They provide more power and they’re built to last much longer than standard acid starting batteries. They’re a good option for cars, but you’ll find that deep cycle batteries are the top pick for marine applications.

Valve Regulated Lead Acid

Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) are excellent options for those who don’t wish to perform any maintenance. Traditional batteries can sometimes require adding water to the “cells.”  VLRA batteries are completely sealed, so they don’t require any additional maintenance. This also makes them leak-proof, so if safety and peace of mind are important to you, it’s an excellent choice. “Gel Cell” and “AGM” batteries are the two main types of VRLA products.

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Lithium-Ion

Lithium-ion batteries are usually found in hybrid and electric cars. They’re much smaller and lighter than conventional batteries. Furthermore, they’re designed to store much more energy (hence their application in electric vehicles). They tend to have a shorter lifespan than other types of batteries, and they’re certainly not as compatible with as wide a range of vehicles as the more traditional options.

Wet Cell

Wet cell batteries could also be called “budget options.”  They’re the lowest-priced of any of the battery types, but there are certainly some tradeoffs for that lower price tag. They require frequent maintenance to replace fluid that is lost over the battery’s lifespan. And speaking of lifespan, you’ll find that wet cell batteries don’t last nearly as long as sealed options like VLRA batteries.

5 important things to consider when shopping for a car battery

Size And Fit

One of the first things you need to consider when shopping for a replacement car battery is the size. You’ll find that car batteries come in a variety of dimensions in terms of the width, height, and length. Not all batteries will fit the battery tray under your vehicle’s hood, so it’s important to get one that fits properly. Plus, you’ll need to ensure that the battery’s terminal type and placement are compatible with your vehicle (should the posts be on top?  The sides?). When in doubt, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual or the number on your old battery to determine which size you need.

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Warranty

Most batteries come with a free replacement period, so if they stop working you can easily get a new one without having to fork over any extra cash. However, the warranty periods vary from battery to battery and are usually relative to the battery’s price. Generally speaking, you’ll find that batteries come with either 2 or 3-year warranties. In addition, some batteries also offer a “pro-rated” program where you can still get a replacement battery once the free replacement period has passed. As a rule, go with as long a warranty period as you can afford when buying your battery.

Power Needs

In addition to the physical size, a battery’s power output is one of the most important elements to consider when shopping for a replacement. Specifically, you should look at the battery’s cold cranking amps and cranking amps. The different labels can seem confusing, but it’s actually quite simple. Cold cranking amps (CCAs) are the amps required to start your vehicle when the temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Cranking amps refer to the number of amps required to start your engine at just below freezing, or 31 degrees Fahrenheit. As a rule, the more cold cranking amps you have, the better your battery.

Manufacture Date

You’ll find that every replacement battery on the shelf, regardless of manufacturer, has some sort of date code on it. The codes vary. Some can be obvious, with a month/year format, while others use letter codes for months. Regardless of which option you go with, it’s important to understand that codes so that you can pick the “freshest” battery possible. As a safety net, it’s not recommended that you purchase a battery that’s been on the shelf longer than six months from its manufacture date.

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Maintenance

As you might have realized, car batteries come in two varieties when it comes to maintenance—those that require maintenance and those that don’t. Maintenance-free options, like the gel and AGM-variety in VRLA batteries, are great for those looking for a “one and done” approach to replacing the battery. But they cost more. You can save a few bucks by purchasing a battery that’s unsealed, but you’ll have to occasionally pop the cell caps and add some water.

Tips Extending The Life Of Your Car Battery

Hopefully, we’ve given you some solid advice for picking a replacement battery for your car. Here are some tips for getting the maximum lifespan out of that battery once you’ve chosen it.  Remember, even if you purchase a “maintenance-free” battery there are still a few things you should occasionally do to ensure your battery is functioning at its peak capacity.

To start, you should check your battery terminals and cables often to ensure there’s no corrosion building up. A buildup of corrosion can reduce the power getting out to your vehicle’s electrical components, and in some cases, it can even prevent your vehicle from starting. If you notice some corrosion buildup, use a post cleaner or wire brush to remove the buildup. Then, apply a coat of protective grease (available for cheap at most parts stores) to cut down on future buildup.

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If you happen to have a battery that does require some maintenance, you should pop the caps on your electrolyte cells every now and then and top off with water as needed. You can purchase an inexpensive hydrometer at the parts store and check each cell individually if you really want to be precise with your maintenance routine.

Regardless of whether you purchase a maintenance-free battery or not, you should have your battery checked out by a certified mechanic once a year just to make sure everything is still in tip-top shape. If your battery becomes cracked or starts underperforming on a regular basis, it’s time to replace it.

Final Thoughts

Buying a replacement battery is a task that most car owners will face several times throughout their lives. Hopefully, we’ve given you the tools you need to make the best choice the next time that task rolls around your way.

But the question remains—which is our top battery pick?  In this case, the hands-down winner is the Optima Red Top. As I mentioned above, I ran two of these under the hood of my Ford Super-Duty diesel and never had an issue. Sure, they cost a bit more than some of their competitors, but the increased performance, vibration resistance, and long lifespan more than makes up for the additional cost.

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