Having the right voltage flowing through your car battery can have major impacts on how your vehicle operated and the health of your electrical system. In most cases, you don’t need to worry about this much. However, as cars get older or experience electrical problems, they are more likely to have improper voltage in the battery. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to check.
Checking Battery Voltage
The best way to check the voltage of your car battery is using a multimeter, a common electrical testing tool that can measure voltage, resistance, current and sometimes other values. It is a must-have for anyone working on an electrical system. This is how to measure the voltage of the vehicle:
- With the vehicle off, turn the headlights on for a couple of minutes to ensure there is no surface charge in the battery.
- Set the multimeter to a setting above 15 volts (typically this will be 15 or 20, depending on the meter).
- Connect the multimeter to the positive and negative terminals of the battery.
- The reading should be around 12.6 volts.
- Start the car.
- The new reading should be above 10.
- A reading that drops below 5 indicates that the battery is bad.
You can also often test battery health with a specialized tool that will give a simpler readout. If you own a car battery charger, that may also have a built-in health-checking feature.
How Does Voltage Affect Battery Life?
Your battery needs function well to be able to start the vehicle and run the various electrical systems. This includes critical safety features including the headlights. Many modern vehicles increasingly use electronics, computers and sensors that rely on a functioning electrical system. Plus, most drivers want reliable heating and cooling and entertainment features.
If you have a battery that can’t hold the right voltage, it may experience a host of problems with the above vehicle systems. Plus, it may have a shortened service life. Battery lifespans are estimated based on the battery operating in optimal conditions. Improper voltage could damage the cells in the battery and cause it to give out early.
How To Maximize Car Battery Life
One of the best things you can do for your car battery is to ensure it is installed properly and the cables are fastened securely. Having loose cables could cause improper voltage, excessive resistance and other problems that may cause damage to the battery.
You should also limit the number of short trips you take. These tend to rely more on the battery rather than the alternator. Plus, they involve more ignitions.
Finally, control the corrosion around your battery terminals. Check them periodically and clean them when necessary. You can do so using a mixture of baking soda and water followed by a spritz of cold water. Always disconnect the battery first before cleaning.