What are the common causes of battery failure?

Battery failure generally occurs over time, due to battery age and general wear and tear. Several factors can bring on battery failure quicker than expected.

Here, we explore what battery failure is, what the signs are, the most common cause of battery damage, what actually kills the battery in a car, and how you can tell if it’s the battery or alternator that has failed.

What is battery failure?

Practically, battery failure is when the battery in your car won’t charge or power anything else in the car, leaving you immobile with no working accessories.

Scientifically, battery failure is, according to batterystuff.com, when the active material in the plates can no longer sustain a discharge current. This loss of plate capacity creates a brown sediment that can short the plates of a cell out, killing the battery.

Well maintained and properly charged deep cycle batteries naturally die due to positive grid corrosion, causing an open connection. In hot climates, however, other causes of battery failure can include positive grid growth, positive grid metal corrosion, negative grid shrinkage, buckling of plates, or loss of water.

What are signs of battery failure?

Empower Battery Co - testing voltage and battery with a mutlimeter
One of our technicians can test and diagnose batteries – and we come to wherever you are in Brisbane!

The signs of battery failure in a car or other automobile are fairly obvious, providing you have good sight, hearing, and smell.

To follow are some of the main signs for which to look out:

  • If there is no response to ignition.
  • If the starter motor cranks but the engine won’t turn over.
  • If there are sluggish cranking times.
  • If the engine starts but then dies immediately.
  • If there is no door chime or dome lights.
  • If there are no headlights or dim headlights.
  • If the check engine light turns on.
  • If the battery is misshapen.
  • If there’s an odd smell.
  • If there are corroded battery terminals.

If you encounter any of these signs, we recommend that you stop driving the car and contact one of our experts for professional yet affordable assistance.

What is the most common cause of battery damage?

The most common cause of battery damage is likely jump-starting the vehicle too many times, which causes irreversible damage to the battery, or, overcharging the battery, where the excessive current produces heat that causes significant physical damage to the battery, and even battery failure.

Heat can also cause evaporation of water in the electrolyte, which makes the cell dry up. An undercharged car battery can also dry up a cell and cause damage, eventually stopping a battery from working. When battery voltage drops to about 10.5 volts, the lead plates that make up the battery cells become heavily coated in lead sulfate.

Discharging below this point can permanently damage the battery, meaning it will not charge for as long.

Other physical causes of battery damage could include the battery being improperly held in the cradle, causing active material to fall off from the extra motion; corrosion between battery post and cable; the shedding of active material, which can cause shorts between the plates; and cold weather, which can lead to a myriad of issues.

What kills the battery in a car?

A car battery is generally killed by heat, and/or an electrical short of the cell’s plates. The latter is caused by loss of plate capacity, which then sees the formation of a brown sediment that can short the plates of a cell out, killing the battery. There are many other risks to a car battery’s life, but generally, the above two risks are the ones that result in a completely dead battery.

How do you tell if it’s the battery or alternator?

How do you tell if it's the battery or alternator? Picture of car alternator
Battery or alternator?

When a car doesn’t start, the driver will usually revert to the ‘dead car battery’ assumption. But it may not be the car battery at all.

A failed alternator can also prevent a car from running. Thankfully, there are some ways to tell these issues apart.

When the battery is dead, the car will make a certain low whining sound when you attempt to start the car. Furthermore, if you try jump starting the car, it will likely work, providing you leave the car running so the battery can once again charge up. If the battery is completely dead, however, then the car, if turned off, won’t start again by itself.

A failed alternator will also see the car start with a jump start, but the car won’t keep running; the engine will die immediately. In addition, an alternator will overheat, producing a burning rubber smell, and your headlights or dash lights will flicker, or become extra dim or bright. If you’re not sure, call in the experts, who can provide a thorough safe check at a great rate!

Has your battery failed?

Book a battery replacement today or call us if urgent and we’ll be with you within 30-40 minutes.

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