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If you are really honest with yourself, rarely have you really been surprised when you discovered your car battery was dead. You knew it was coming it was just a question of when. There are exceptions of course like bad cells or alternator problems but typically you will notice that your ride isn’t turning over as quickly as it used to. So, assuming that this time you are going to be proactive and buy a replacement before the old one croaks, let’s take a look at how to buy a new car battery:
Know what you have. Find out just what kind of battery your manufacturer installed as OEM. That might be different than what you have in the car now if the existing battery was a replacement. The easiest way to get the specs is from your owner’s manual. If you don’t have that, visit the manufacturer’s website and see if you can download one. If you shoot craps with that plan visit a reputable auto parts store like Auto Parts Warehouse and search for a compatible battery. What you are looking for is group size, cold cranking amps and reserve capacity. Write this stuff down.
Know what you are looking for. Here’s a quick rundown on the specs you just found. Group size refers to the outside dimensions and the location of the terminals. Obviously you want a battery that fits. Cold cranking amps (CCA) is the amount of power the battery can put out in cold weather conditions. The CCA rating should be the same or greater than that recommended by the manufacturer. Reserve capacity is a measurement of how long the battery can run your car if your alternator fails.
Shop for value not price. Unless you are going to sell the car tomorrow, don’t buy on price alone. Also car battery prices, even for the identical type and brand are all over the place. You might want to start shopping for your car battery online as those auto parts stores typically have excellent prices. In addition, some stores like Auto Parts Warehouse offer customer reviews, free shipping and price matching guarantees. No matter where you live you will have a large selection of sellers. There are the parts stores, big box stores and if you are feeling flush…the dealers. Buy the battery with the best reserve capacity that you can afford. If the alternator fails and your battery can’t run the car for long, your options on repair shops are going to be limited to wherever the AAA guy wants to tow you.
Don’t forget about installation. Installing a battery is a pretty simple process but some people prefer to have it done for them. If you fall into that group then be sure to ask the shop you are buying from if installation is included…mostly it won’t be and that of course will have an impact on just how competitively priced the battery really is.
And don’t forget about your old battery. Here’s a little something from the EPA “Almost any retailer that sells lead-acid batteries collects used batteries for recycling, as required by most state laws.” What this means is most retailers will charge you a recycling fee if you don’t turn your old battery in when you buy the new one. The fee is refundable if you bring in the old battery after you have installed the new one.
There are a few other things that you want to consider when you go to buy a new car battery. Regardless the length of the warranty, ask the seller how long the “free replacement” period is. After that time has expired you will only receive a prorated discount.
Freshness is another issue. Big Box stores tend to have cheap prices but their stock may not be as fresh as an auto parts store or an online store that turns stock over quickly. You can tell when a battery was manufactured by looking at the alpha numeric code on the label. The letter stands for the month (A is January, B is February etc.) and the two digits is the year. Try not to buy a battery that has been sitting on the shelf longer than 6 months.
The real takeaway from these tips is to start looking for your new car battery before it gives up the ghost. When you have time you have options and you can find the best car battery to fit your particular needs.
For more new car battery information, check out our Optima battery review. It also includes a quick tips video.
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