When to replace a car battery

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I have a 1997 car, that I bought used. II owned the car for 5 years. I don't know how long the 2nd car battery (sears) is in place. I recently went on a trip, and my batter died while car was sitting in garage for 3 weeks. I charged battery, and it died again, 2 months later. However, I really don't use car that much. Maybe 30-60 minutes of driving per week.
How do I know, that the battery is good or bad, since when charged, it lasted about 2 months of very light driving.
I have a trickle charger, but am wondering if the battery is bad, and is time to be replaced. I do not know how old this battery is.
If the car battery is bad, rather than keep a trickle charger on the battery, I was hoping that driving 30-60 minutes a week, is long enough to keep the battery charged.
Can you please provide some input.
Thanks much,
Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC
Author of RECRUITSOURCE PEOPLESOFT EXAM and RECRUITSOURCE SAP/R3 EXAM Author of POWER TIPS FOR THE APPLE NEWTON and INTRODUCTION TO CSP
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Usually the battery has a date code on the top that is punched out by the installer.
However isn't your time worth a $75 new battery. Each time it failed it took how long to get it back working? When you have the battery changed most places will also check your charging system so you can be sure it was just the battery.
Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC wrote:

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Howard and Tony,
Thanks for the suggestions.
I will get a new battery on the weekend.
I am trying to find out, if a good battery can hold its charge on 30-60 minutes of car use per week?
Thanks much,
- Larry
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Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC
Author of RECRUITSOURCE PEOPLESOFT EXAM and RECRUITSOURCE SAP/R3 EXAM Author of POWER TIPS FOR THE APPLE NEWTON and INTRODUCTION TO CSP
NOTE: To send me an email, remove TAKEOUT from my email address: snipped-for-privacy@seldin.net
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Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC wrote:

Yes. I always like a car with ammeter not idiot dash light.
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Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC wrote:

That is plenty of time driving, but depending on the car even a week without driving can a problem. All those alarm systems etc tend to draw current. Any time a battery is allowed to go dead it reduces it's capacity. Many people have problems with excessive dark drain (electric usage with the car not running). Many places will check your battery for free. Since you are considering replacing yours now, why not have the check it first. Most can check the charging system at the same time.
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On Fri, 17 Feb 2006 10:26:20 -0500, "Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC"

If you are just going a couple miles at a time to the grocery store, and especially now when you are using the heater, and possible headlights, you are not charging enough. A trickle charger at least once a week on your NEW battery would be a good idea. You do know that short trips are hard on the engine too. Take it out for a brisk drive once a week on the highway and you wont need to charge the batt and it will help your engine. Doing short trips like you do means you should change your oil more often too.
PS. Short drives also hurt the exhaust system, because water condensation builds up, and it never gets hot enough to dry it out.
Mark
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Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC wrote:

Yes. The battery in my pickup if fine with sitting for 2-3 months without driving. Even the old battery in my Explorer, which would only hold about half of the charge, would start the vehicle after 2 months of non use.
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It only takes five minutes or so to charge a battery back after starting the car, so as long as you keep the motor on at least five minutes each time you start the motor, you'll be fine.
I find that auto batteries last about 10 months less than the rated age. For example, a 60 month battery dies about 50 months.
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It depends on outside temperatures and how much vibration or shock the battery gets(dislodges material from the plate's grids,eventually shorting the cell).Hot climates evaporate water from the electrolyte sooner.
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wrote:

The problem is;the battery's plates SULFATE(when seldom used) and the internal resistance of the battery goes way up. That drops too much voltage under cranking currents. Also,modern cars draw some current even while not running.
A float charger on the battery while it's sitting unused would help. You might want to wire up a quick-disconnect plug/socket so the charger can easily be connected or disconnected,without muss or fuss.(no need to even open the hood,if that's the way you do it.)
But first,start with a known good battery. Wal-Mart sells them very at low cost.
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I think they sulfate when they are charged too quickly. After a battery is fully or mostly discharged, for whatever reason, people might put a 10 ot 20 or 50 amp charger on the battery, so they can get going quickly. Service stations are even more likely to do this. While lead is being deposited on the plates, particles of lead sulfate are trapped under the lead, It's covered, and not broken down into lead and sulfate (which combines to make sufuric acid).. Later, when the battery is being used again, the lead participates in making electricity, but the lead sulfate is a big dissappointment.
This is why I used to run the battery down by mistake, I would run the headlights and especially the fan motor while I was driving the car. To keep the battery from charging too quickly. I'm not sure how well this worked, (the ammeter seemed to show that the charging rate was only sllightly lower with these things running, but I figured even that slight amount would help, and I wasn't going to readjust the regulator for these rare occasions) but the problem is solved by your suggestion below, to use a trickle charger (which iirc is the same as a float charger.)

Good ideas. When I was doing this, I put the charger under the hood, near the battery, and ran the regular cord out through the grill. It was quick enough to plug and unplug from an extension cord.

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On Fri, 17 Feb 2006 10:26:20 -0500, "Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC"

The answer is NO. The battery will keep draining due to the car computer and other electronic gadgets even though the car is not in use.
I'd had similar problems with my car battery until I learned it in a hard way. I also did not use my car much and the battery kept dying on me. I did replace the battery once, which did not help me at all. That is how I found out that what I need to do was buy a trickle battery charger.
I bought a trickle battery charger, which is attached to the battery, and plug the charger into the electricity outlet when the car is not in use. You can't overcharge with this charger.
I am sure if you ask any reputable auto parts stores, they will tell you what you need.
Good luck.
Jay
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cod oil wrote:

More batteries are ruined from overcharging that by any other method. Most of those little trickle chargers have lousy regulation and can damage batteries. Using a trickle charger is like putting STP in your oil to stop oil burning.
If the battery in a vehicle goes dead while sitting for less than 3 months, the battery needs to be replaced, something is wrong in the vehicle circuitry (mainly a high draw appliance) or the vehicle has a lousy electronic design.
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On Sat, 18 Feb 2006 19:30:28 GMT, "George E. Cawthon"

I'm not going to disagree with you, but...

If the battery already needs to be replaced, how much harm can overcharging it do?

Until that problem is found, isn't it better to overcharge than to have a dead battery? and 1) It's less likely that one will overcharge since the vehicle is actually using more than the normal amount of current. 2) the owner can judge for himself how much effort he should put into finding the high draw or other problem versus how much he's willing to pay for replacement batteries.

Maybe, but again, since he's not going to redesign the car, the remedy would be to change cars, and why change cars when one can keep the battery charged with a trickle charger, and let's say cut the life of the battery from 6 years to 4 years. In four years or 8 years or 12, he may be ready to buy a new car.
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mm wrote:

I was just suggesting possible problems; however it sounds like he just has a battery that won't hold a charge. It is simple enough to tell if the vehicle is draining the battery or the battery just won't hold a charge. Two ways to do that. One, put an ammeter in the circuit and see what the draw is. Two, charge the battery and compare the connected and disconnected voltages after a period of time. Just one or two days on the disconnected battery might be enough, but a comparison of a week will surely define whether or not the vehicle draws a current.
Sure you can futz with something but that isn't acceptable to most people, besides it is a lot of bother. I do futz with stuff, but just in the interim. I usually just correct or fix the problem at a later date.
I liked the sound of the heavy draw radio (radio off)that I installed in a vehicle. The solution was simple since the vehicle was used only occasionally; I just installed a switch in the line to the battery. Lost the radio and clock setting. When I used the truck for a camping trip I would flip the switch on, set the stations and the time and that would be it until we returned home in a week or two. Then I turned the switch off. That's a futz, but the real solution was to buy a different radio which wasn't worth it to me.
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Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC wrote:

Aging battery holds less and less charge. I'd replace it before it dies on you completey. If it creates internal short due to structure fatigue, it can damage alternator and/or regulator.
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autozone, sears, others, will check your battery-no charge for this.
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You can buy a battery tester at Walmart or an auto parts store for about $5 or less. You suck up some of the liquid and they little balls float to tell you the condition. Or for a more reliable test, just take the battery to some place that sells batteries and have them test it for you. Usually free, but be sure to WATCH THEM or they may just try to sell you a new batt. You could have a bad alternator too, and that can also be tested at a place like that. Autozone does all that testing if you have one nearby.
On Fri, 17 Feb 2006 09:46:04 -0500, "Lawrence M. Seldin, CMC, CPC"

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Except that most barreries are seal today.

Be sure the belt is tight also. I've seen people replace batteries and alternators when all they needed was to have the belt tensioned properly.
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wrote:

I have never yet gotten one thats sealed. Some say they are, but the caps still come off. They just make them so they are not as easy to get off. I have noticed less of that in the last few years too. That was a stupid idea to start with. Just like oilless motors, another stupid idea.

Yes, a good point. To the OP, if your car has a amp gauge or volt gauge, be sure its showing on the PLUS side (charging) If its says volts, it should read around 13 to 14 when the car is running. If you got a light, you cant tell much unless it lights. (Sometimes the gauges also say CHARGING or BATTERY instead of the other words.
If you are having the cold snap we are having in the midwest, you will soon find out if that battery works. They are talking 30 below tonite. Damn I hate cold weather.
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