Troubleshooting Guide: 8 Ways to Tell If Your Battery is Dead (or Dying)

Inspecting the positive lead on the car battery

Your car’s battery is the heart of the operation. It plays a part in turning on your car, keeping it running, and providing all the creature comforts you need. Problems start arising when your battery is dead or dying. The following section will walk you through some steps to see if your battery is dying and then you’ll find out how to test the life of your battery.

8 Ways to Tell If Your Battery is Dead (or Dying)

Without wasting any time, let’s get into 8 ways to check the life of your battery. These symptoms are the result of a battery that is dead or dying and it should give you a better indication of what’s going on under the hood.

#1: Odd Smell

A lot of troubleshooting steps involve using your nose with your car, and your battery is no exception. If you pop the hood and you smell rotten eggs, it can be due to a leaking battery.

What you’re smelling is the sulfuric acid that is supposed to stay inside of a battery. If you didn’t know, sulfur smells like rotten eggs and it’s a part of sulfuric acid (hence the name).

If you see your battery is indeed leaking, that acid can eat through other components in your engine bay. Have a mechanic look over your car to see the extent of the damage.

#2: Dim Headlights

Your headlights are a big indication as to whether or not your battery is dying. You should have a good feel for how well your lights typically work. If the night somehow seems darker as you’re driving, it’s probably because your headlights are dimmer.

This is a big safety concern so try to correct the problem as soon as possible.

#3: Slow Crank

The crank is how quickly your car turns on when you turn the key. After a while, you probably recognize exactly how your car sounds when it starts. If there’s a change and now it takes longer for the process to go on, you can thank your battery.

This is a good sign that it’s time to replace your battery.

#4: Clicking When You Turn the Key

Along the same vein, if your car clicks when you turn the key, that can also be due to a dying battery. Your battery uses electricity to turn on a solenoid which ultimately starts your car. If your battery doesn’t have enough juice, it won’t be able to fire the solenoid and it will keep clicking until it does.

In some cases, your car won’t turn on at all and it will just keep clicking.

Battery-animation

#5: Backfiring

When your battery starts to die, it will shoot out random sparks. These sparks will ignite fumes and create backfires in your car. It sounds like gunshots going off, so it’s hard to miss it.

A lot of different problems can cause backfiring, so you’ll have to do some more homework before you narrow it down to your battery.

#6: Need to Press the Gas Pedal to Start

When your battery starts to die you’ll notice that you have to pump the gas pedal while starting the car. This releases extra fuel vapors which help ignite the car. This is also a clear sign that your battery is on the way out.

When your car won’t start without the gas pedal, it’s time for a battery replacement.

#7: Dashboard Lights

When a battery starts to die, you’ll notice that your dashboard lights start to get dimmer. This usually happens in tandem with your headlights. If you’re having trouble reading the backlit speedometer, there’s no need to call the eye doctor, just check out your battery.

Not only that, but your car should also have a light that indicates when your battery is dying. It’s often a red or orange square with a positive and negative sign on it (a little picture of your battery). If this turns on, it’s time to get a new battery.

#8: Electrical Components Not Working

Your battery is used to power a lot of components in your car. If all of your electrical components stop working or they work intermittently, this could be an early sign that your battery is dying.

Some electrical components to check are your power windows, radio, and automatic seat adjuster. If your battery is completely dead, none of these operations will work.

How to Check Your Battery

Most car owners should check the life of their battery about twice a year. The process is pretty straightforward. Grab a multimeter and put either lead on the positive and negative of your battery.

When your car is off, you should read above 12.5 volts. When your car is running, expect to see between 13.7 and 14.7 volts. If your voltage is below these numbers, your battery might be dying.

Inspecting the car battery

Alternatively, some car part shops sell a dedicated car battery testing tool. The concept works exactly the same, but the gauge has indicators to tell you the health of your battery.

Conclusion

When your battery is dead or dying, there are a lot of signs to look out for. Use these 8 ways to tell if your battery is dead or dying to diagnose your car and see if you need a replacement battery. It’s always better to replace the battery sooner rather than later. You can also get a pro involved if you’re unsure.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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