Wow, I had forgotten how complicated it can be to do the simple stuff. In this case, quite a few of our cars have had terrible problems with batteries. One nice thing about electric vehicles by the way is that they are a lot harder to ruin. But over the years, we’ve had lots of problems and here’s a list (that hopefully you can avoid).
Volvo 850. Wow this car has a relatively small battery and if you leave the lights on, then you are in trouble. For a while, I was replacing a battery every year because once fully discharged, it would never stay charged. The best solution for this is to have a $29 battery minder assuming you have a garage, this trickle charges the lead acid battery.
Toyota Prius. Wow this one is a real nightmare, even though it is a hybrid, it is still dependent on a tiny 12V battery and it is easy to discharge it. Again the lesson is don’t leave the lights on if you can help it.
BMW 330i. This one is a particularly deadly because the 12V accessory outlet is unswitched. What this means is that if you accidentally leave say your phone charger plugged in, the vampire draw will rapidly take out the battery. Also, for weight reasons, they put the battery in the back of the car so it is a pain to change.
Honda Fit. The same problem, leaving the lights on really does kill the battery and you are in trouble again.
But could it be the alternator?
If you have a dead battery, it is either because you killed it by a deep discharge or because it has reached its natural life. Depending on the climate, 5 years is pretty good for a battery where it gets cold. In mild climates like the pacific northwest, you can go 10 years without needing a new one.
But there is a case where it is the charging system, called the alternator, which has failed. It is not easy to tell if that is the problem, but you can check by seeing if when you are driving, if the headlights get brighter when you are driving or if the lights get dimmer (because the alternator is not keeping up). Or go to a service station and they can measure the voltage to see if it is charging.
Consumer Reports (subscription required) actually tests batteries and although there are many different. The listings are confusing because different types of batteries have different ratings but eyeballing the listings, you can see some of the top quality batteries.
Interstate MT7 seems super high quality although for a $280 battery it had better be. The other good brands seem to be Duralast Platinum, Diehard Advanced Gold.
The highly variable brands seem Diehard Gold which is either the best or worst depending on the size of battery.
OK, the car battery world is filled with different
groups. You have to go to a configurator then plug in your make and model to figure out your battery. For instance the 2012 Honda Fit is a Group 151R so it is very expensive and non-standard.
You can modify the mounting plate to fit more standard batteries of course, but typically you would start with the OEM sizing and go from there.
Where to buy Batteries?
You can’t mail order batteries. It’s dangerous to ship and you want to go to a place that recycles the lead in the batteries. 90% plus of lead is now recycled which is good so do your part for the planet. That being said, here’s a stack ranked list of places to try.
Costco. Well, the go-to place with a good return policy is Costco. You do need a Costco membership ($60 for basic, $120 for executive but with a 2% rebate, so this pays off if you spend $1200 or more per year). However, if you don’t buy there much, there is a way to do this, find someone who has a Costco membership and have them send you a gift card. Costco allows people with gift cards to shop there. For a battery this can definitely make sense. Costco uses Interstate batteries which is great, but they don’t carry every battery, so check with the configurator and see if they have it.
Sears. A step down from there is going to Sears. The Diehard batteries are good if you can find the right Diehard Advanced Gold and sometimes the Diehard Gold. The main problem here is that they’ve really cut back the batteries that they carry and don’t seem to have any configurator on the Diehard.com or the Sears.com site, so it is a bit of a hit or miss and a sad statement about Sears.
Autozone, . There are host of auto shops. Looking at Yelp, it is hard to see if any are good. But most have a configurator and will get you a “no-name” battery. Although the NAPA battery did pretty well in the Consumer Reports tests. But they do have the Duralast (a good brand) for $159 just make sure it is stock by checking their site for the store near you.
Advanced Auto Parts. Also they tend to be expensive, so $159 for that 151R battery I mentioned like this Autocraft.
Batteries Plus. This is a franchise operation that mainly sells you cell phone batteries and repair, but they do have a no-name Duracell for $120.