Car Battery Types Explained
If you’re trying to get the most out of your vehicle, you need to understand how it comes together, what the design choices made before it was built mean for your maintenance routine, and what common pitfalls you should be looking to navigate around. You might think that takes a lot of work, but it doesn’t require you to be a mechanic just to learn about the machine in front of you.
If you’re about to upgrade your battery or even just to replace it before it wears out, you should make sure you understand the types of batteries and how to tell when one is the right choice for your car. Chances are, you will have a couple types of battery that could fit your car, so understanding which designs are considered the newest and highest performing is a great way to help yourself make the best choice.
How Car Battery Type Affects Performance
Battery type affects performance in small but important ways because each design for a battery has a different performance range. They only vary slightly in voltage, but their construction also determines how fast they charge and how much energy they can store. Some battery types are typically only used in recreational vehicles and boats in modern constructions, but you should always check to see what kind of battery you have before buying an upgrade. We separate out powersport and marine batteries by application to make finding the right kind simple.
The battery style can also affect the optimum temperature range for operations, so make sure you are shopping for batteries that match both your car’s power requirements and your climate. It’s important to remember that as far as your car is concerned, the battery’s cranking power, voltage, and maximum capacity are what matters. It might be possible to shift to another battery type to get better performance in extreme heat or cold.
What Type of Battery Is a Car Battery?
Most automobile batteries on vehicles made in the late twentieth century and later are or were flooded cell batteries or a variation thereof. Flooded cell batteries have a liquid electrolyte and can be replenished with distilled water. In recent decades, sealed versions of these batteries that theoretically do not need replenishing have become widespread. The theory behind sealed batteries is that without a path to evaporation, the electrolyte will not dehydrate and need to be replenished with water.
Other notable battery types that can be manufactured in the power range and capacity to run your car include all the following, but they are uncommon in today’s car market and more likely to be found in boats, scooters, and recreational vehicles. Performance batteries often make use of unconventional designs to achieve various goals, so it’s worthwhile to understand them before committing to a battery upgrade.
These are another variant on the sealed battery, so the user needs to do no maintenance beyond charging it if it gets depleted too far. They are a little different from traditional sealed flooded wet cell batteries because the valves help keep electrolyte from spilling or shifting to another part of the battery with a sophisticated valve design. They can be manufactured in a few styles, including gel cell and AGM formats. They are the current state of the art design because they are so much harder to disrupt by jostling or upending than older designs.
Gel Cell Batteries
Gel cells are the top end design for electrolyte use, gaining the advantages of a fluid electrolyte without the instability and chance of spilling. Dry cell batteries tend to be less expensive and less likely to last for an extended lifespan, but gel cell batteries are easier to keep stable at all temperatures, making them more consistently efficient across different driving circumstances. There are still limits to a battery's operating range, though, so make sure you are checking the temperature rating for any battery you buy for your car.
Dry Cell Batteries
Dry cell batteries use a glass mesh to absorb the electrolyte, and operate much like wet cell batteries except the dry cell reduces spilling and allows the battery to be positioned in any orientation, which can be very useful when trying to fit a lot of power into a limited space.
Deep Cycle Batteries
These batteries are incredibly common in recreational boating and camping, because many campers with power systems use them as the core component for storage. They can be recharged and carry a long operating life because of their deep power capacity. They also take a long time to fully charge, and this sustained power can make them ideal for many heavy operations. While they are less common on the automotive market, they attract designers of performance batteries who are looking to maximize the sustained output of the battery. Deep cycle batteries can allow for extended accessory use without the engine running, they can power additional lighting and environmental systems, and they can also provide a deeper well of power for higher cranking output in cold weather if you buy the right design.
Selecting the Right Battery for Your Vehicle
The right battery will depend a lot on your engine size and driving style. Some large capacity batteries that might look attractive on paper will probably turn out to be sized incorrectly for your vehicle, and other types might be unavailable in the power capacities your vehicle needs. To find the right numbers for your car’s power needs, check out the owner’s manual or technical handbook for your make and model year. You can easily find off-beat battery options that will work for your vehicle by searching according to these numbers.
There is an easier way to find the batteries you need, though. You can also use an easy battery fitment lookup in an online catalog like the one on our site, making the process of narrowing your options among the different types of car batteries a simple one. From there, all you need to do is check out the individual options that will fit your vehicle and make a call about the combination of battery type, features, and price point that you want. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s a great reason why you should shop for your next battery today.
Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.
Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.
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