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You are driving your car and suddenly, you notice the ‘battery warning’ light aglow on the driver information display. Now, in order to safely handle this impending situation, you begin to wonder if a car’s battery can actually die while you are driving.
It is possible for a car’s battery to die while driving. A dead battery, while the engine is running, indicates a problem with your car’s electrical system. You should heed the warning of the battery indicator light to move your car off the road to a safe stopping location. Soon after the battery dies, the engine will stop running.
It seems odd that a fully charged battery could suddenly die while the engine is running but, there are a few causes that make this scenario possible. Keep reading to identify potential causes and warning signs of a dead battery. Knowing how to maintain your car's battery can prevent you from being stranded along the roadside.
Can a Dead Battery Cause a Car to Die While Driving?
A dead battery can cause your car’s engine to stop running, even while you are driving. The depleted battery indicates that some part of the electrical system is not functioning properly. Typically, a malfunction of the alternator is the cause.
The alternator generates power for the car’s electrical system by converting energy from the drive belt into electricity. One of the most common causes of a malfunctioning alternator is a slipping or broken drive belt. This problem is easy to identify with a visual inspection of your alternator. You can see that the drive belt is loose, cracked, or broken. Fitting a new drive belt to the alternator should solve the problem.
If the drive belt appears to be intact, an internal component of the alternator might be malfunctioning. The culprit could be a defective voltage regulator, failing diodes on the rectifier assembly, or dirty electrical connections. Repairing an internal component of the alternator is no simple task, it requires a professional to diagnose and fix the problem.
Why Would a Car Battery Die While Driving?
Your car’s battery provides the initial power needed to start the engine but, once the engine is running your car’s electrical system is primarily powered by the alternator. While you are driving, the battery is actually being recharged by the alternator. If the alternator cannot generate power, the battery is affected in two ways: the electrical system now relies on the battery and the battery is no longer being charged. The battery has a limited amount of power to give and will eventually be completely discharged by the electrical system. Although the engine is running, without any charge from the alternator, the battery will die.
Another reason for a car battery to die while you are driving could be a malfunction of the battery. Even though the alternator is working, the battery will not be able to stay charged if it has a damaged cell or a faulty electrical connection preventing the battery from receiving a charge. A visual inspection of your battery could indicate a problem, but it is best to involve a professional if you suspect a problem with your car's electrical system.
Can a Car Battery Die Without Warning?
Even when the ignition is turned off, your car battery is slowly being discharged by accessories in your car. For instance, the battery keeps the clock ticking and the security system enabled when the car is not being used. The small amount of power being used should not be enough to kill a healthy battery. But, if there is a problem with the battery or the battery is old it could die without warning simply by being unable to keep up with the accessory discharge.
If there is a problem with the car's electrical system, the discharge on the battery could be increased causing the battery to die suddenly. If your battery dies without warning, you should seek out a professional to diagnose the problem.
What are the Signs of a Bad Battery?
Some signs of a bad battery are obvious, like your car not starting or the ‘check engine’ warning signal lighting on your dash. But, there are several less obvious signs too. You might observe physical signs on your battery or problems with your car’s electrical system. If you notice problems that persist even while the engine is running, it could mean your battery is struggling to hold a charge and needs to be replaced. Signs of a bad battery include:
- Your car stalls.
- The engine turns over three (3) or more times when starting.
- You need to jump-start your car more than three (3) times per week.
- Your engine struggles more than usual to start in cold weather.
- The exterior lights appear dim or do not turn on.
- The interior lights appear dim, flash, or do not turn on.
- The radio turns off intermittently or has poor signal.
- The battery dies within 10 to 15 minutes of shutting off the engine.
- The battery dies while you are driving.
- Battery terminals appear to be loose, broken, or corroded.
- If the battery is older, the distilled water level inside the cells is low or dry.
Paying attention to warning signs could prevent you from becoming stranded with a dead battery. Diagnosing a bad battery can rule-out a problem with your car's alternator or electrical system. But, if you experience the same issues with a healthy battery it is time to consult a professional.
What Are The Signs of a Bad Alternator?
A dead battery could really be trying to tell you that your car's alternator is bad. If your otherwise healthy battery is frequently drained, the cause of death might actually be that the alternator is incapable of recharging the battery. You do not want to miss diagnosing the bad alternator. Jump-starting a healthy battery is damaging. Without fixing the alternator you will continue to replace good batteries.
If your car's engine just turns, and turns, and turns when you try to start the car the problem might not be the battery. The alternator could have a faulty voltage regulator, causing the engine to not receive the right amount of power for that initial spark. A professional can assist to diagnose and repair the alternator, to keep your car starting with just one turn of the ignition.
Dimmed interior lights, radio lights, headlights, and taillights could indicate a bad alternator. You might notice the accessory lights dim or blink when you press the accelerator. This could mean your alternator is not producing enough power for the car's electrical system.
Odd smells or sounds could indicate a bad alternator. When the drive belt is not moving smoothly, the friction created somewhere along the belt's pulley system will cause the belt to heat up. A hot drive belt will smell like burning rubber, a warning sign of a potential problem with the alternator. A broken or dirty bearing inside the alternator creates a wining or grinding sound. If you hear this sound, it's an indication to contact a professional to inspect the alternator and double-check the battery.
How do I Know When My Car Battery Needs Replacing?
Do not be one of the 53% of people who wait to replace their car’s battery until after they’ve been stranded by a dead battery. Know how to check if your car’s battery needs to be replaced.
Check the battery’s age. Most 12V car batteries have a life expectancy of three to five years. You can easily determine the age of your car’s battery by locating a sticker or engraved code on the battery that provides the date it was shipped from the manufacturer. Codes use a letter to identify the month and a number to identify the year. For example, the code A18 refers to January 2018. If your car’s battery is three years old or older, consider replacing it.
Stop by your local auto parts dealer, mechanic shop, or AAA to have your battery’s voltage tested. Battery testing is usually free and with a simple pop of the hood, it takes only a few moments. If your car battery's voltage is low, consider having it replaced.
Maintaining your car's battery can save you from a stranded situation. If this discussion now has you pondering other car maintenance topics, check out VEHQ for more tips on how to keep your vehicle running smoothly.