Published Sep 3, 2022 1:00 PM
From the most affordable subcompact on the market to the most advanced electric vehicles, all cars have one thing in common: a 12-volt battery. That battery is so important that it can even keep a fully charged electric car from “starting,” not to mention the more common gas-powered cars across the country today. Though the most common time to start seriously researching, and shopping for a car battery is often the day it lets you down, you can take a proactive step today and learn a bit more about the best car batteries for your situation.
How we chose the best car batteries
When it comes to car batteries there have been improvements over the years but, overall, they’ve stayed relatively uniform in form and function. Not all are created equally, however, and the pricing reflects that. Or, if you’re like me, and you’ve had to break out the jumper cables again for the same project car, then the time to replace that car battery (and maybe fix some other problems) is now, which is why I assembled options to cover a wide range of use cases. While considering batteries I took into account customer reviews, brand reliability, warranty quality, and battery specifications. All of these factors played into why these five brands made the cut. You can sure get by with any old battery from the nearest auto parts store, but whatever they have on the shelf that fits may not be the best battery for your use.
To get as close to an apples-to-apples I worked off of the common 65 Group Size, which fits my 10-year-old Ford F-150. With most brands my truck required an AGM battery (more on that below), but you can often save some money if you’re shopping on the value end of things by getting a regular flooded-acid battery instead. Whichever way you go, the best car batteries will keep you from getting stranded at the worst possible time.
Things to consider before buying a car battery
There’s a reason behind the multiple tiers in the car battery world. If your car has auto start/stop, or you know you’ll do a lot of short trips, then a battery that’s designed to withstand this sort of use is essential. If you drive a compact economy car in mild weather, with a charging system that’s in tip-top shape, and you drive long enough to make sure the battery stays topped off, then something with less reserve and a lower cold-cranking amp rating is a safe bet.
Types of batteries
The vast majority of car batteries are some type of lead/acid battery. The most popular fall into two camps: traditional “flooded” lead-acid and absorbent glass mat (aka AGM). Then there are lithium-ion batteries, which are starting to make their way into the automotive world. The lithium-ion batteries are far and away the most expensive, but they’re also pretty darn cool. That being said, for most people, some type of lead-acid battery will offer the best combination of value and features.
The specifications that matter
If you live in a temperate climate that sees a handful of cool days but stays above freezing, and below 100 F, then you and your car battery are in for an easy life. However, if you live somewhere, especially somewhere that dips well below freezing, then the right car battery can be a vitally important part of your car. Batteries are often rated with two different cranking amp ratings: Cranking Amps (CA) at 32 F and Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) at 0 F. If you see the mid-20s most winters, you don’t need to shop with a heavy hand towards as many CCAs as you can afford. That being said, if you spend the whole month of January below 0 F most years—and I can personally vouch for how much fun that is—then CCAs are a number you should pay attention to.
The other important number is reserve capacity, which is the amount of time the battery can run the stereo and the headlights (aka, 25 amps) at 80 F before the battery drops down to 10.5 volts. If it dips too low, then your car doesn’t start again after that extended jam session to your favorite artist.
The best car batteries: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: DieHard Platinum AGM
Why it made the cut: The DieHard brand is one of the most recognized names in the industry, and their Platinum AGM is as environmentally friendly as lead-acid batteries come.
- Weight: 42.5 lbs
- Cold Cranking Amps: 750A
- Type: AGM
- Reserve: 120 min
- Warranty: 3 year
- Enough capacity to handle multiple accessories
- Two hours of reserve capacity
- Available in all common sizes
- Costly AGM design not necessary for all cars
- Warranty shorter than cheaper batteries
I knew I wanted to include a DieHard battery in this list and, while you would be well served by a Gold or Platinum, the Platinum AGM took the top spot for a few reasons. First, the cost was only about $30 between it and the Gold when comparing the F-150 battery size. Second, the AGM design means it’ll hold up even better to high electrical demands, and would handle a stop-start system easily. To top it off, DieHard (rightly) brags a bit that this and one other battery in their lineup are made from a minimum of 94% recycled materials. Lead and acid aren’t the friendliest materials in the world, so it’s nice to know this battery is recycled as much as possible.
The downsides include cost and warranty length. If cost is a major concern for you then you could save a few dollars by dropping down to a DieHard Silver, which dropped to under $200 in my application. Though, even that’s nowhere close to my value pick. Then, though 3 years for a free replacement is longer than some batteries, DieHard’s non-AGM Platinum is warrantied for four years and is less money.
Best green/most sustainable: Antigravity Lithium Batteries
Why it made the cut: Moving away from lead and acid can only be a good thing in the long run, and this battery’s feature set really puts it ahead of the competition.
- Weight: 11.7 lbs
- Cranking Amps: 1200A* (did not list CCA)
- Type: Lithium-Ion
- Reserve: 30 amp Hours
- Warranty: 5 year
- Incredibly light
- Tons of cranking amps
- RE-START tech means no dead battery
- Expensive by any standard
- Limited to certain applications—for now
Antigravity Batteries markets several lines of lithium-ion batteries, from powersports to race-car applications. Lithium-Ion is one of the most popular battery types on the market today for everything from smartphones to jump starters, but it’s relatively new to car batteries. In comparison to the often 40-pound lead bricks that we’re used to, getting 1,200 cranking amps out of a sub-12-pound battery seems miraculous. Indeed, it would be for traditional tech, which this battery is not. The coolest feature in my opinion, and the one that piques my interest the most, is their “RE-START” feature, which the battery utilizes to send itself into hibernation so it always has enough energy to start the car. If this happens you can push a button on a key fob, or on the battery itself, and then start the car.
On the downside, these batteries are expensive. Really expensive. You could buy two of any of the other picks (or more) and you’d be getting close. Then, there’s the question of availability. For now, they have a robust selection of motorcycle and race-car-sized batteries. The one I linked out to would fit a Honda Civic, Mazda Miata, or a Nissan GT-R, but notably not an older Ford F-150. This does serve a decent bit of logic because motorcycle and race car drivers might stand to gain more by reducing weight than the drive of a 5,000-plus-pound pickup truck.
Best hot weather: Odyssey Extreme
Why it made the cut: When the weather pushes the mercury way up, then the Odyssey Extreme is ready to take the heat and keep on cranking.
- Weight: 54 lbs
- Cold Cranking Amps: 950A
- Type: AGM
- Reserve: 145 min
- Warranty: 4 year
- Huge operating temperature range
- Nearly three hours of reserve capacity
- Designed for frequent discharges
Odyssey’s Extreme line of batteries is designed to withstand not only extremely hot conditions but extreme cold as well. This battery also nearly cinched the best cold weather pick but got edged out on the bottom end by the Optima. The Odyssey, however, blows the Red Top out of the water for tolerance of hot temperatures: it’s rated from -40 F all the way up to a sweltering 176 F. That should be plenty of capacity even for hot days and hot engine bays. This battery is big, heavy, and puts out a ton of power too. The 950 CCA rating is impressive on its own, but the battery can also put out 1,750 amps for five seconds when hot. That, and its design, allows it to be deep cycled up to 400 times.
Though, all that capability does come at a price. The F-150-sized Odyssey Extreme rang in for nearly $400, putting it into uncomfortable territory if you’re used to spending around $100 on a battery from Walmart (like me). If your use case puts you in some of the most extreme hot temperatures around, then a battery rated for it is a must.
Best cold weather: Optima Red Top
Why it made the cut: Optima is famous for making great batteries, and though the Red Top is billed as the brand’s standard-use-case battery, it’s the best battery we could find for bitterly cold weather.
- Weight: 37.9 lbs
- Cold Cranking Amps: 800A
- Type: AGM
- Reserve: 100 min
- Warranty: 3 year
- Rated down to -50 F!
- Non-spillable design
- Resists damage from vibration well
- Not cheap
- Short warranty for cost
Optima makes some of the best, and most recognizable, batteries in the business. The Red Top is their “starting” battery and is recommended for use in their customers’ more normal vehicles. That is to say, if you have an awesome sound system, a race car, or something out of the ordinary, the Yellow Top is the one they recommend. But, when it comes to cold weather performance, the Red Top takes the cake with its rating of -50 F when fully charged to 12.6-12.8 volts. Inside a battery is a mixture of sulfuric acid and distilled water. The water can freeze and the temperature it freezes at changes depending on the state of charge of the battery. So, at full charge, the Red Top can withstand some pretty frigid temperatures! Perhaps the most important aspect of cold weather starting is keeping your battery fully charged, especially when temps drop.
The Optima Red Top is a great battery, and the price reflects that too. The Red Top is roughly in line with other AGM batteries for example F-150, albeit toward the top end, but below the Odyssey Extreme in price. The Red Top also carries a three-year warranty, which is shorter than some of the options, but longer than others.
Best budget: EverStart
Why it made the cut: Sometimes you just need a battery today but you don’t want to spend a bunch of money, and at those times Walmart’s EverStart brand is your battery.
- Weight: 45 lbs
- Cold Cranking Amps: 750A
- Type: AGM
- Reserve: 120 min
- Warranty: 4 year
- Often available in store
- Usually the cheapest option
- Available in all common sizes
- AGM not much less than other brands
- Cheapest batteries not known for longevity
The EverStart brand is carried by Walmart and sold through the company’s website and in-store. These batteries come in several grades and in all the common sizes and configurations. Need an AGM? They have it. Want the absolute cheapest battery you can find? They have that too. This one was a bit trickier for me to arrange a comparison. Group Size 65 fits in my example F-150, but their battery selection tool told me the EverStart Value wouldn’t fit in my truck. That battery was well under $100 and, if I was in a pinch, I’d have one under the hood and be on my way. Though it carries a one-year warranty too.
That being said, when I looked at batteries that would “fit” my truck I was recommended the EverStart Platinum AGM for roughly triple the price of the Value battery. It was a touch cheaper than the DieHard Gold but carried an identical warranty and similar specs. If you’re shopping for value, then the EverStart batteries are a good place to look, just make sure you’re taking the one-year warranty into account with the least expensive ones.
Q: How can I make my vehicle’s battery last longer?
Making your vehicle’s battery last as long as possible doesn’t usually take too much effort along the way. The most important bit, however, is keeping your vehicle’s charging and electrical system in proper operating condition. Keeping the battery charged up, and not deeply discharging it too frequently often helps it last longer. Aside from the major parts, inspect it semi-regularly and clean off any corrosion you find on the terminals, and coat them to prevent it from happening again. The corrosion inhibits charging, and discharging, of the battery and can put a strain on your whole charging system.
Q: How long does a car battery last?
The length of time a battery lasts often directly relates to how well you’ve taken care of it and, unfortunately, how much you spent on it. Spend $50 on a cheap one with a one-year warranty and it’s not likely to last you four years. All else being equal, a more expensive battery usually lasts longer as well.
Q: How to charge a car battery?
There are two main ways to charge a car battery: with an external charger and with your car itself. The majority of external chargers out there today are “automatic,” or “smart,” but they just throttle down the amperage based on how much the battery can accept at a given time. Though they can be frustrating when they don’t work like we want them to, they often prevent batteries from overheating and exploding, which is a possibility with older manual chargers. If you don’t have a charger then you can make sure to charge up your car’s battery by going for a longer drive, for perhaps 30 minutes or so, which (assuming the charging system is working properly) gives the car plenty of time to fully charge the battery. If you only have a number of short trips in your week, and no access to an external charger, then mixing in a longer drive can help.
Q: What is a cold cranking amps rating?
Battery manufacturers have used the Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) rating to do a lot of bragging, but for most of the country, it’s not something we should give so much weight to. You see, Cranking Amps is the output of the battery at 32 F—when water freezes into ice. Cold Cranking Amps is the measurement for how much the battery can put out at 0 F. There certainly are parts of the country that see 0 and below—I’ve lived there—but if your winter only dips into the 20s then you probably don’t need to spend the extra money to get a few hundred more CCAs.
Q: How do I know if I need a new car battery?
Unfortunately, there often isn’t much warning from your car when you need a new car battery. My experience has usually been normal operation right up until the dreaded “click click click” from the starter. The one exception is when you have a full discharge incident but are able to charge the battery and “recover” normal operation. Especially if you’re running a more inexpensive battery like I often do, these sorts of things—like leaving the lights on overnight—often spell the end of a battery. Once batteries are fully discharged like that, down to just a few stray electrons, you ought to get serious about finding a replacement, because the damage has been done and they often fail unexpectedly afterward.
Final thoughts on the best car batteries
Getting the right car battery can make the difference when you’re dealing with some of the extremes the country can throw at you. As you start researching and shopping for a battery, take into consideration where you’ll be spending most of your time, how much you value a free replacement warranty, and how much you can spend. If you decide to buy one of the car batteries on this list make sure you’re paying for the features you need, and not wasting money on things you don’t.