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Can I Use Any Battery for My Car? | What You Need To Know

There are many questions that people have regarding cars, trucks, and other motorized vehicles. One commonly asked question is whether car batteries are interchangeable and can be universally used on any vehicle.

You cannot use any battery for your car, as car batteries are not universal. Not all batteries are compatible with all vehicles. Different cars require batteries with many different physical dimensions as well as different amounts of power.  

This article will discuss: 

  • The differences between car batteries and what types of batteries can be used in different cars.
  • How to find the correct battery to serve your needs. 
  • How much that battery should cost.
  • The consequences of using the wrong battery.
Car Battery

Is There a Difference Between Car Batteries?

The difference between car batteries includes the power output and physical size. A car with a 4-cylinder engine has a smaller battery than that of a 4-wheel drive truck. Cars and trucks with diesel engines or hybrid engines will also have different types and sizes of batteries. 

Different makes of cars also have batteries with terminals in varying locations. 

If you’re forced to replace your battery, getting a new one with terminals in the exact locations as the old one is essential. While this may seem like a tiny detail, it could be huge when your battery dies and you need to recharge it. 

As cars are becoming more complex, including their electrical systems, batteries must be made with more powerful capabilities. This doesn’t always mean that the battery is larger physically, just that it’s more powerful and has more juice. 

It also matters what brand of car battery you purchase.

Like all things in life, not all car batteries are created equal, and certain battery brands produce better products than others. We will go into more detail later about the best battery brands and where to purchase them. 

What Happens if You Put the Wrong Size Battery in Your Car?

Putting the wrong size battery in your car could cause severe, expensive damage. If the new battery is too big, it could cause power surges that damage your computer system. This type of problem is no minor fix, as most computer outages will require lengthy and tedious repairs and diagnosis. 

If you put a battery that is too small into your car, this could eventually lead to alternator damage. 

The alternator feeds off the car battery and helps your vehicle run once it’s started up. If your alternator goes bad, you will quickly find yourself stranded beside the road, as your car will suddenly turn off with little to no warning. If you are unfortunate enough to have this happen, you may want to read this article I wrote: The Cost To Rebuild an Alternator (and Is It Worth It?).

A smaller battery is especially dangerous because the car will operate normally for the most part, right up until the alternator gives out. The day-to-day performance will not suffer, other than the occasional slow start-up. 

Listed below are four of the effects of having too small of a battery in your car. 

1. Less Power

It may not happen right away, but you will eventually notice that your car has less power than it once did. Everything that is power operated requires electricity from the battery to function, including your windows, air conditioner, headlights, radio, and interior lights. Any or all of these things will start to slow down and eventually cease working if your battery is too small. 

And forget about running any of those things at the same time, as the smaller battery will not be able to keep up with the power demands. Eventually, this will burn out the electrical circuits.

2. Short Road Trips Will Speed Up Small Battery Failure

Your battery provides power to your car for its initial startup and operation. 

The process of starting the car requires a massive amount of energy to accomplish, and it takes some time for the battery to rejuvenate itself. Batteries regain power from the alternator while the engine is running, making it so that you can start and stop your car frequently. 

However, if the battery is too small, short trips do not provide enough power for it to regenerate fully, which causes your battery to give out faster than it usually would if the battery is too small. 

3. Weak Starting Power and Blown Fuses 

During the winter months, more power is needed to start your car up due to the cold weather conditions. In extreme cold, a normal-sized battery might give you problems with starting your car. 

With a smaller battery, you will notice that your car struggles to start up the colder it gets outside. 

A small battery could also lead to more blown fuses than usual. If you have a 25-watt bulb inside your car and 75-watt headlights, then those accessories will require that much power to operate normally. If you have a small battery and try to operate too many things simultaneously, a fuse will inevitably blow. 

4. Inevitable Alternator Damage 

Because of how much power your car requires to start up, a tiny battery relies more heavily on the alternator for help, which can lead to alternator damage. If you have a small battery combined with a small alternator, this is a recipe for disaster. 

Some cars are made purposely with a small alternator because they typically have a larger battery. If a replacement battery is small and paired up with one of these alternators, it will ultimately fail either or both the battery and the alternator. 

And when your alternator goes, your battery will be useless.

Related Why Do My Dashboard Lights Dim When I Turn on My Headlights?

What if My Battery Is Too Big?

Using a battery that is too large for your car may not work much better than if you have a small battery. The first issue you may encounter is that the battery’s physical size is simply too big to fit into your car’s battery tray. If a battery is too large to fit where it needs to go, it could lead to damaging either the battery or other parts of your engine. 

If your battery is too big, it could cause damage to the alternator due to the fact that the alternator is not capable of keeping the battery fully charged. It could overwork the alternator and lead to early failure. 

Large batteries can also lead to blown fuses and computer damage due to power spikes. 

Battery power needs to be directed somewhere, and if there is a surplus of power, it could lead to a surge of energy, causing damage to your car’s electronics. 

How To Find the Right Battery for Your Car

The good news about car batteries is that most manufacturers use the same size batteries across the board. In other words, most GM cars use the same battery. Most Japanese manufacturers use 35-watt batteries, and so on. 

If you take your car to a mechanic or auto parts store, they will run a diagnostic test to make sure you get the correct size battery. However, if you’d rather complete this process yourself, the following paragraphs will point you in the right direction for battery selection. 

Test the Load of Your Current Battery

You will first want to hook up an electrical tester to your current battery to make sure that it actually needs to be replaced and that your alternator isn’t going bad instead. A weak startup is most commonly the cause of a bad battery, but your alternator and your spark plugs could also be involved. 

Make sure you know what the problem is before tearing your car apart. 

Check and Double-Check

Actually, checking your battery size isn’t that difficult. The size and specifications should be written on the battery itself, but you may want to consult your owner’s manual to be sure. It’s possible that the battery you’re replacing is not the original one and that someone before you installed the wrong size battery. 

However, if you have a used car and the owner’s manual is nowhere to be found, you can go online to find your particular battery for your car’s make, model, and year.

Make Sure You Know What You’re Getting

With the development of the internet and Google, it’s easier now than ever to pick the best battery for your needs. Do your research, read google reviews on specific products and brands, and make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. 

I’ll also go into more detail about the best batteries on the market. 

How Much Should You Pay for a Car Battery?

As a general rule, the more money you pay for a battery, the better it’ll be and the longer it’ll run. Most batteries typically last an average of 5 years. Cheaper batteries will usually give out earlier than this, while more expensive batteries could last longer depending on care and maintenance. 

Most of the cost involved with replacing a car battery will be the price of the battery itself. 

Stores like Advance Auto Parts and AutoZone will often replace your battery for free if it’s an easy job. A mechanic may charge anywhere from nothing to $150, depending on how long the job takes. 

Some newer cars have batteries in inconvenient locations, making them more challenging to replace. 

The actual cost of the battery itself could be anywhere from $60 to $350, depending on what type of vehicle you have and the battery you want. The Optima Yellow Top battery is one of the best batteries that you can buy. 

It’s also one of the more expensive ones and can cost anywhere from $250 to $350. 

Another popular option for cost-conscious customers is the ValuPower Car Battery, as it has a meager cost of $50 to $100. While this battery is the best in its class and price, it will not be as excellent or long-lasting as more expensive batteries. 

Batteries made by AC Delco, DieHard, and Odyssey are usually higher priced, but they’re also brands that typically make a higher quality battery. Anything with one of these names on it will be reliable and should get the job done for you. 

You get what you pay for with batteries, so don’t go stingy next time you need to replace yours. 

What Is the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Car Batteries? 

The biggest issue that you’ll run into with cheap car batteries is that they simply don’t last as long. They may supply the power you need for operating your car for a short time, but they don’t usually last longer than a few years. 

More expensive car batteries are made out of higher-quality materials, meaning they don’t break down as fast and hold their power longer. A more expensive battery could pay off in the long run because you won’t have to replace it as often, and it’s less likely to blow fuses or cause alternator problems. 

Another critical factor to keep in mind is that some batteries are specifically made for colder weather climates. Batteries require more power to start up and operate your car when it’s cold outside, so make sure that you have a battery capable of handling the weather in your area. 

Will Battery Size Affect Jumping a Car?

Jumper Cables on a Battery

Battery size will make a difference in the speed and effectiveness of jumping a car. The bigger the battery, the faster your car will charge other batteries. A small battery will take longer to jump a car with a dead battery than one with a higher capacity, but it will eventually get the job done. 

Final Thoughts 

Having the right size battery for your vehicle is essential to proper operation. 

A battery that is too small will cause eventual alternator failure or other power-related problems. A battery that is too big can cause power surges resulting in blown fuses, computer problems, or alternator issues. 

Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on your car battery. It may cost more upfront, but a high-quality battery will pay off in the long run by causing fewer other problems. Peace of mind is also very valuable, and a more expensive battery will ensure the functionality of your vehicle.

Thanks for reading!

For more, check out Is It Safe to Charge a Car Battery Indoors?