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What Should Car Battery Voltage Be?

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By Madeline Klein on October 8, 2021 in Life Hacks

Battery voltage doesn’t have to be an elusive number you never quite understand. We’re here to tell you how to test your battery, what the voltage should be, and how to tell it’s time for a new battery. Jump right in!

How to Test Car Battery Voltage

Step 1: Grab your Multimeter

We’ll pause here if you’re unsure what a multimeter is. According to AutoGuide, multimeters, “measure voltage, current, and resistance and you can use them to test the strength or weakness of a car’s battery or check the strength of electrical connections.” No worries if you don’t already own one, Tools Guide has a great list of the best multimeters!

Step 2: Battery Prep

It’s time to pop the hood and find the battery. Once you’ve done that, locate the positive and negative terminals – usually red and black respectively. You can determine which is which by looking for a + or – sign.

If your battery has any dirt or corrosion, you’ll want to clean it before testing voltage. Firestone has the scoop on how to clean battery terminals with stuff you already have! Easy peasy!

Step 3: Measure, Measure, Measure

Turn on the multimeter and set it to DC at the 20-volt setting. Hook up your leads to the positive and negative terminals – be sure to match red to red and black to black!

Note: For the most accurate reading, turn your headlights on for two minutes then turn them off and grab your reading.

Step 4: Analyze the Reading

The perfect battery voltage number is between 12.4 and 12.6 volts, according to JD Power’s battery testing guide. If the number is less, meaning lower than 12.2 volts, there might be a problem with your battery. This lower voltage could mean you either need to charge or replace your battery.

What Should Car Battery Voltage Be

A healthy, happy battery should read 12.6 volts while the battery is resting.

To do an additional test to determine the health of your car battery, grab a friend to help you out. For this test, you’ll attach the leads just like before, but you’ll turn the car on this time before checking readings. It’s normal for the voltage to drop when the car turns on, however, the number should not go below 10 volts.

Don’t panic if you get a reading that isn’t up to par – a battery replacement isn’t the end of the world. Just call up your trusted auto shop and after a short appointment or consultation, they should be able to give you next steps.

How to Tell It’s Time for a New Battery

If you want the full scoop on why batteries fail, failing battery symptoms, how to determine if you need a new battery, charging a battery, and tips to extend your battery’s life – look no further than our blog! We’ll recap a bit below.

Factors that cause batteries to fail quicker:

  • Excessive vibrations
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Continual under-charging
  • Full battery drain
  • Not driving often

Signs that may indicate a car battery is failing:

  • Slow-to-start engine
  • Dim headlights and interior lights
  • Corroded battery terminals
  • Cracked or swollen battery case
  • Backfiring
  • Rotten egg smell

Try to avoid these things that cause batteries to fail quicker and watch for signs that your battery is failing! Keeping your eye on them can avoid untimely trouble when you’re running late or on a vacation.

Let’s wrap this one up on a positive note. All you need to check your battery’s voltage is a multimeter and our quick guide. Once you have the voltage readings, if you have concerns about your car’s battery, you can always double-check with your auto shop for additional help and tests!

Madeline Klein is Say's Digital Content Producer. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism, emphasis in Strategic Communication. Her experience is in writing and digital media. Madeline loves using her creativity to write and design new and exciting pieces of work for Say!