Car batteries aren't one size fits all
When looking at the engine in your car, truck or SUV, it can be easy to overlook the plain little box that sits quietly in the corner: your car's battery. Car batteries generally last between three and eight years, so chances are you will need to buy a new one at some point.
There are more than a dozen car battery brands, but three manufacturers make almost all of them: Johnson Controls (DieHard, EverStart, Interstate and Duralast batteries), Exide (Exide, Orbital and Marathon batteries) and East Penn (Deka batteries).
Unfortunately, you can't just shop by brand to find the best car battery. In ConsumerReports.org's latest car battery test, every chart-topping brand had some mediocre batteries, too. Brands periodically switch manufacturers, so top-rated brands and models change from year to year. Shopping by car battery prices isn't much help, either. In ConsumerReports.org's evaluation, plenty of $80 car batteries beat rivals costing twice as much.
Still, choosing the best car battery isn't just a shot in the dark. Start by figuring out what type of car battery you need:
- Hot-weather car batteries -- often labeled "South" or "S" -- are designed to endure scorching heat that would ordinarily fry a car battery.
- Cold-weather car batteries -- often labeled "North" or "N" -- have higher cold-cranking amps (CCA). But don't just go by the battery's claimed CCA: In ConsumerReports.org's cold-cranking test, some batteries with modest CCA ratings beat the ones with sky-high CCA claims. Some of the best cold-weather car batteries don't even identify themselves as a "North" model.
- High-performance car batteries cost more, and experts say the average car owner doesn't need one. But if you have a lot of gadgets on your vehicle -- such as a winch, powerful stereo or extra lights -- or you like to run your accessories with the car off, a high-performance car battery will deliver the juice.
To find the top car batteries, we researched how each performs, its dependability, and how much bang you get for the buck. To learn all that we looked to what experts say, and ConsumerReports.org is by far the best source for professional car battery reviews. Editors stress-test dozens of car batteries to judge their performance in three areas: cold cranking, heat endurance and reserve capacity (the oops-I-left-my-lights-on test). Owner reviews are another essential piece of the puzzle, especially for figuring out which car batteries truly last under real-world conditions.