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.
Best Car Batteries
Best all-purpose car batteries
Impeccable in every way, the DieHard Advanced Gold 50778 (Est. $165) wins first place in a leading test. It gets the highest scores in every category: reserve capacity, or how long it will run with the engine off, such as if you accidentally leave your lights on; hot-climate endurance; and cold-cranking performance at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Different cars take different size batteries. The best-reviewed version of the DieHard Advanced Gold is a Group 78 size that fits many large Chrysler and GM vehicles. The Group 34 version does just as well in tests, and the Group 94 version gets good customer reviews at Sears.com. One user says the car lights seem brighter now, and another was able to immediately jump-start three vehicles when other batteries couldn't do the job. But be careful: A smaller Group 48 version of this battery (model 50748) died quickly in the heat and finished dead last in expert testing.
Another plus is a strong warranty. If your DieHard Advanced Gold battery fails to hold a charge within three years, Sears will replace it. For 100 months after that, you'll get prorated credit toward a replacement if your battery conks out.
Runner-up Interstate Mega-Tron Plus MTP-24 (Est. $125) is another battery that stands up well. It aces a hot-climate endurance test conducted by one reviewer, and owners say it easily withstands all kinds of real-life abuse. One user reports that he repeatedly gets six years of car battery life out of Interstate batteries in the scorching Arizona heat. Another says his eight-year-old Interstate battery still starts even if he leaves his dome light on all day.
The Interstate battery also does very well in cold-cranking and reserve capacity tests, just a notch below the pricier DieHard battery.
Again, watch out for sizes: The MTP-24 is a battery in the Group 24 size, sized for many Japanese imports such as Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura and Nissan/Infiniti. The Group 48 version tests just as well, followed closely by the Group 35 size. However, the Group 75 version earns just middling scores for reserve capacity and cold cranking, but still gets the same exceptionally long life.
If you don't mind installing your own battery, check out our discussion of Cheap Car Batteries below. The best-reviewed Kirkland Signature 12866 performs just as well as the best expensive batteries, but it's sold only at Costco. You'll need a paid membership to shop there, and they don't install batteries.