If you have a Costco membership, you can save a bundle on a great battery. Costco's Kirkland Signature 12866 performs just as well as the top car batteries in tests and costs half as much. However, you will need to install it yourself.
Cheap, but mighty. Despite its low price, the Kirkland Signature 12866 makes no sacrifices when it comes to performance. It soars to the top tier in a leading battery test, just a few percentage points below the winning DieHard Advanced Gold 50778 (Est. $165) . Cold-weather cranking, hot-weather endurance, reserve capacity -- that is, how long it'll run your lights when you leave them on by mistake -- are all outstanding in this Group 65-size model. Other sizes of the same battery (Groups 78, 75, 35 and 34) lag behind a bit, but they're still average or better in all tests.
Super reliable, with a no-questions-asked warranty. Costco offers the same hefty warranty you'll find on the pricier DieHard Advanced Gold: three years full replacement, plus 100 months prorated so you get a credit toward the purchase of a new one. Some owners say their Kirkland batteries did indeed die within the warranty period, and Costco replaced them with absolutely no questions asked. Plenty of others say they have put in six, eight or even 10 years of hard use and their Kirkland car batteries are still going strong. The Kirkland battery is maintenance-free, but has caps so you can still top off with water if necessary.
You'll have to install it yourself. Reviews say Kirkland car batteries are the best deal around, with two caveats. First: Usually when you buy a car battery, the store or garage will install it for free or cheap, but Costco doesn't install batteries at all. Be sure you're comfortable installing it yourself or know someone who can do it for you. Second: You need a paid membership (Est. $55) to shop at Costco. If you're not already a member, factor in that cost to the price of your battery. After you install your new battery, return the old one to Costco, where customers say they got a $9 core charge return from the store.
Editors test the Kirkland Signature 12866 alongside 55 other car batteries, ranking them from best to worst. Each battery earns ratings for life expectancy, cold-cranking amps (CCA) and reserve capacity, as well as an overall score. Subscribers also post their own battery reviews.
Review: Kirkland Signature 12866, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, April 2013
You can't choose car batteries by brand alone, ConsumerReports.org warns in this free article. Every winning brand in the latest test also had some mediocre models, Jim Travers says.
Review: Beware: The Best and Worst Replacement Car Batteries Can Be From the Same Brand, Jim Travers, April 26, 2013
3. Cars Direct
Kirkland Signature is "an excellent battery for the price," and one of seven brands that CarsDirect.com recommends. It's just as powerful and reliable as the expensive brands and has a strong warranty, Andrew Kaufman says.
Review: The Best Car Battery Brand to Use for Lasting Performance, Andrew Kaufman, Nov. 6, 2013
Thrifty members of this forum like Costco's Kirkland car batteries. Several say they're simply reliable, year after year, even in sub-zero winters.
Review: Kirkland (Costco) Auto Batteries Any Good?, Contributors to FatWallet.com, December 2006
ConsumerPete.com likes the hefty warranty on Kirkland car batteries. Several commenters say their Kirkland batteries lasted for six years, while others' died within the first three years and they got a refund.
Review: Kirkland Car Battery -- Any Good?, Contributors to ConsumerPete.com, As of February 2014