Your Car’s Battery Revealed

by Lithium Technologies ‎08-12-2015 04:44 PM - edited ‎10-08-2015 02:35 PM (2,210 Views)

The lead-acid battery was invented 150 years ago, and the one in your car still follows the same principles. But how does it work—and why does it inevitably die?

  1. How it Works
    A car battery creates electricity through a relatively simple chemical reaction. A series of lead plates contained in cells interact with an electrolyte solution of water and sulfuric acid. The resulting chemical reaction generates electrons, which travel through an outside circuit to create an electric current.
  1. Starting Your Engine

    When you turn on your car’s ignition, the electrical charge is released to the ignition system to start the engine. Once the car is running, the battery’s job is done and the chemical process reverses, recharging the battery as you drive. .

  1. Why Batteries Die
    Over time, lead sulfate crystals form on a battery’s lead plates. When the plate coverage reaches its threshold—typically after three to five years of use—the battery can’t produce enough electricity to start the engine. Extreme temperatures, inactivity and the drain by electronics such as a car alarm can accelerate this process. The battery isn’t really “dead,” though, as nearly all of it can be recycled. 

AAA Mobile Battery Service

All batteries die, but you don’t have to be stranded when it happens. Contact AAA’s Mobile Battery Service* and we’ll come to you to perform a free battery and electrical system test. If you need a new battery, we may be able to install one on the spot. You can even find out the cost with your AAA Member discount using the Instant Battery Quote at (AAA batteries include a three-year warranty.)

*Contact your AAA Agent to see if this benefit is available in your state.


Have a question about your car? Visit the On the Road forum.

A version of this story appears in the September/October 2015 issue of AAA Living magazine.


Image credit/source: James Provost


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