When you’re shopping for the best car battery for your vehicle, what’s your top priority? Chemistry? Price? Warranty? Here’s in Central Florida, it’s hell on car batteries, and our team feels the pain every time we have to replace them. Some only make it a year or so. Others have given us five+ years of reliable service.
We’re taking our collective experience from our personal vehicles and work trucks to share our top vehicle battery recommendations.
PTR’s Best Car Battery Picks for 2023
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Best Lead Acid Car Battery Overall
Die Hard Platinum
If you’re going with a standard chemistry and design, the Die Hard Platinum series is the best car lead acid car battery. They have a “Stamped Grid” design technology that essentially makes the positive and negative grid more durable and stronger than less expensive methods. Regardless of what you call it, it works, and Die Hard Platinum batteries enjoy an outstanding reputation among people that use them, including members of our crew. Plus, there’s a 4-year replacement warranty on them.
- 4-year replacement is longer than most
- Excellent durability and reliability for the standard lead-acid class
- Readily available at your local Advance Auto Parts
- You can get a quality AGM battery for a similar price
Best Lead Acid Car Battery for the Money
EverStart Maxx Lead Acid Batteries
If you’re on a smaller budget, it’s tough to beat the EverStart batteries at Walmart. The entry level to the line is pretty cheap and you can get most cars cranking for less than $100. However, we recommend stepping up to the Maxx series.
They’re over $100, but we’ve had reliable success with them, even through hot Florida summers. In fact, I currently have two of the deep cycle models powering the trolling motor on my boat. They also come with a 3-year free replacement warranty that you can claim at your local store. They’ll test the battery to make sure it’s bad and not just a corroded post or connection. If it’s bad, they’ll take it off your hands, and you’ll walk out with a brand-new battery.
- Lower cost than other brands
- 3-year replacement
- Readily available at your local Walmart
- Not as long-lasting as premium lead-acid batteries
Price: $119.84 – $159.84
Best AGM Car Battery Overall
When it comes to the best overall AGM car battery, it’s a close race between Odyssey Extreme and Optima Yellow Top. Both go above and beyond with their designs to create a power source that’s legitimately better than your other options. In a photo finish, Odyssey takes the win for us.
For the Extreme batteries, Odyssey uses 100% per virgin lead, not the alloys most battery plates use. That means the plates can be smaller, so you get more plates and more surface area for those chemical relations to take place. This results in twice the power and three times the expected life compared to standard lead acid batteries.
- Outstanding power and reliability for lead-acid chemistry
- Much longer life than standard lead-acid designs
- More plate surface area than standard and 6-pack designs
- 4-year replacement
- Readily available at several retailers
Price: $384.99 – $528.99
Best AGM Car Battery for the Money
Optima RedTop Batteries
I first learned about Optima batteries when they moved heavily into the fishing industry with the Blue Top line. It seemed like overnight, professionals were swapping out their standard sealed lead acid starting and deep cycle batteries for Optima. Though they have an unusual physical design compared to traditional batteries, they have been field proven and trusted long enough to have earned a rock-solid reputation for performance, quality, and reliability. Specifically, the spiral cell design increases vibration damage resistance up to 15 times and offers a service life that’s up to 3 times longer than standard batteries.
With the RedTop and YellowTop models covering your car and truck needs, the Red Top earns our pick as the best AGM car battery for the money. While it’s not the cheapest AGM you can buy, it’s more reliable, and that means a lot when you’re shopping for the best value.
- Significantly greater protection against vibration damage
- Excellent power delivery and reliability
- Much longer life than standard lead-acid batteries
- Excellent value for AGM designs
- 3-year replacement
- Readily available at a range of retailers and online from Amazon
- Need to step up to the more expensive YellowTop for vehicles with a large electronics load or auto shut-off at stops
Price: $249.99 – $299.99
Best Lithium Car Battery Overall
Dakota DL+ Series
Dakota only sells lithium car batteries and enjoys a reputation as being the best in the business. Sporting an 11-year warranty, replacing your stock battery with one of these will likely mean you never have to replace it (unless you keep your vehicles for longer than a decade). There’s a significant premium to pay for the longevity, and you have to make sure your battery charger is lithium-capable. If that doesn’t frighten you, you’ll have a hard time finding a better car battery, period.
- Much longer expected life than standard lead-acid or AGM batteries
- Significantly lighter weight
- More available power
- Easier to add extended capacity
- Available at a wide range of retailers (mostly outdoor/boating stores) and online
- Crazy-long 11-year warranty (not the same as a replacement guarantee)
- Requires a lithium-specific charger
- Failure that results in thermal runaway can result in significant damages
$599.00 – $1199.00
Best Lithium Car Battery for the Money
When it comes to finding the best lithium car battery for the money, this isn’t something to take a shortcut on. The consequences of a failure that results in thermal runaway in a lithium battery are far greater.
In our opinion, you’re better off buying a quality AGM battery than a cheap lithium battery. Since we couldn’t find any we’re willing to put in our vehicles, we don’t have a recommendation for you in this category. If you want lithium, spend the money to get the quality. Otherwise, go with a different chemistry.
Best Car Battery Brands
When it comes to the best car battery brands, there are a lot of opinions, even among our crew. There are a handful of reliable choices, but there’s a kicker. If you’re saving money by purchasing a lead acid battery, buy the highest level you can afford. The gold/platinum level batteries will last longer and the extra money you spend on the front end will almost always pay for itself. A $120 battery that lasts 3 years is better in the long run than buying two $80 batteries that only last a year and a half.
Here are the brands we’re willing to spend our hard-earned money on:
- Optima: Rock solid dependability and life
- Odyssey: Dependable battery with an Extreme line designed with a service life up to 10 years
- Dakota: Expensive, but easily the number one choice for lithium batteries
- Die Hard: Rugged, reliable option for lead acid and AGM batteries that tends to be a step up in quality from value brands
Best Car Battery Charger
Schumacher SC1281 Battery Charger
A lot of people recommend the NOCO Genius 1 as their top battery charger for cars, but we disagree. It’s an understandable pick with its low price, ability to charge lead acid, AGM, and lithium, and its auto-repair function. However, that 1-amp charging rate is going to drive you nuts when you’re in a hurry.
Instead, take a look at the SC1281 from Schumacher. It’s capable of 2, 6, or 12A charging to get you back in the game more quickly, with a multi-stage smart charge that helps extend your battery’s life. Plus, it has a 30-amp boost to bring otherwise dead batteries back to life, a 100-amp jump starter, battery tester, and auto-repair.
It’s not as compact or as inexpensive as the popular NOCO brand, and it doesn’t charger lithium batteries. However, we think the added benefits are more than enough to overcome the trade-offs.
- Slow and fast charging
- Smart, multi-stage charging
- Starting capability
- Boost, test, and repair functions
- Cannot charge lithium
- Not as compact as some options
- On the expensive side
Lithium’s ability to deliver power more efficiently than lead acid makes for smaller car batteries and also jump starters. In fact, the storage space a lithium jump starter takes up is often less than a set of jumper cables would. In our opinion, Fanntik’s T8 Apex is the best car battery jump starter.
While it’s not quite as compact as the NOCO Boost Plus GB40 we also recommend, it has higher power delivery—enough to start an 8.5L gas engine or 6L diesel. Plus, this 2000-amp pack has a 20,000mAh capacity that can jump up to 50 starts between charges. It even has bonus USB-A and USB-C ports on board.
- Takes up less space than most jumper cables or lead acid jump starters
- No need for a second vehicle
- Can jump up to 8.5L gas or 6.0L diesel engines
- High capacity
- Works as a power supply for USB-A and USB-C charging
- Somewhat large for a lithium jump starter
- More expensive than less-powerful/lower capacity models
Best Car Battery Buying Guide
How Much Should a Car Battery Cost?
It’s possible to get a car battery under $100. However, you get what you pay for, and those batteries often will only last a year or so. Most quality batteries start a little over $100 for standard lead acid and can be well over $1000 if you’re buying lithium.
Lead Acid vs AGM vs Lithium Car Batteries
The three primary battery chemistries you’re going to run into are lead-acid, AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat), and lithium. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are the primary considerations:
Lead-acid batteries are the most traditional type and are the most affordable. They have a decent lifespan when maintained properly, with some premium batteries lasting 5 years or longer. They’re also capable of delivering high current, making them well-suited for starting vehicles.
On the downside, they’re heavier compared to other types, require regular maintenance (like topping off with distilled water), and can be prone to sulfation if you don’t keep them charged.
AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) Batteries
AGM batteries are a type of lead-acid battery that use an absorbent glass mat (fiberglass) rather than the less-constrained liquid of a standard battery. These designs are sealed, making them effectively maintenance-free. They offer a longer lifespan, faster charging, and better cold temperature performance than traditional lead-acid batteries. They’re also more resistant to vibration and can are mountable in a wider range of positions.
The main downsides are that they’re more expensive than traditional lead-acid batteries and can be damaged if overcharged. It’s helpful to have a battery charger with an AGM-specific setting (though AGM/Gel combo settings can keep AGM batteries from reaching a full charge).
Even though they’re more expensive, AGM batteries offer the best balance of performance, life, and price compared to standard and lithium car batteries.
Lithium car batteries are lightweight, have a high energy density, and can deliver a consistent voltage throughout their discharge cycle. They have a longer lifespan, can be charged quickly, and are maintenance-free. If you can afford lithium, it’s the best overall car battery chemistry currently available.
However, they’re the most expensive among the three main types. There are also concerns about safety, as they can catch fire if they’re damaged or improperly charged. You need to use a lithium-specific charger with these batteries. Do yourself a favor and don’t skimp by buying cheap batteries or chargers—thermal runaway is no joke. You can’t put out a lithium fire with water the same way you can others. If a lithium fire starts in your garage, the damage is likely to be severe.
That said, quality lithium batteries don’t fail very often.
What is a Car Battery Group Size?
A car battery group size refers to the physical dimensions and terminal placement of the battery. Established by the Battery Council International (BCI), group sizes are standardized codes that help consumers and mechanics identify the right battery for a specific vehicle.
The group size is crucial for several reasons:
- Fit: The battery must fit snugly within the designated space in the vehicle. An incorrect size might not fit. Too big, and you’re bumping up against things you shouldn’t. Too small, and it has room to slide or shift. Either way, it’s not fitting correctly and it likely to damage your vehicle and/or the battery.
- Terminal Position: The position of the positive and negative terminals varies between group sizes. Using the wrong group size could leave you with reversed terminal positions. At best, you’re having to stretch your cables, which is always a bad thing, and may cause shorts. At worst, they won’t reach at all, and you can’t connect them.
- Capacity and Power: While group size primarily pertains to physical dimensions, vehicles designed for specific sizes often have corresponding power and capacity requirements. Using a battery with inadequate power can affect your vehicle’s performance. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
What are Cold Cranking Amps (CCA)?
You’ll find a CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) designation on every car battery you buy. It’s a specification that tells you the battery’s ability to start an engine in cold conditions. Specifically, CCA measures the number of amps a 12-volt battery can deliver for 30 seconds at 0°F (-17.8°C) without dropping below 7.2 volts.
Here’s why knowing the CCA is so important:
- Cold Weather Performance: Engines require more power to start in cold temperatures due to the increased viscosity of engine oil and the reduced chemical reactions within the battery. A higher CCA rating means the battery can provide more power under these challenging conditions.
- Engine Size and Type: Larger engines or diesel engines typically require more starting power. Hence, they might need batteries with higher CCA ratings.
- Reliability: A battery with an appropriate CCA rating for the vehicle ensures that the car starts reliably, especially in colder climates.
- Comparison: CCA provides a standard measure, allowing consumers to compare the starting performance of different batteries.
Under mild or warm conditions, the battery has higher cranking amps available. That’s one reason your car seems easier to start in the spring and summer than it does in the dead of winter.
What is Reserve Capacity (RC)?
Reserve Capacity (RC) is a measure of a car battery’s endurance. It indicates the number of minutes a fully charged battery can continuously provide a current of 25 amperes at 80°F (27°C) before its voltage drops below 10.5 volts.
Importance of Reserve Capacity
- Emergency Situations: If your vehicle’s alternator fails, the battery’s reserve capacity indicates how long the car can run on battery power alone. A battery with a higher RC can give you longer to reach your destination or a service station if you have alternator trouble.
- Accessory Power: Modern vehicles come equipped with numerous accessories like GPS, entertainment systems, and more. A higher RC allows you to run without the engine on for extended periods without draining the battery as deeply.
- Reliability: A battery with a higher RC provides a buffer during periods of high electrical demand or when the alternator isn’t functioning optimally.
- Comparison: Just like CCA, RC offers a standardized measure, enabling you to compare the endurance of different batteries.
How to Determine Reserve Capacity
Some batteries list the reserve capacity on the label. Others may list it on website product pages in the specifications. Many of the lower-priced batteries, including ones we use, don’t list it in either location. You can calculate an estimate, though. You just need the battery’s amp hours (Ah).
Take the amp hours, divide by 25, and then multiply that value by 60 to get the number of reserve minutes. Here’s an example using Optima’s Yellow Top D34:
55Ah / 25 Amps = 2.2 hours of reserve
2.2 hours x 60 minutes in an hour = 132 minutes of reserve capacity
Like we said, it’s an estimate. Optima’s actual RC is 120 minutes on this model, but we at least get in the ballpark with this calculation.
Getting the Best Life from Your Car Battery
One of the nice things about AGM and lithium car batteries is that they’re essentially maintenance-free. As long as you make sure you use the right charger settings if you need to connect one, they’re about as worry-free as you can hope for.
Standard lead-acid is a different story, though. Here are some tips to get the most life from your car battery:
- Regular Inspection: Check the battery for signs of damage, corrosion, or leaks. While actual damage is pretty rare, corrosion build-up is very common.
- Clean Terminals: Remove any corrosion from the terminals using a mixture of baking soda and water, followed by a thorough wipe-down. Yes, Coke or other acidic sodas really do work, too. Just try to wash all of it off with clean water when you’re done.
- Tighten Connections: Make sure that the battery terminals have a secure connection to prevent any movement or disconnection.
- Maintain Electrolyte Level: For non-sealed batteries, ensure the electrolyte level is between the minimum and maximum marks. Top up with distilled water if needed. Don’t use tap water.
- Regular Charging: Avoid letting the battery discharge completely. If you’re not driving the vehicle frequently, a trickle charge is a great way to maintain the battery.
- Avoid Deep Discharges: Deep discharging can reduce the battery’s lifespan significantly. Start the car regularly or use a trickle charger to prevent it.
- Secure the Battery: Ensure the battery is firmly secured in its tray to prevent vibrations and potential damage. This is one of the leading causes of battery damage.
- Limit Short Rides: Short rides can prevent the battery from fully charging. Take longer rides occasionally, or use a battery charger to keep it topped off.
- Check Alternator: Ensure the alternator is working correctly—a faulty alternator can overcharge or undercharge the battery.
- Avoid Extreme Temperatures: If possible, park the car in a garage during extreme weather conditions. Both high and low temperatures can affect battery performance and life.
- Replace Timely: Lead-acid batteries have a limited lifespan. Replace them every 3-5 years or as recommended by the manufacturer.
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