Optima: How Often Should You Start Your Car For Battery Maintenance?

Before you go buy another battery for your beloved automobile, truck, or boat, follow along with Optima Batteries as we answer age-old questions about in-car battery maintenance. This is a great primer on how to check if your battery is really kaput, or just completely discharged.

If we learned anything about car batteries and their owners from the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s that many modern cars will completely discharge their batteries, if they aren’t driven for a few weeks. A few weeks after the lockdown began, there was a spike in car battery demand, as many car owners found their batteries were completely discharged. In many instances, either proactively using a quality battery maintainer or re-actively using a quality battery charger would’ve fully charged those batteries. Instead, many chose to simply replace batteries that were not “bad,” but only deeply discharged.

That’s an expensive and often, unnecessary decision. Some may mistakenly believe that periodically starting their car will keep their battery topped off, but that isn’t the case either. In fact, the opposite may be true. Periodically starting a vehicle for the sole purpose of maintaining battery voltage may actually result in a net decrease in battery voltageas the energy generated may not replace the energy that was used during storage and starting.

Vehicle charging systems are designed and intended to maintain a battery that is near a full state of charge, not recover deeply discharged batteries. Replacement alternators will often say just that on the box. Whenever an alternator is asked to recover a deeply discharged battery, it ends up generating quite a bit of heat, which can shorten an alternator’s lifespan and turn into an expensive repair bill.

Left: REDTOP Starting Battery: Use this for normal engine starting where an alternator immediately monitors the state of charge and provides energy to the battery whenever it is needed. This would describe most stock vehicles. Middle: BLUE TOP Marine Battery: The BLUETOP starting battery (dark gray case) is to be used when a dedicated starting battery is required. It should never be used for cycling duty. The dual-purpose BLUETOP (light gray case) can be used for both starting and deep cycling. It is a true deep-cycle battery with extremely high cranking power. Right: The YELLOWTOP high-performance AGM battery is one of the few true dual-purpose automotive batteries available. With premium cranking power and impressive cycling capability, this heavy-duty battery is also perfect for modern accessory-loaded vehicles. Low internal resistance also provides more consistent power output and faster recharges.

Since the answer to “how often you should start your car to keep your battery charged” is “never,” what other options do you have? As we mentioned earlier, if you know your vehicle isn’t going to be used for an extended period of time, the best course of action is to keep the battery topped off with a quality battery maintenance device. If that isn’t an option, a viable alternative is to fully charge the battery to at least 12.6 volts and completely disconnect it from the vehicle while it is in storage. The battery will still self-discharge to some degree while in storage, so once you bring it out of storage, fully recharge it with a battery charger as soon as possible.

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About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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