How Long Can You Leave Your Car Parked With the Lights On Without Damaging the Battery?

Tips & Support
OPTIMA Batteries
Las Vegas, NV

Modern cars can fool us sometimes. We think the headlights will automatically shut off after a car has been parked for a few minutes, but sometimes that doesn't happen and the lights are left on. So if that happens to your car, the question then becomes- How long can I leave my car parked with the lights on, before I damage the battery? Unfortunately, the quick answer is, "It depends," but we'll offer some clarity that will help you understand how to deal with that situation.

Most car batteries are considered fully-charged when they measure at least 12.6 volts. However, many batteries can still start car engines when they are discharged well below that level, sometimes even into the single digits! That can give us a false sense of security, that our battery is fine after we've left the lights on and/or the vehicle's charging system will recharge the battery. 

If you've left your vehicle parked with the lights on, the best course of action is to make sure your battery gets fully-recharged with a battery charger as soon as possible. While it's possible that your vehicle's charging system may be able to fully-recharge the battery, that doesn't happen in many instances and even in the ones where it does, the alternator can generate a lot of heat in doing that, which can shorten the lifespan of the alternator, which is far more expensive to replace than a battery.

If your lights discharged your battery so much, that you had to jump-start your vehicle, then you should definitely find a battery charger as soon as possible. If you don't do that, you'll likely find yourself in a cycle of deeply-discharged batteries and jump-starts, until either the battery fails (expensive) or the charging system fails (even more expensive).

Car batteries are consumable items with finite lifespans, so while it's possible that you caused minimal damage to the battery, by leaving the car parked with the lights on, you definitely moved it closer to it's ultimate demise by doing so. It could last several more days, months or even years, depending on a multitude of factors, including how old the battery is, how deeply the battery was discharged, how long it was left in a discharged state, the temperature the battery lives in and the service history of the battery. 

For example, a nearly-new battery that ran the lights for a few hours and was immediately recharged when discovered is probably fine. However, if the battery was already six years old, you left the light on over the weekend and didn't get it charged up for several more days after that, then it would probably be a good idea to have the battery load-tested by a battery professional. Most auto parts stores can do perform a load test for you and many won't even charge you for the service!

Having a load test performed on that battery or any other that has been deeply-discharged will probably offer you the best peace of mind you'll get, after you've discovered the mistake and fully-charged your battery.