What Should I Look For When Buying a Car Battery?

Tips & Support
OPTIMA Batteries
Milwaukee, WI

If you need a car battery, we'll help you figure out what to look for when shopping. First of all, you'll need to know what size battery you need, as car batteries come in dozens of different sizes. You can use our online fitment guide to find your battery size here

Once you've figured out the size, then you should decide on what type of battery you need for your vehicle. If you don't plan on keeping your vehicle very long and just need a battery to get it started, so you can sell it or trade it in on something else, we'd suggest contacting a local salvage yard, to see what they have in inventory.

If you're on a tight budget, you may want to get the least-expensive battery you can find with the longest free-replacement warranty (and hope you never need it). However, you should limit your choices to trusted brands. Trusted brands can typically be found at national retail chains. If something happens to the battery and you need warranty service, you should be able to take it to any of their retail locations for service.

You don't want to buy a car battery from someone who is running a parts business on Craigslist or out of their basement and may be hard to find, if you need warranty service. If you are ordering direct from a battery manufacturer or brand, find out what their warranty process is like and take a few minutes to look up their physical address online. If you can't find a physical address or don't see a commercial building with a sign out front, keep shopping. (You can see our corporate headquarters here).

Many battery brands will have different tiers of batteries, like Value, Silver, Gold, etc... In many cases, the batteries themselves are the same, but the price and length of warranty are different. If you plan on holding onto your vehicle for a while, then we'd suggest a high-quality, AGM (absorbed glass mat) battery. These batteries will cost more up front, but AGM batteries can last much longer than a traditional flooded lead-acid battery. OPTIMA Batteries can last up to three times as long! OPTIMA usually offers two types of batteries for automotive use- REDTOPs and YELLOWTOPs, although in some vehicles, you may only have one option.

REDTOPs are designed & warrantied for SLI (starting/lighting/ignition) applications. Basically, that means if your vehicle hasn't been modified and you just need a great battery to start the engine, the REDTOP will get the job done. If your vehicle has been significantly modified from an electrical standpoint with accessories like a car alarm or big stereo or even if it's just a minivan that runs a DVD player in a soccer field parking lot for hours at a time, then we would recommend a YELLOWTOP, which is designed & warrantied for both starting and deep-cycle applications.

Once you've figured out what size battery you need, then you need to decide how it is going to be installed. If you need someone to install it for you, then you'll want to contact your local battery retailers, to see if they have your size in stock. Dealerships will also install batteries, but likely charge a fee to do so.

What About Cold Cranking Amps?

We see a lot of websites telling people they need to find the battery with the most cold cranking amps, but is that really necessary? If you find the right battery size for your vehicle, then whatever battery you choose will likely have plenty of cold cranking amps to start your car. Cold Cranking Amps are measured at 0°F for 30 seconds. If you don't live in an area where the temperature drops that low or you don't spend anywhere near 30 seconds trying to start your car, then finding the battery with the most cold cranking amps probably won't be needed.

Not every brand or manufacturer rates their batteries the same either. Some may rate a battery at 750 Cold Cranking Amps and it might be able to deliver that kind of power or more for the first few weeks or months, but it might drop off pretty quickly after that. In writing this article, we went out and tested a two-year old OPTIMA D34 YELLOWTOP that is rated at 750CCA to offer an example of what we mean. We found that OPTIMA still delivered 867 CCA- well beyond it's specified rating. That's the kind of long-term performance you want, but it's not always easy to identify at the time of purchase.

The same is true of other battery specifications, like Ah (amp hours) or minutes of reserve capacity, so if you want to pick one brand over another, because it offers 20 more CCAs, know that the real difference could be negligible at the time of purchase or vastly different in a year from now. At the very least, don't over-buy a battery based on Cold Cranking Amps. As long as it meets or exceeds the specification for your car (and if it's the correct size, it will) you should be fine in that regard.

One final point we want to mention about battery shopping is that we know you'll want to maximize the investment you've made in this battery. You will maximize battery performance and lifespan, if you keep your battery voltage properly-maintained to at least 12.6 volts. Whenever any car battery is discharged below 12.4 volts and is allowed to sit in that state, sulfation begins forming in the plate, which diminishes both battery capacity and lifespan.

We're so confident this is true, we will extend the free replacement warranty on your OPTIMA battery purchase by a full year, if you buy your OPTIMA battery and an OPTIMA Digital 1200 battery charger from us at the same time.