When your car battery decides to kick the bucket, it will almost certainly be at an inconvenient time (like when you are running late for work). If your car is struggling to start in the morning, it might be the writing on the wall for your battery. Unfortunately, if that’s the case, the cold weather won’t do it any favors. But with all the options on the market, how do you know which battery is best for cold weather?
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Earlier this year, we looked at the best car batteries for hot weather. Now we switch gears and will cover the five best car batteries for cold weather. We go through each of the top five batteries and provide an overview of why they are good choices for winter weather.
For the car batteries on this list, we went for balance. We looked at key things like cold cranking amps, reserve capacity, how long the battery maker has been in business, and, ultimately, price.
Before we dive into the specifics on the best car batteries for cold weather, let’s cover a couple of important questions first (we have another FAQ list at the bottom too).
What Type of Battery is Best for Cold Weather?
Generally speaking, an Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) battery is better for cold weather versus a standard flooded battery (or what we might classify as a “normal” car battery). Although AGM batteries are often more expensive, they offer a number of advantages, especially for newer vehicles. Because of how AGM batteries are designed, they produce more starting power on average, higher cold cranking amps, lower discharge rates, and are simply more durable. As a result, AGM batteries tend to make for a good winter battery.
AGM batteries use a mesh made of absorbent glass (hence the name) to harness energy. Unlike traditional flooded batteries, AGM batteries have a special fiberglass mat to absorb the electrolyte solution. This design allows AGM batteries to store electrolytes in a “dry” state rather than liquid form. You will often hear the term “spill-proof” or “maintenance-free” with regard to AGM batteries, meaning the acid will not leak out if they are tilted. This is because the glass mat absorbs the sulfuric acid in the battery.
Since the electrolytes are absorbed into a tight fiberglass mat instead of hanging lead plates in the electrolyte solution, AGM batteries are more resistant to vibrations than traditional batteries, which can reduce their life. That same design also allows them to drum up more starting power for your car on a cold morning.
Why AGM Batteries are Ideal for Cold Weather
Many vehicles today have start-stop systems that shut the engine off to prevent excessive idle. If your car is equipped with one of these systems, having a high-quality battery for winter driving is all the more important. Each time the engine shuts off, say while at a traffic light or waiting for a train, your battery picks up the responsibility of keeping everything running inside your car. While an auto start-stop system will conserve fuel, it causes your battery to work harder once the engine is off.
On any given trip through the average city, your vehicle may be restarting upwards of a dozen times or more, especially in a congested area or one with a multitude of traffic lights. As you hold the brakes for an extended period, the engine taps out, and the battery picks up the slack. This “transition” allows all of the electronics, including your heater or the navigation system, to stay running.
By their design, AGM batteries are a better option for engines with an auto start/stop system. AGM batteries discharge power more effectively while the engine is off but recharge quicker (via the alternator) than traditional car batteries when the engine kicks back on.
#1: Best Overall: Optima REDTOP
The Optima REDTOP wins our choice for the best overall car battery for cold weather, partly because of their long history. Optima batteries have been one of the most reliable and trusted batteries on the market for 40 years. The REDTOP is specifically designed for adverse conditions, using a technique called “Spiral Cell Technology” that delivers more starting power in a shorter amount of time.
Optima’s Spiral Cell Technology is a series of individual spiral-wound cells composed of two pure (99.99%) lead plates coated in lead oxide. Each of these spiral cells ends up looking like a jelly roll when they are finished. The benefits include a spill-proof and maintenance-free design, more resistance to vibrations, and faster recharging.
Optima REDTOP batteries are an AGM design, meaning they provide all of the benefits outlined above.
DieHard is a familiar and trusted name among car batteries on the market. If you were ever a Sears Auto Center customer, they likely installed a DieHard battery in your car. If you followed racing back in the day, you may remember Richard Petty and Bobby Allison using DieHard batteries in the early 70s.
The DieHard Platinum battery offers the benefits of Absorbed Glass Mat technology (outlined above), meaning it can handle today’s auto start-stop systems. DieHard batteries are also known for their patented Stamped Grid technology, making them more durable, maintenance-free, and resistant to corrosion and vibrations. In short, the DieHard Platinum is a good choice when it comes to picking out a car battery for cold weather.
Fun Fact: The average DieHard battery retailed for $23.45 in 1968.
We also recommend picking up this portable DieHard jump starter kit from Amazon. When fully charged, it can provide up to 20 individual jump-starts. You can use this to help your friends and family who didn’t replace their car battery before winter!
#3: Best High Performance: Optima YELLOWTOP
The YELLOWTOP from Optima Batteries is the best choice if you have equipment on your vehicle that requires additional power to run. For example, if you’re driving a heavy-use vehicle, like a work truck or service van, or have a 4×4 vehicle fitted with accessories like off-road lights and winches. In that case, you will require something with more power output than the average car battery.
To that end, the Optima YELLOWTOP is known for its reserve capacity and deep cycle use. The deep cycle capability means a greater level of sustained energy for a longer period. This also makes the YELLOWTOP an ideal dual-purpose battery, meaning it will accommodate tractors, forklifts, and other industrial vehicles. Like other entries on this list, the Optima YELLOWTOP also benefits from an absorbed glass mat design.
ACDelco is owned by General Motors, but you don’t have to drive a GM vehicle to take advantage of ACDelco’s proven history. ACDelco has two battery lines, Professional and Advantage, that will fit almost any make or model. According to ACDelco, its batteries meet or exceed the power requirements of 98 percent of all vehicles on the road.
Like other batteries on this list, ACDelco offers all the benefits of an AGM design but does offer some features unique to their brand. For example, ACDelco uses a leak-proof pressurized valve system, which prevents acid damage to the terminals and increases the battery’s usable life.
The DieHard Gold battery is less expensive than the Platinum variant we outlined above. However, the DieHard Gold isn’t a “cheap” battery by any means. The DieHard Gold features the same Stamped Grid Technology as the Platinum, meaning it will provide plenty of starting power during the winter. Furthermore, DieHard says they have improved the battery’s design to the point that it now provides an increase in electrical flow by over 60 percent.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a high number of connectivity features, or if you don’t have additional accessories that require extra power, then you won’t need the more expensive DieHard Platinum battery. You can save the money as the Gold version will work just fine.
Buy Now: Make sure to replace your battery as soon as possible, especially if you cannot remember the last time you had it changed. This will help keep your car and your engine running when the weather conditions deteriorate. The links above for each car battery will take you directly to where you can purchase it.
Buy the correct “group size” battery: Group size requirements will vary by automaker, but the best way to see what your vehicle requires is to consult your owner’s manual.
Remember the warranty: Just as you would do with any other auto part, make sure to read over the warranty terms and conditions when purchasing a new battery.
Ask a trusted mechanic for advice: Qualified automotive technicians have the education, certifications, and experience to help you pick the right battery for your car.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Cold is too Cold for a Car Battery?
Your battery won’t freeze in the literal sense unless it’s unbelievably cold. Still, according to AAA, the average car battery can lose up to 60 percent of its available starting power when the temperature hits 0°F or below. Since winter can impact battery life and even cause battery failure, it’s all the more reason to seriously consider replacing yours with one of the recommendations on this list.
What is Battery Reserve Capacity?
This is the amount of time a battery will last with the headlights on, under a 25 amp draw (or load), until it’s completely discharged. Having a battery with a high reserve capacity is a bonus, especially if you drive a vehicle with auto start/stop or one with additional accessories that require extra power.
What Are Cold Cranking Amps?
Like reserve capacity, cold cranking amps (CCA) is another important term you will see when shopping for a battery. In so many words, it’s the number of amps that can be harnessed from a 12-volt battery at 0°F for 30 seconds, while maintaining a voltage of at least 7.2 volts (or 1.2 volts per cell). The higher the number of cold cranking amps, the stronger the “starting power” of the battery.
Though cold cranking amps are essential, they are not the “end-all, be-all.” With the increased amount of electronics in vehicles today, reserve capacity is just as important. While a battery with a high CCA rating has its benefits, your vehicle might not necessitate such a battery. When selecting a battery, it’s more important to have one that best matches the requirements and specifications of your vehicle instead of one with just a high CCA rating.