Battery Equivalents and Replacements

Car Battery Died While Driving - Can a Car Battery Die While Driving?!

Many people wonder if the car battery can die while driving, especially after their car battery died while driving. Obviously, the answer is "Yes, a car battery can die while driving."

A good car starting or dual-purpose battery should not die while driving, but although it is a rare event, it happens. There are many reasons why a car battery dies while driving, and here are the few most common ones.

Updated: February 22, 2024.

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The Car Battery Died While the Engine Was Off

Much more commonly, the car battery dies while the engine is turned off, or at least most people notice a dead battery when they try to start the car - the key is in and turned but except perhaps some relays and few lights going On/Off, nothing happens.

And if the car has a built-in voltmeter, it shows low battery voltage, or at least below normal.

If the engine is Off and the battery is Low, there are several possible reasons:

  • One of the battery cells has a short circuit, and most probably, the battery is as dead as it can be - perhaps some smart battery charger may attempt to save the battery, but in such situations, one never knows when the battery will die again. IMHO, when that happens, get another car battery and recycle the old one.
  • Battery voltage is low because it was drained over time by onboard electronics (the car was parked for a long time) or some device was left on. Or, somebody simply listened to the radio/multimedia for too long. If that happens, that means that the battery is discharged, and it must be recharged - jump start the car using jump start cables or some lithium car jump starter and let the alternator charge the battery for at least 30-60 minutes. Also, it is possible to remove the car battery from the car and recharge it using a battery charger or even to charge it while the battery is still connected to the car.

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Note: don't just remove the battery from the car - some models don't feature an auxiliary car battery, which holds the charge for the car's computer and the rest of the electronics. And if the battery is removed from such models, the car can't be started as easily as one may expect ... Hint: check the car's manual for exact charging procedures - thus, if possible, jump start the car and drive it for at least 30 minutes ...

  • The engine is off, the battery is low, and it can't start the engine, but the electronics scream about issues with the alternator/battery charging. If this happens, don't even try to start the engine - it may be started, and as long as the battery voltage is above a certain threshold, the engine will work. Not only is the battery not being charged, but it is also being drained even further, and it is only a matter of a moment before the engine is turned off automatically. So, if you can't start the engine, the battery is low, and there are alternator/battery charger warnings/errors, tow the car to the authorized repair shop.

For short, if the engine is Off and the battery is low, and it can't crank the engine, jump start cables or a car jump starter may be used to start the engine, but it is very important to find the reason why the battery was low since if it happened ones, it would sooner or later happen again...

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Car Battery Died While Driving

A car battery can die while driving, and the car will eventually also come to a halt - it all depends on whether the alternator/charging system is working properly or not.

If the engine is On and the car is driving, there are several potential situations:

  • Battery died (short circuit cell), alternator/charging system is working properly: In this situation, the alternator is generally able to keep the voltage high enough for the car to operate properly (servos, lights, radio, fans, etc.), but as soon as the engine is turned off, the car can't start again. In this situation, if the electronics report a dead battery or any similar battery issue, and the engine is still ON, drive to the authorized car workshop to check the car.
  • Battery died, and the alternator/charging system is not working properly either: in this situation, it is only a matter of minutes (seconds?) when the onboard electronics will turn the engine off, or the engine will simply stop working.

Note: older engines, especially diesel with mechanical high-pressure injection systems, may even continue to work for longer periods of time, but it is not safe and/or recommended to continue the drive in such condition ...

  • Battery is fully charged, and the engine is on, but the alternator/charging system died: in this situation, onboard electronics will probably signalize an issue with the charging system and display either a warning or error and tell the driver to either go to the workshop or to stop the vehicle right away. Older vehicles will, at least in the beginning, act normally - but after some time, the lights will become dimmer, fans will spin slower, radio/multimedia speakers will not be as loud as usual, etc.

Anyway, the car will, sooner or later - stop. In the worst-case scenario, the car engine stops while the car is still driving, and at the moment of notice, one loses the steering servo and the brakes servo.

If that happens, don't panic, turn On the car emergency lights (some battery charge is still available), and pull over. Note that the steering is harder and that you will have to press breaks harder in order to stop the vehicle (use emergency brakes if required).

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After stopping, try to restart the engine once or twice - keep an eye on the dashboard as well and check the warning lights and warning/error messages. Cars rarely have transient errors (some dirt in the fuel, for example), but if you manage to restart the car, perhaps you are lucky to have such a "transient" error - nonetheless, as soon as possible, drive the car to the repair shop to check what happened.

If the car cannot be started again, secure the vehicle while keeping yourself and your passengers as safe as possible -  call the tow services to tow the car into the car repair shop - in most situations, there is absolutely nothing one can do on the open road to fix the car.

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Why an authorized car workshop? There are many reasons why, but for short, they know what they are doing.

Also, a dead battery can damage other electrical systems as well, and thoroughly checking the car's diagnostics doesn't mean just plugging the laptop into the car diagnostic port ...

Note: after January 1, 1996, all cars built and sold in the US are required to be "OBD II" compliant (On-Board Diagnostics System II) - if you have an older than that vehicle, personally, either drive it to the museum or the scrapyard ;)

Of course, this doesn't apply to oldtimers and classic cars ...

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about car batteries and their issues while driving.

Can a car battery die while driving?

Yes, a car battery can die while driving, although it's an uncommon scenario when the vehicle's electrical system is functioning correctly. The car battery serves primarily to start the engine and power electrical components when the engine is not running. Once the engine is running, the alternator takes over to supply power to the car's electrical systems and recharge the battery.

If a car battery dies while driving, it usually indicates an issue with the vehicle's charging system, such as a failing alternator or a broken alternator belt. Without the alternator properly charging the battery, the vehicle will start to use battery power for all electrical needs, eventually draining the battery. This situation can lead to a loss of power to essential systems like the ignition system and headlights, causing the vehicle to stall and potentially leaving you stranded.

Other contributing factors could include a battery that is old or in poor condition, corroded battery connections, electrical system malfunctions, or excessive electrical demand from onboard devices that exceeds the charging system's capacity.

It's important to regularly maintain your vehicle and have its electrical system checked if you notice signs of a failing battery or charging system, such as dimming headlights, frequent battery issues, or the battery warning light on the dashboard, to prevent such occurrences.

How do you maintain a healthy car battery?

Maintaining a healthy car battery is crucial for ensuring your vehicle starts reliably and its electrical systems function smoothly. Here are some key practices for maintaining a healthy car battery:

  • Keep the Battery Clean: Ensure the battery terminals and case are free from corrosion and dirt, which can cause discharge and poor connections. You can clean the terminals with a solution of baking soda and water, using a wire brush.
  • Ensure Tight Connections: Check that the battery terminals are tight and secure. Loose connections can lead to starting problems and inefficient charging.
  • Regularly Check the Battery Voltage: A healthy car battery should have a voltage between 12.4 and 12.7 volts when the car is off. You can use a voltmeter to check the voltage periodically. A reading below 12.4 volts might indicate the battery needs charging or replacement.
  • Keep the Battery Charged: Avoid letting your car sit unused for long periods, which can lead to battery discharge. If you don't use your car often, consider using a battery maintainer or trickle charger to keep the battery at an optimal charge level.
  • Avoid Short Journeys: Short trips don't allow the battery to fully recharge, leading to a gradual decrease in battery life. Try to take longer drives occasionally or consider a dedicated battery charger if frequent short trips are unavoidable.
  • Check the Charging System: Ensure your vehicle's charging system (mainly the alternator) is functioning correctly. A failing alternator can't recharge the battery properly, leading to a dead battery.
  • Inspect for Corrosion: Battery terminals and cable ends can corrode over time, impairing the connection. Clean any corrosion with a wire brush and apply anti-corrosion gel to prevent future buildup.
  • Secure the Battery: Make sure the battery is securely mounted in its tray. Vibrations from driving can damage the battery plates and shorten its life if it's not securely held.
  • Avoid Extreme Temperatures: If possible, park your car in a garage during extreme cold or heat. Extreme temperatures can significantly affect battery performance and lifespan.
  • Regular Maintenance Checks: During regular vehicle maintenance, have your mechanic check the battery's condition, the charging system, and the belts. Early detection of potential issues can prevent battery failure.

Car batteries typically last between 3 and 5 years, so if your battery is approaching this age or showing signs of failing (slow engine crank, dimming headlights, etc.), it may be time to consider a replacement.

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What happens when a car battery dies while driving? What to do when a car battery dies while driving?

When a car battery dies while driving, it typically leads to several immediate issues due to the loss of electrical power, which affects the vehicle's essential systems.

Here's what happens and what you should do if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Electrical Components Fail: The first signs may include failure of electrical components such as the radio, air conditioning, and dashboard lights. Eventually, critical systems like the power steering and brake assist could be affected, making the vehicle harder to control.
  • Engine May Stall: Since modern vehicles rely on electrical power for the fuel injection system and ignition system, a dead battery can cause the engine to stall. Once the engine is off, it won't restart without a jump-start or battery replacement.
  • Loss of Lighting: Headlights and taillights will dim and eventually go out, which can be particularly dangerous if you're driving at night or in poor visibility conditions.
  • Stay Calm and Signal: Turn on your hazard lights immediately to alert other drivers that you're experiencing a problem.
  • Steer to Safety: Try to steer your vehicle to the side of the road. If your car has power steering, steering may become more difficult once the engine dies, so you may need to apply extra force to the steering wheel.
  • Attempt to Restart the Engine: If it's safe and traffic conditions allow, you can try to restart the engine. However, if the battery is completely dead, this may not be successful.
  • Call for Help: If you're unable to restart the car, it's time to call for roadside assistance or a tow service. If you have a portable jump starter or if another motorist offers to help with jump-starting, ensure you follow proper safety protocols.
  • Use Reflective Triangles or Flares: If you have them, placing reflective triangles or flares behind your vehicle can help increase visibility and prevent accidents, especially in low-light conditions.
  • Stay with Your Vehicle: If possible, stay with your vehicle until help arrives. Leaving your vehicle can be risky, especially on busy roads or in unfamiliar areas.
  • Preventive Measures: Once you're able to, have your vehicle's charging system checked by a professional. A recurring dead battery while driving indicates an issue with the charging system, not just the battery itself.

Experiencing a dead battery while driving can be unsettling, but knowing how to react can greatly improve your safety and the safety of other road users. Regular maintenance and checks of the battery and charging system can help prevent such situations from occurring.


Few Final Words

If your car stopped, whatever happened, it can either be repaired or replaced - stay calm, and don't panic.

But, when something happens to somebody, there is no 'Undo' - so stay safe ...