Car Battery Testing & Voltage - How Many Volts is a Car Battery?
The car battery provides energy not only for cranking the engine, but it also powers a broad range of devices that may be turned on when the engine is off, even when the car is locked, like GPS units, alarms, and other security systems, multimedia devices, lights, etc.
While car batteries feature a nominal voltage of 12 volts, in real life, this voltage can be anywhere from just a few volts (or even 0 volts!) to almost or even slightly over 15 volts. The exact battery voltage depends on the engine being turned On or Off and the battery's charge condition, age, load, temperature, etc.
Updated: December 31, 2021.
On This Page:
- Car Battery Types and Chemistries
- Battery CCA Testing
- Car Battery Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Few Final Words
Car Battery Types and Chemistries
Lead-acid batteries are the most common car batteries, but they also differ and can be wet/flooded batteries, enhanced wet/flooded batteries, Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries, enhanced AGM batteries, Gel-Cell batteries, batteries with pure lead plates, batteries with calcium plates (calcium-lead plates), etc.
All these battery types have slightly different voltages when they are fully charged, semi-charged, or fully discharged, have slightly different temperature correction/compensation coefficients, etc.
When the engine is turned ON, the alternator charges the battery and its voltage should be in the 13.7 to 14.7 volts range. If the battery voltage is below 13.6-13.7 volts, the battery is being recharged by the alternator - again, this is with the engine being turned ON and the battery is being charged.
Lead-acid battery charging voltage-temperature compensation/correction coefficient varies from -3mV/°C/cell to -5mV/°C/cell, with the average value being -4mV/°C/cell.
However, if possible, it is highly recommended to try to find the charging voltage-temperature compensation coefficient of the battery You own, or even better, a voltage-temperature chart or graph.
Why? Well, for example, Odyssey AGM batteries feature a temperature coefficient of -2 mV/°C/cell (-24 mV/°C for 12V battery) and is not linear - even charging voltage-temperature compensation coefficient changes its value with a temperature ...
But, as long as the battery voltage is above 13.7 volts when the engine is ON, the battery is fully charged. If it is lower than that, something has discharged the battery - maybe lights were left ON for several hours, or the car was not used for weeks, etc.
When the engine is turned OFF, one may check the battery voltage even without disconnecting the battery from the car, since the drain current of the electronics is very low and it doesn't influence the voltage measurement.
Note: be sure that the lights are OFF and any fan, audio, multimedia is also turned OFF.
The following chart lists the battery state of charge for standard flooded/wet and standard AGM batteries measured at 77°F/25°C:
|Type||100% SoC||75% SoC||50% SoC||25% SoC||0% SoC|
|Flooded/Wet||12.65 volts||12.45 volts||12.24 volts||12.06 volts||11.89 volts|
|AGM||12.80 volts||12.60 volts||12.40 volts||12.00 volts||11.80 volts|
Note: these are just 'average' values for 'standard' flooded and AGM batteries. Other batteries may have slightly different values, for example, Odyssey AGM batteries' SoC/voltage relation: 12.84 volts or higher - 100% SoC, 12.50 volts - 75% SoC, 12.18 volts - 50% SoC, 11.88 volts - 25% SoC, etc.
The easiest and the simplest way of measuring the battery voltage is by using a digital multimeter, which can be found in most hardware stores and online shops.
However, when measuring the voltage of the battery at lower or higher temperatures, one should make a temperature compensation, regardless if the battery is being charged or not.
When the battery is not being charged (the engine is OFF), the battery voltage is much more dependant on the battery SoC than on the temperature. For example, the following list shows the voltage-temperature SoC dependency of the standard flooded and AGM battery in the 0 - 120°F (-17.8 - 49°C) temperature range:
- standard flooded battery: 100% SoC 12.52-12.66 volts, 75% SoC 12.32-12.46 volts, 50% SoC 12.11-12.25 volts, 25% SoC 11.93-12.07 volts, 0% SoC 11.76-11.90 volts,
- standard AGM battery: 100% SoC 12.67-12.81 volts, 75% SoC 12.47-12.61 volts, 50% SoC 12.27-12.41 volts, 25% SoC 11.87-12.01 volts, 0% SoC 11.67-11.81 volts.
As one can see, unless you are freezing in the winter cold or cooking in the summer heat, it is safe to assume values @ 77°F (25°C) as more or less accurate and required values when checking the battery's SoC with the digital multimeter - unless the battery is at 100% SoC, either something drained the battery by accident or the battery is being drained constantly and neither condition is a good nor recommended condition for the car battery.
Battery CCA Testing
Another important battery test is testing the actual CCA rating of the battery.
Note: there are several standards that define Cold Cranking Amps (CCA), CA (Cranking Amps), MCA (Marine Cranking Amps) and even HCA (Hot Cranking Amps), but the most common ones are:
CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) is the maximum current that a new, fully charged, 12V battery can deliver for 30 seconds, with the voltage NOT dropping below 7.2V, at 0°F (-18°C).
CA (Cranking Amps) or MCA (Marine Cranking Amps) is the maximum current that a new, fully charged, 12V battery can deliver for 30 seconds, with the voltage NOT dropping below 7.2V at 32°F (0°C).
HCA (Hot Cranking Amps) is the maximum current that a new, fully charged, 12V battery can deliver for 30 seconds, with the voltage NOT dropping below 7.2V, at 80°F (27°C).
Of course, these tests are very demanding for every battery since they push the battery to its limits.
So, in order to test the actual CCA rating of the battery, one may use digital load battery testers, which are fairly cheap and often provide rather accurate results, without overstressing the battery.
Their use is simple - connect them to the battery, fill in required data like the CCA rating of the new battery and similar, and let the device measure/calculate the actual CCA rating of the battery at the present condition.
Another solution is carbon-pile battery load testers which test the battery by discharging them with a certain current for a limited amount of time until the voltage drops at a certain level.
Since true CCA/MCA/HCA tests are rather stressful to the batteries, the actual battery load test should be done at 'just' a half of its CCA rating, for 15 seconds and the battery should keep the voltage of at least 9.6 volts.
Before the test, the battery should be fully charged and the test should be done at room temperatures (70°F/21°C or slightly more).
Note: Carbon-pile battery load testers are true load testers - such tests should be done only after reading and following all the safety and handling instructions of the battery, battery tester, and the car itself. Personally, if You want to make a true battery load test, go to the certified car shop and let them do the testing.
Car Battery Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about car batteries, cranking the engine, and similar topics.
How many volts does a car battery need to start? What is the minimum voltage needed to start a car?
This depends on the season (winter, summer), engine type (gas, diesel), engine condition (cold, warm), and similar.
Generally, when the engine is not running, the battery voltage should be at least 12.6-12.8 volts.
If the voltage is around 12V, the battery will probably be able to crank the engine. If the voltage is below 11.7-11.8V, the battery will probably NOT be able to crank the engine.
If You are lucky, the battery will be able to crank the engine even at 10.6-11.0 volts, but that is rare and even when successful, it will be very stressful to the battery.
At what voltage is a 12v battery dead?
It depends on the battery chemistry and temperature, but if the voltage is below 10.5 volts, the battery should be recharged as soon as possible, preferably with an advanced battery charger that analyzes the battery first and then charge it according to the battery's condition.
Anything below 11.7-11.8 volts means that the battery is almost fully discharged.
Note: It is possible to recover car batteries discharged down to 0-1V (yes, that is down to zero to one volt) using "force" charging, but that should be avoided since the buildup of lead sulfate crystals may easily physically damage the battery.
How many volts is too low for a car battery?
When the engine is not running, the battery should have more than 12 volts, preferably above 12.6 volts, depending on the battery type.
Are car batteries 9 or 12-volt? Is my car battery 6 or 12 volts?
12-volt car battery systems use 12-volt batteries.
What should a car battery voltage drop to when starting?
When starting the engine, car battery voltage should not drop below 10 volts, with 9 volts still being acceptable. If the voltage is constantly dropping below these values, the battery is either discharged, damaged, old, or simply too weak.
Is 11.9 volts a good battery? What voltage is too low for a car battery?
No, 11.9 volts is not a good battery. While an 11.9V battery may still be able to crank the engine, the battery is seriously discharged - in order to prolong their operating lives, starting lead-acid batteries should never be discharged below 80% SoC.
How do you identify a car battery?
The easiest way is to read the labels on the battery, including type (wet/flooded, AGM, Gel-cell), capacity (Ah), Cold Cranking Amps (CCA), and similar.
A more difficult approach would be to measure the battery size and terminal type and orientation and then to find the exact BCI battery group.
Or one can check the car's Owner's Guide and find out the exact battery type, size, and other requirements.
Will a battery with 10 volts start a car?
Hardly - if the engine is not working and the car battery shows 10V, the battery is practically discharged.
Can I use any battery to start my car?
No, "any" battery can't be used to start the car. However, another battery can be connected to the car in order to jump-start the engine.
In the process of connecting, a good battery will transfer part of its charge to the discharged battery - recharge the "good" battery as soon as possible and let the car charger (alternator) recharge the discharged battery.
How do you start a car with a drill battery?
12V drill batteries may be used in emergencies to transfer some charge to the discharged car battery to help it crank the engine - practically, the drill battery is not used to crank the engine, it is the surface charge of the car battery that does actual cranking.
Few Final Words
As long as the car battery voltage is in the 13.7 - 14.7 volts range while the engine is ON, the battery is fully charged. When the engine is OFF, and the voltage is 12.6 or higher, the battery is fully charged.
If the battery is not fully charged, charge it by using the car more often, but also check the parasite loads of the car - better safe than sorry.
Since a fully charged battery doesn't always mean that the battery is able to provide the required current, it is recommended to make a battery load test from time to time.
Digital battery load testers can easily determine the approximate CCA/MCA/PHCA rating of the battery without stressing the battery, but the true load test can be done with, for example, carbon pile battery load testers and can determine the battery's true CCA/MCA/HCA ratings.
Note: it is highly recommended to do the true battery load tests at the certified car shop... Better safe than sorry, once again...