Whether it is traffic or the frequency of honking on the road, even the smallest issues can be annoying when you’re driving. But “annoying” turns to “scary” when the problems are inside the vehicle and not around it.
One of the most inconvenient problems is a dead battery, making it hard to start the car. But can a car battery die while driving?
A car battery can die while driving if the alternator goes bad or there is a drain in the system. If you notice your battery’s charge decreasing as you drive, chances are the alternator is not powering the battery as it should. If you keep driving, the battery will die.
This article will explore the causes of car batteries dying mid-drive and what you can do to fix the issue. Among the things you will learn are the symptoms of a faulty battery, the signs of a bad alternator, whether you should drive home or to a workshop, and how you can extend the driving time.
But first, let’s explore the nuances of a car battery dying mid-drive.
Can a Car Battery Die While Driving?
A car battery can die while driving though this is a rare occurrence. In most cases, the battery gets drained when the car is not being driven, and the electric components are turned on. When you’re driving the vehicle, it is the alternator powering the electric system.
The only way a battery can get charged naturally is through the alternator of the car. As the engine runs, it operates that alternator which in turn powers the battery of the car. But if the alternator is not working, the car battery doesn’t get charged, and the electricity is used directly from the battery.
In other words, the car battery is not immune from dying. While a bad alternator can cause the battery to be drained mid-drive, there are other reasons to consider as well. Anything from a faulty connection to water damage can prevent the battery from operating.
The car battery doesn’t need to be drained in order to “die.” If it cannot function properly for any reason, the effect is the same as the car battery dying.
And while it almost never happens, especially with a dual-purpose battery, it still helps to know what to do when the problem occurs.
What Happens If Your Car Battery Dies While Driving?
If the car battery dies while driving, the power will be cut off for all the electric components of the car. Although the car’s engine may not stop running. However, you will not be able to operate the power steering, headlights, and other key components essential to keep driving the car safely.
It is theoretically possible for a car to keep operating despite its battery dying, but because cars are designed to have electric/computer oversight, the car system will show multiple warnings and, in some cases, even shut down the engine.
Furthermore, if you turn off the car at this juncture, you may not be able to turn on the car unless you jump the car battery.
Spark plug starters usually use the battery just to start the car and the engine powers an alternator/generator that produces the power to supply electric power for the lights, car AC, and other components.
If your car battery dies while you are driving the car, it is highly recommended that you slowly park the car on the side of the road. Maneuver the car carefully as you may not have power steering anymore. Call for roadside assistance to get the car to the nearest service center or a garage and have it checked by a professional.
Can a Dead Car Battery Make Your Car Stop While Driving?
A dead battery cannot make your car stop while driving, but a lack of electric current can. Usually, when a car battery dies while driving, it is because the alternator isn’t working, or it causes the alternator to stop working as well.
While electricity isn’t required for the engine once it is running, the car’s intelligent dashboard, headlights, and tail lights need electric power.
If the alternator keeps working despite the battery dying, the car can keep running. In most cases, a battery dies because the alternator isn’t working properly, and it is the lack of any electric current from either of the sources that make a car stop.
What Can Cause a Car Battery to Die While Driving?
The first thing one must figure out in such a situation is whether the battery died because it was faulty or because the alternator was bad. A bad battery doesn’t damage the alternator though it can hinder the generator until a new battery is added.
But a bad alternator can ruin the battery, which means adding another one will not fix the problem.
In most cases, the car battery dies during operation because the alternator has issues charging the battery or the charging system has leaks that drain more electricity than the car operation requires. The table below can help.
|Cause||Symptoms / Effects||Solution|
|Faulty Battery||Dim headlights, backfiring and clicking sound upon starting the car.||Replace the battery and start the vehicle.|
|Battery-Alternator system leak||The battery starts failing when there’s a higher electric load (when using the air conditioner, high beam, etc.) but otherwise remains functional.||Drive the car with minimal electric load until you reach a mechanic who can fix the leak.|
|Bad alternator||Engine stalling, more than one battery dying, smell of burning rubber, growling sounds, dim or overbright lights, loss of power steering.||Get the car towed to the nearest place where the alternator can be repaired.|
How Far Can You Drive with a Dead Car Battery?
On average, you can drive a few miles, for the duration of 5 minutes, with a dead car battery. However, the overall drive time of your vehicle depends on whether the alternator works or not. If the alternator works, you can drive as long as the system doesn’t experience an electric overload.
Once the engine stops, you can no longer drive even a single mile. But as mentioned earlier, the car battery usually dies mid-drive because of a malfunctioning alternator.
If the alternator and the battery are both dead, you cannot expect the car to go beyond a few miles. You’re one HighBeam flash away from the car, coming to a screeching halt.
Please note that even in the best-case scenario where your alternator is working perfectly, driving around with a dead battery is not a great idea because it is hard on the alternator.
The alternator can easily get damaged trying to feed electricity to a dead system. More importantly, it cannot put up with sudden electric overload making it highly probable for your engine to stop unpredictably at any point.
Can a Car Battery Die While Idling?
A car battery can die while idling as well as while driving if the alternator doesn’t work properly. Idling doesn’t remove the electric burden on the vehicle. If anything, moving the car charges the battery, but even that doesn’t happen with a bad alternator.
In most cases, the best thing you can do is to turn off every electric component that you manually can and drive straight to a point where the car can be repaired. If the said drive is too long, then you should get the car towed.
On the rare occasion when this happens when you’re just a few miles from home, you can try to drive home but must stay in the slow lane, so cars behind you have sufficient room to break if your engine stops and turns your vehicle into a brick.
Car Battery Died While Parked?
It is possible for a car battery to die while parked, and this can happen because it wasn’t charged when you last switched off the engine or your used electric components while the engine wasn’t running. Extreme weather, leaking fluids, and poor connections can also drain the battery.
I’ve actually written a detailed article on whether a car battery can die if the car is not used! In it, I’ve shared several reasons why a car battery may die when your car has been parked for quite some time. Make sure you check out the article and identify the reason and its solution in the article.
What Happens If the Alternator Goes Bad While Driving?
If the alternator goes bad while driving, it stops charging the battery, and the car’s electric load is handled by the battery alone. Depending on how charged the battery is and the vehicle’s parasitic load, you can drive 50 to 100 miles before the system is fully drained, stopping the car.
The alternator going bad does not affect the battery as much as the battery being faulty damages the alternator. In most cases, a bad alternator requires more work to fix but is more convenient than having a dead battery because it doesn’t make your car immobile in the same way.
You can always get a donor cable and recharge the battery. This won’t get you too far, but you will be able to reach the workshop to get the alternator fixed. If you have a spare car battery and it is fully charged, you won’t have to worry about being stuck by the roadside.
How to Tell if It’s the Battery or the Alternator That Has Gone Bad?
The battery and the alternator going bad have somewhat similar end result in that your car stops running because its electric components receive no power.
But as covered above, the first step in fixing this situation is knowing whether the fault lies with the battery or the alternator. Otherwise, you will spend twice as much money fixing the car.
To tell if it’s the battery or the alternator that has gone bad, check if jumpstarting fixes the problem. When the battery is bad (or fully drained), jumpstarting fixes the problem because the alternator does its job once the engine is turned on.
When the alternator goes bad, the problems are emphasized with the use of higher power components like air conditioning, high beams, and the stereo system.
If you have a full battery when the alternator goes bad, you’ll notice the car’s electric components perform poorly once the engine is started but perform well once the engine is turned off. That’s because when the engine is off, the alternator is out of the picture.
The dilemma, however, occurs because one learns that their battery or alternator is bad when the battery is drained. Then, it is harder to know if the battery was drained because of battery issues or if the alternator failed to charge the battery.
It is also risky to conduct a stop test if this happens when driving. Since difficulty in starting the vehicle is a mutual sign of a bad battery and a faulty alternator, turning off the engine to see electric performance isn’t an option if you’re away from home.
The table below helps you pinpoint whether the issue lies with the car battery or the alternator.
|Signs exclusive to a bad battery||Signs exclusive to a bad alternator||Signs mutual to a bad battery and a bad alternator|
|Sluggish cranking of the engine||The car doesn’t start||Dimming lights|
|The vehicle takes time to start on cold mornings||The stereo system doesn’t work properly||The car eventually stops if trouble happens mid-drive|
|Inconsistent start time||The air conditioning doesn’t work properly||The car doesn’t start easily|
|No sound upon starting||The car starts but stalls later|
|No interior lights when starting||Engine squeals (especially when there is a higher electric load on the vehicle).|
|Jumpstarting the vehicle works|
|Corrosion is noticeable on the terminals|
Your Options When the Battery Starts Dying While Driving
If your car battery isn’t entirely drained, you have two options. The first is to drive home, and the second is to drive to a workshop. It is better to drive to whatever is nearer.
But in most cases, if you’re within 50 miles of your home, you might be able to make it there even if the battery is completely drained.
The advantage of being at home is that you can test to see if the problem is with the battery or the alternator. This will keep you from getting overcharged by mechanics who often replace both regardless of where the issue lies.
The risk with taking the car home is that if the issue is with the alternator, you might have to get the car towed to a workshop. But with visiting mechanic services available in most cities in the US, you should be able to get the car worked on at home.
Finally, there is a premium automotive mechanics put on stranded customers. If you go to a workshop instead of your home, you cannot choose from a range of mechanics and will get charged more.
When you are home, you can shop for better rates. While this advice isn’t universally applicable, in most cases, driving home is better than having your car die at a mechanic’s.