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The 5 Most Common Car Battery Types Today

How to Choose the Right Car Battery: A Guide to the Top 5 Types

Your car‘s battery is one of its most critical components, responsible for providing the power needed to start the engine and keep electronics running. Without a functioning battery, your car is nothing more than an oversized paperweight.

Given how essential the battery is, it‘s important to understand the different types available and which one is the best fit for your vehicle. In this post, we‘ll take an in-depth look at the five most common car battery types today:

  1. Flooded lead-acid batteries
  2. Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries
  3. Deep cycle batteries
  4. Lithium-ion batteries
  5. Solid-state batteries

For each type, we‘ll explain how it works, discuss the advantages and disadvantages, provide a real product example, and note what kinds of vehicles it‘s best suited for. We‘ll also reveal which of these five is the most widely used battery type and go into extra detail on why it‘s so popular.

By the end of this post, you‘ll be equipped with the knowledge needed to confidently choose the optimal battery for your vehicle. Let‘s dive in!

Flooded Lead-Acid Batteries
Flooded lead-acid batteries, also known as "wet cell" batteries, are the oldest and most common type of automotive battery. They get their name from their internal structure, which consists of lead plates suspended in a liquid electrolyte solution of sulfuric acid and water.

Here‘s a quick breakdown of how they work:

  • Lead dioxide plates serve as the positive electrodes and sponge lead plates act as the negative electrodes
  • The electrolyte solution enables the exchange of electrons between the plates
  • This chemical reaction produces the electrical energy needed to power your vehicle

One of the biggest selling points of flooded lead-acid batteries is their low upfront cost. They‘re generally the cheapest of the five battery types we‘re covering. However, that affordability does come with some downsides:

  • Require regular maintenance in the form of topping off the electrolyte solution
  • Sensitive to vibrations and extreme temperatures
  • Must be kept upright to avoid spills
  • Relatively short lifespan of 3-5 years

Despite the drawbacks, flooded lead-acid batteries remain a popular choice for many vehicles, especially older models. They offer reliable performance at a wallet-friendly price point.

One highly rated option to consider is the Optima Batteries 8020-164 35 RedTop Starting Battery. Designed for vehicles with high electrical loads, this 12-volt battery provides excellent starting power even in harsh weather. It‘s completely spill-proof and maintenance-free thanks to its unique SpiralCell design.

If you have an older car, truck, or SUV that doesn‘t require any special battery features, a standard flooded lead-acid battery should get the job done. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer‘s maintenance guidance to maximize the lifespan.

Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) Batteries
The next step up from traditional flooded cell batteries are valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries, also known as "sealed" batteries.

Unlike flooded cell batteries that require you to periodically add water, VRLA batteries are maintenance-free. The electrolyte solution is suspended in either an absorbent glass mat (AGM) or a gel:

  • In AGM batteries, the electrolyte is absorbed into a fiberglass mesh between the battery plates
  • Gel batteries use silica to transform the electrolyte into a non-spillable gel

The "valve regulated" aspect refers to the safety valves that allow gases to escape if pressure builds up inside the battery. This prevents the battery from leaking or exploding.

There are a few key advantages that VRLA batteries have over flooded cell batteries:

  • No maintenance required
  • Non-spillable design allows mounting in any position
  • Better performance in high-heat environments
  • Slower self-discharge rate

On the downside, VRLA batteries do cost more upfront. They‘re also less tolerant of overcharging and undercharging, so it‘s important to use a compatible smart charger.

If you‘re looking for a high-quality VRLA battery, the DieHard Advanced Gold AGM Battery is an excellent pick. Sold exclusively by Advance Auto Parts, this battery is designed to deliver 2x the cycle life of a standard battery. It‘s ideal for vehicles with start-stop technology and those with high accessory loads.

Generally speaking, VRLA batteries are a great choice for newer vehicles, especially those with advanced electrical systems. They require zero maintenance and provide a leak-free, mountable anywhere solution.

Deep Cycle Batteries
While most automotive batteries are designed for starting, deep cycle batteries are built for the opposite purpose: delivering a steady, low-rate output of power over a long period of time. They‘re commonly found in vehicles that rely on a battery for propulsion, like forklifts, golf carts, and electric vehicles.

What sets deep cycle batteries apart is their internal construction:

  • Thicker lead plates allow for repeated charging and discharging without damage
  • A higher density active material increases capacity
  • Solid lead connections resist vibration and corrosion

It‘s important to note that deep cycle batteries are not designed to deliver the high burst of starting amps that a cranking battery does. Their strength lies in their ability to be deeply discharged and recharged hundreds of times.

Here are a few of the main benefits of deep cycle batteries:

  • Extremely long lifespan (up to 10+ years with proper maintenance)
  • Tolerant of repeated deep discharges
  • Mountable in any position (AGM and gel models)
  • More resistant to vibration

The trade-offs are a higher price tag and heavier weight compared to starting batteries.

For a reliable deep cycle battery, it‘s hard to beat the Optima Batteries 8016-103 D34M BlueTop Starting and Deep Cycle Marine Battery. Featuring Optima‘s signature SpiralCell technology, this battery provides a strong starting burst and unmatched deep cycling capability. It‘s perfect for boats, RVs, and other applications that require both starting and deep cycle power.

If you have a vehicle that needs to rely on a battery for extended run times, a deep cycle battery is worth the investment. Look for AGM or gel models for a maintenance-free, spill-proof solution.

Lithium-Ion Batteries
The newest and most advanced entrant into the automotive battery space is the lithium-ion battery. These batteries have already taken over in the world of consumer electronics thanks to their lightweight design, fast charging capability, and high energy density. Now, they‘re starting to make inroads in vehicles as well, particularly hybrids and electric cars.

Lithium-ion batteries get their name from the transfer of lithium ions between the electrodes during charging and discharging:

  • Positively charged lithium ions flow from the cathode to the anode during discharging
  • The flow reverses during charging, returning the ions to the cathode
  • An electrolyte solution and separator allow the ions to move while keeping the electrodes physically apart

The chemistry of lithium-ion batteries give them some compelling advantages over lead-acid designs:

  • 3-4x higher energy density
  • 50-60% lighter weight
  • Charges significantly faster
  • Can last 2000+ charging cycles
  • Maintenance-free with on-board management system

The biggest hurdle for lithium-ion batteries is cost. They‘re much more expensive than lead-acid options, both in terms of upfront price and cost per kWh over the lifespan of the battery. There are also potential safety concerns, as a punctured or overheated lithium-ion battery can catch fire or explode.

One popular lithium-ion battery for vehicles is the Battle Born Batteries 100Ah 12V LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Battery. This battery is designed as a drop-in replacement for lead-acid options, with a built-in battery management system to prevent overcharging and over-discharging. Battle Born batteries are a common choice for camper vans, motorhomes, and off-grid solar setups.

At the moment, lithium-ion batteries are best suited for high-end applications where cost is less of a concern. They offer unbeatable performance in a lightweight package, with minimal maintenance required. However, their high price tag keeps them out of reach for most standard passenger vehicles. That will likely change in the coming years as production ramps up and costs come down.

Solid-State Batteries
Last but not least are solid-state batteries, an emerging technology that‘s still in the development phase for automotive uses. As the name suggests, solid-state batteries replace the liquid electrolyte found in conventional batteries with a solid electrolyte.

The key difference is that the solid electrolyte also serves as the separator between the electrodes. This allows the battery cells to be stacked, providing some unique benefits:

  • Higher energy density (2-10x that of lithium-ion)
  • Non-flammable for improved safety
  • Longer lifespan (upwards of 10 years)
  • Faster charging times

Solid-state batteries are seen as the next big breakthrough for electric vehicles, as they could dramatically increase range while reducing charge times. Many automakers, including Toyota, Volkswagen, and Ford, are investing heavily in solid-state battery research.

However, the technology is still a few years away from commercial availability. There are challenges in manufacturing the batteries at scale and ensuring long-term durability. Solid Power, a leading developer of solid-state batteries for EVs, plans to have its batteries powering Ford and BMW test vehicles by 2022, with commercial production slated for 2026.

Once solid-state batteries do hit the market, they will likely be limited to high-end electric vehicles initially. It will take time for costs to come down and production to ramp up to the point where they‘re viable for mass-market cars. But many experts believe solid-state batteries will eventually become the standard for EVs thanks to their superior performance.

The Most Commonly Used Battery Type

Now that we‘ve explored all five of the main battery types, you might be wondering which one is the most widely used today. The answer is flooded lead-acid batteries, by a long shot.

Despite being the oldest technology on the list, flooded lead-acid batteries have maintained their dominance thanks to their low cost, reliable performance, and versatility. They‘re affordable enough to be used in entry-level vehicles, yet still capable of powering high-end cars with the right specifications.

According to a report from Grand View Research, the global automotive lead-acid battery market was valued at $36.2 billion in 2018. Flooded batteries accounted for over 90% of that total. While AGM and gel batteries are gaining market share, flooded batteries are expected to remain the most common type for the foreseeable future.

One of the reasons for the continued popularity of flooded batteries is that automakers are very familiar with the technology. Lead-acid chemistry has been used in cars for over a century, so manufacturers have had ample time to perfect the design. Parts are readily available and mechanics know how to diagnose and fix issues.

Flooded lead-acid batteries are also highly recyclable, which helps keep costs down. Over 98% of lead-acid batteries are recycled, with the lead and plastic components able to be reused in new batteries.

Of course, there are some newer vehicles that require more advanced battery technology. Start-stop systems, regenerative braking, and high-draw electronics can be hard on a traditional flooded battery. For these applications, an AGM or gel VRLA battery is often preferred.

And as mentioned, lithium-ion and solid-state batteries are starting to make inroads in the world of electric and hybrid vehicles. But for the vast majority of gas-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs on the road today, a flooded lead-acid battery is still the go-to choice.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Car Battery

Knowing the different battery types is a good start, but there are a number of other important factors to consider when shopping for a new car battery.

Here are some key things to look for:

Size and Terminal Position
Car batteries come in a range of sizes, so it‘s critical to choose one that will fit your vehicle. Check your owner‘s manual or look at the size of your existing battery, which should be printed on the label.

You‘ll also need to make sure the terminals are in the correct position for your vehicle (either top-post or side-post). Getting this wrong could mean the battery won‘t fit securely in place.

Power Requirements
Next, look at the power specifications to ensure the battery can meet your vehicle‘s needs. The two most important ratings to consider are:

  • Cranking Amps (CA): The amount of power the battery can provide at 32°F. A higher number means the battery is better for starting your car in normal weather.

  • Cold Cranking Amps (CCA): The amount of power the battery can provide at 0°F. If you live in a cold climate, look for a battery with a high CCA rating.

A battery‘s warranty gives you a good indication of how long it‘s expected to last. Look for a battery that offers a solid free replacement period for defects, as well as a prorated period that provides partial reimbursement if the battery fails after the free replacement window.

Just remember that warranties usually only cover issues related to manufacturing defects. Using the wrong size battery, undercharging or overcharging, or allowing the electrolyte to run low can all void the warranty.

Batteries begin to degrade as soon as they‘re manufactured, so you‘ll want to choose the freshest option available. Look for a sticker or stamp on the battery with a date code. Ideally, you want a battery that‘s no more than six months old.

Brand Reputation
While there are a number of reputable battery brands out there, some do have a better track record than others. Doing a little research on a brand‘s history, customer reviews, and expert ratings can help you avoid a dud.

Finally, consider your budget. Batteries can range from under $100 for a basic flooded lead-acid model to $1000 or more for a high-end lithium-ion or solid-state option. AGM and gel batteries usually fall somewhere in the middle.

Spending more will generally get you a battery with better performance and a longer lifespan. But if you have an older vehicle that you don‘t plan on keeping for more than a few years, a less expensive battery may be a more sensible choice.

The Bottom Line

There you have it – a deep dive into the world of automotive batteries. We‘ve covered the five most common types available today, including how they work, their pros and cons, and what kinds of vehicles they‘re best suited for.

To recap, the five main battery types are:

  1. Flooded lead-acid batteries: The most common and affordable option, best for older vehicles without advanced electrical systems.

  2. VRLA batteries (AGM and gel): Maintenance-free batteries that are spill-proof and well-suited to vehicles with start-stop technology and high accessory loads.

  3. Deep cycle batteries: Designed for deep discharging and recharging, ideal for vehicles that rely on the battery for propulsion.

  4. Lithium-ion batteries: Lightweight, fast-charging, and energy-dense batteries that are becoming increasingly popular in hybrids and electric vehicles.

  5. Solid-state batteries: An emerging technology that promises even better performance than lithium-ion, but is still a few years away from mass-market availability.

We also learned that flooded lead-acid batteries continue to be the most widely used type, thanks to their low cost, reliable performance, and versatility.

No matter what kind of vehicle you drive, choosing the right battery is essential. Take into account factors like size, power requirements, warranty, freshness, brand reputation, and price to find the best fit for your needs and budget.

If you‘re still not sure which battery is right for you, don‘t hesitate to consult with a trusted mechanic or automotive specialist. With proper care and maintenance, your new battery should provide reliable starting power for years to come.