How to Detect a Weak Battery (Even If You Don’t Know Where It Is!)

Knowing a car battery is at risk of failing, before actually looking at it, is the mechanic’s version of a parlour trick. The good news is that we can teach you how to do it – even if your engine bay seems so foreign, you feel like you need a passport just to pop the hood.

Here are some simple “tells” that indicate a weak battery:

  1. Difficulty starting: If your engine struggles to turn over, or you hear a clicking sound when you turn the ignition key, there’s a good chance your battery is about to fail.
  2. Your car’s age: If you live in Alberta and your battery is between three and five years old, it’s past its prime. The closer you get to that five-year mark, the more likely you are to encounter trouble.
  3. Weak electronics: Your battery supplies power to all your vehicle’s electrical components. If you start noticing problems with power windows, power seats, the radio, interior lights, or flickering headlights, it’s time to consider a battery replacement.
  4. Dashboard warning: Ok, this one is kind of obvious. But if your battery warning light illuminates, your charging system may not be properly functioning.
  5. Harsh weather: Extreme temperatures put a strain on batteries. So, if your car has endured a particularly frigid season – such as Alberta’s recent winter – or spent the last few months “snowbirding” someplace hot (we’re jealous!), it’s a good idea to have it checked.
  6. Nasty smell: An overheated battery often smells like rotten eggs, signaling to you that all is not well. In fact, a battery with this symptom could even be at risk of exploding.
  7. You planned a road trip: Call us superstitious – or just big believers in Murphy’s law – but we think there’s no better time to have your battery checked than before a road trip. Because if something’s going to go wrong, it’s always when it’s most inconvenient.

But how do you know for sure? Just give us a call and we’ll come test it for free, as part of your five annual roadside assistance calls. Better still, if our technician’s diagnosis indicates that you need a replacement, AMA can swap in a new battery on the spot* (our prices and warranty are competitive) AND the call won’t count toward your roadside assistance usage.

There you have it! We hope you enjoy impressing friends and family with your newfound detective skills.


* If your battery falls into the ‘hard to install’ category (say, something more exotic or battery located in a hard-to-reach spot), we can point you to one of our designated auto-shop partners, who’ll get the job done for you at member-exclusive rates.

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I’m a former journalist, current AMA communications specialist, and future backup dancer for Beyonce. I’m passionate about helping members, riding motorcycles and eliminating all traces of cilantro from food.