Your car’s electrical system relies on a battery to provide power and an alternator to charge that battery. When you turn the ignition switch, the battery is activated and gives life to the starter motor, which powers the engine. At the same time, thanks to the power of the crankshaft, the alternator starts to turn, thus ensuring that the battery remains charged while driving.
When you start the engine, the battery light usually flashes briefly and then goes off. However, if that annoying battery light stays on while driving, it could indicate a fault in the charging system. So if the battery light decides to accompany you on your journey, it’s time to be attentive and aware of the possible problems they could cause.
What Does The Battery Light Mean?
Your battery light also called the dashboard battery indicator, is designed to let you know about an issue with your vehicle’s battery or charging system. It could indicate that your battery is damaged or worn out, or that the charging system is malfunctioning in some way.
First things first, if the battery light in your car comes on when you turn it on, you probably don’t need to worry. It’s completely normal for the battery light to illuminate when you first turn on your car. But then the light turns off after a few seconds, if that’s the case, don’t pay attention.
If you’ll notice that your battery light comes on and goes off again when accelerating because it knows that there isn’t enough power coming in from its source (the alternator). This issue can also be brought on by a loose connection or a damaged serpentine belt.
If the light stays on as you’re driving, though, pay attention. You’ll likely notice other signs of a weak battery charge, like a radio that won’t turn on, or power windows that are slow to come up.
An illuminated battery light could be due to a number of issues, including:
- A loose or corroded battery cable
- A problem with the alternator or voltage regulator
- Damaged cells or plates inside the battery
- Faulty wiring in the car’s electric charging system
A dashboard battery light basically means there’s a battery charging problem. Your car isn’t getting enough voltage from the car battery to operate properly. It needs more “juice!”
7 Reasons Why Your Battery Light Is On
The battery warning light on your dashboard usually activates for one or more of the following seven reasons:
Reason #1: Bad Battery
The battery warning light on your dashboard usually comes on for a few reasons. One of them is a bad battery. Normally, a car battery lasts around 3 to 5 years. However, as it gets older, the internal parts can break, or the battery’s liquid might leak.
When this happens, the battery’s voltage and power decrease. If the battery is completely dead, the voltage will drop to zero. When your battery is in bad shape or dead, the dashboard battery light will activate to let you know.
Reason #2: Malfunctioning Alternator
Another reason for the battery warning light to turn on is a malfunctioning alternator. The alternator is responsible for charging your vehicle’s battery. If the alternator isn’t working properly, your battery may not receive enough voltage to charge correctly, or it could be exposed to too much voltage.
Most cars need a charging voltage between 13.6 and 14.6 Volts. If your alternator is failing or faulty, it may produce a voltage outside of this optimal range, which can harm your battery’s performance. This can trigger the battery warning light to indicate a failing or completely damaged alternator.
Read More: 7 Signs Of a Bad Alternator
Reason #3: Broken serpentine belt
The serpentine belt, also known as the alternator belt, is what makes your car’s battery charge up and keeps the air conditioning, power steering, and other accessories running. Over time, this belt can get cracks and eventually snap.
When that happens, your battery won’t get charged any more, and the battery warning light will come on.
Reason #4: Corroded Battery Terminal
Your battery terminal, or battery post, can get corroded from the electrolyte solution leaking, hydrogen venting, and exposure to moisture in the air. The heat from your engine can also speed up this corrosion.
So, how does it affect your car battery? Well, a corroded battery terminal or post doesn’t conduct electricity well. Since your battery relies on these terminals to receive power, poor electrical conductivity can lead to charging issues. As a result, the battery light on your dashboard may illuminate to show this problem.
Reason #5: Faulty Battery Cable
Battery cables are responsible for carrying power from the battery to the rest of your vehicle. If a cable gets cracked or deteriorates, it can interrupt the flow of electricity.
Additionally, if the battery cable isn’t securely connected around the battery terminal, it can negatively impact the recharging process. In either of these situations, your battery warning light might come on.
Reason #6: Wiring Issues
Your charging system and the electrical circuits that use its power have lots of wiring. When any of these wires break or get disconnected, you’ll have trouble charging the battery or drawing power. Let’s say your car’s ground strap or ground wire is damaged.
This wire completes the electrical circuits and makes sure electricity flows properly. If it’s damaged, your car could have charging issues and electrical components might act up in different areas. This could trigger your battery light.
Reason #7: Accessory Overload
Many accessories in your car, like subwoofers, extra lights, and winches, use power from the alternator. But here’s the problem: the alternator also charges the battery. If too many accessories draw power at once, your battery won’t charge effectively.
This can lead to your battery’s energy levels dropping too much, causing the battery light to come on. So, now we’ve covered why your battery warning light is on.
What to do if your battery light comes on?
First things first, if you see the battery light come on, don’t panic! Take a deep breath and stay cool.
Immediately, turn off the all-electronic equipment, except the headlights. Say goodbye to AC, heating, stereos, interior lights, heated seats/mirrors, phone chargers, and those fancy Bluetooth gadgets.
Keep an eye out for any signs of overheating or loss of power steering. If you see any of these happening, don’t hesitate – stop your vehicle immediately.
Now, we need to figure out why that weird battery light decided to come on.
Here’s what you can do:
- Inspect the battery. Check for any gunk or damage on the terminals. If you spot any corrosion, clean it up and make sure those clamps are nice and tight.
- Check the alternator. Make sure all the electrical connections are snug and nothing is loose or missing.
- Look at the serpentine belt. If you’re experiencing problems like overheating or loss of power steering, it could be due to a worn-out belt. Look for big cracks, breakages, or if the belt has completely vanished!
- Check your fuses. Although blown fuses don’t directly mess with your battery, it’s good to see if any need replacing.
- Test the battery. Once you have worked through these steps, now it’s time to put your battery to the test. Start up your engine and pay attention to the light. If it goes off, you’ve probably solved the problem. If the light remains on, you probably have an alternator issue.
How Can I Troubleshoot Battery Problems Myself?
If you’re comfortable working on your car, you might be able to fix the issue yourself without needing a professional’s help. Especially if it’s something minor like corrosion or lose clamps. So, grab some protective gloves, check your user manual, and let’s dive into troubleshooting the battery problem together.
#1. Check for corrosion.
In these hot summer months, or in warmer regions, batteries can sometimes get corroded on the terminals. To check for corrosion, carefully take off any covers on top of your battery that might be hiding from the terminals.
If you notice a white or greenish substance around the terminals, that’s corrosion. It’s a common issue, but it can mess with the flow of electricity from the battery to the rest of your car. Remember, don’t touch the corrosion with your bare hands as it can irritate your skin. If you don’t know how to clean it properly check out our guide. Let’s move on to the next troubleshooting tip.
#2. Clean the battery terminals.
It’s actually pretty easy and cheap to do it yourself. First, grab a battery-cleaning product from a nearby store or whip up your own mixture with some baking soda and water. Take off the terminal covers and start by disconnecting the battery cables.
Make sure you disconnect the negative (black) cable first, and then the positive (red) one. Now, grab your solution and scrub away any corrosion on the battery posts and wire ends. Keep at it until it’s all cleaned up.
Once you’re done, reconnect your battery by attaching the positive (red) wire first, followed by the negative (black) wire.
#3. Tighten the cable clamps.
If your cable clamps feel loose, that might be the reason your car battery light is on. Don’t fret! Check your owner’s manual for any specific instructions, but usually, you can use a regular wrench or socket wrench to tighten them up.
What To Do When Your Car Battery Light Is Still On?
Checked for corrosion and tightened loose battery cables, but the battery light is still on. Uh-oh! There might be something mechanical going on, like an issue with the alternator or voltage regulator. Or it could be a sneaky wiring problem.
What to do next? It’s time to take your ride to a nearby mechanic or repair shop. They’ll give it a good look and do some voltage testing. After that, they’ll spill the beans on what they find and suggest service options.