The cold weather is pretty hard to miss. Typical signs include ice, snow, and worst of all, your car not starting. Getting into your car, turning the ignition, and hearing groaning noises is a nightmare. I know from first-hand experience. It truly sucks.
If you live in an area that sees harsh winter weather, you may have experienced this before. Having a car battery for cold weather is crucial; you don’t want to be left out in the cold.
This guide will run through everything you need to know when choosing a car battery for cold weather. We begin by briefly looking at the most important things to know before moving onto our top 7 best car batteries for cold weather. At the end of this guide, we look at car batteries in more detail.
- Choosing a Car Battery for Cold Weather
- Top 7 Best Car Batteries for Cold Weather 2021
- 1. Best Overall Pick: Optima RedTop Starting Battery
- 2. Best Budget Pick: ACDelco 48 AGM Automotive Battery
- 3. Best Premium Pick: Odyssey 34R Automotive and LTV Battery
- 4. Best Compact Battery: Optima D51 YellowTop Dual Purpose Battery
- 5. Best for Small Vehicles: Odyssey PC680 Battery
- 6. Best for High Drain Electronics: Optima DH6 YellowTop Dual Purpose AGM Battery
- 7. Best OEM Replacement for American-Made Cars: Delphi MaxStart AGM Battery
- Everything You Need to Know About Car Batteries for Cold Weather
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
Choosing a Car Battery for Cold Weather
There are several key things to understand when choosing a car battery for cold weather. We’ve come up with four crucial points, which we explain below.
Cold Cranking Amps
Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) are the most important factor to look at when it comes to batteries for cold weather. To put it simply, CCA is the number of amps the battery can provide at cold temperatures. This is based on a standard 12V battery at 0°F over a 30 second period.
As you’d expect, the higher the CCA, the better the battery is at starting your car in the cold weather. We’ve listed each battery’s CCA rating under the quick facts section for every product, so you can compare each battery easier.
The Reverse Capacity (RC) is another factor to look at in a car battery for cold weather. While it isn’t as important as the CCA rating, it’s worth looking at (more details here). The RC is how many minutes a fully charged battery will last before it drops under 10.5V with a 25 amp discharge.
You may sometimes see RC quoted in amp-hours rather than minutes. While that may be more accurate (as the discharge rate might be more than 25 amps), it’s easier to compare batteries using minutes. It gives you a clearer idea of how long the battery will last. We’ve provided the RC in minutes for every product review.
Not all car batteries are equal. Most car batteries these days are lead-acid, but there are many different types of lead-acid batteries. If you’re interested in learning about the different types, check out this website. For the purpose of this guide, we’ll only be looking at absorbent mat glass (AGM) batteries.
AGM batteries perform much better in cold weather than other types of batteries. They’re also generally regarded as safer as they don’t contain any liquids, which means there’s no risk of acid leaks. Plus, they don’t require any maintenance, making them perfect for people who just want a car battery that works.
All of the car batteries in our reviews are AGM batteries.
Car batteries for cold weather are generally bigger and heavier than regular batteries (although that isn’t always the case, as seen with the compact Optima D51 YellowTop). It’s always a good idea to double-check whether the battery will fit in your car, especially if the engine bay or trunk has limited space.
You can do this by looking at the battery’s group size. This is an industry-standard metric that indicates the physical size of a battery. You can look at your current car battery’s group size and match it to a cold-weather battery you want to purchase to ensure it fits properly.
Having said that, some larger batteries can be fitted easily enough with small adjustments. Some batteries, like the powerful Optima RedTop, come with adapters that make fitting it a piece of cake.
With these key points in mind, let’s take a look at the best car batteries for cold weather in 2021.
1. Best Overall Pick: Optima RedTop Starting Battery
- Cold Cranking Amps: 800
- Reserve Capacity (Minutes): 100
- Group Size: 34
When it comes to car batteries and batteries in general, Optima is undoubtedly one of the best brands out there. Optima produces high-quality batteries using innovative new techniques, allowing them to squeeze out even more power and extend the life of their products. Unlike with some lesser-known brands, you know that an Optima battery will last a long time, saving you money in the long term.
The Optima RedTop Starting Battery has been specially designed for starting cars in cold weather conditions. The high cold cranking amps provide enough current to start almost any vehicle in extremely cold temperatures, from regular gasoline cars to diesel trucks and more.
For the vast majority of cars, this battery will be more than capable of starting in cold weather.
With that said, if your car has any high drain electronics, such as a sound system or DVD player, you may want to look at the Optima DH6 YellowTop. The RedTop is only suitable for starting cars with minimal drain, whereas the Optima DH6 is designed to start vehicles with energy-zapping aftermarket electronics.
This battery should fit most cars without much tinkering, even if it’s not a direct fit, as it comes with various adapters that make installation a breeze.
Overall this is a high-quality battery from a well-known brand that does what it says on the tin. If you’re not too clued up on batteries and just want a battery that can handle cold weather, this will be your best option.
- Excellent brand
- High CCA rating
- Designed for cold weather
- Suitable for use in almost any vehicle
- Various adapters included for fitting
- Not designed for use with high drain electronics
2. Best Budget Pick: ACDelco 48 AGM Automotive Battery
- Cold Cranking Amps: 760
- Reserve Capacity (in minutes): 120
- Group Size: 48
A good cold-weather car battery doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as demonstrated with this battery from ACDelco. Despite being one of the cheapest cold-weather car batteries on the market, it has plenty of power and a decent reserve capacity to ensure your car starts in cold environments. It has a lower CCA rating than the more premium Odyssey 34R, but unless you have a car with a massive engine, 760 CCA will be more than enough to get your car started when it’s cold.
This battery has several features that give it a longer lifespan. For example, it uses a high-density negative paste, which improves overall performance and longevity compared with other batteries. It also uses calcium lead in the positive grid, which increases conductivity and reduces resistance. What does that mean exactly? Lower resistance and increased conductivity mean easier starting for your car, especially when it’s cold.
You may need a 5A battery charger if you buy this battery as it comes partially charged. This is common with many batteries as they often sit in warehouses for prolonged periods. This doesn’t affect the battery’s capabilities, but it’s a hassle to charge it if you don’t already have a charger at hand. If that’s a problem, you should look at the Delphi MaxStart Battery as they always arrive fully charged.
This battery fits most vehicles with no issue, although it is slightly taller than most batteries by about an inch. Depending on your car, this means you might need to make some adjustments to get it to fit properly.
- Excellent value for money
- Increased lifespan
- Greater performance
- Requires charging before use
- May not fit all cars without adjustment
- Cold Cranking Amps: 850
- Reserve Capacity (in minutes): 134
- Group Size: 34R
This car battery from Odyssey is the most powerful car battery on our list when it comes to cold-cranking amps. At 850 CCA, it will have absolutely no issues starting any car, no matter how cold it is outside. It also has an impressive expected service life of up to 10 years.
One significant benefit of this battery is that it charges extremely quickly due to how efficient it is. In under 4 hours, you can have this battery fully charged, which is significantly faster than most batteries. This makes it ideal for people who make regular short journeys, as it doesn’t take long for the alternator to recharge the battery.
Having said that, this battery isn’t designed to sit unused for long periods of time. If you don’t start your car for prolonged periods, you may find that the battery is flat when you come to start it. To get around this, you could use a battery maintainer, however, it shouldn’t be an issue if you drive your vehicle at least once a month.
Compared to conventional car batteries, the Odyssey has around twice the power and three times the lifespan. While it is a little pricey, it means you won’t need to replace it as often as you would with a cheaper battery. Plus, it’s guaranteed to start your car even in freezing conditions.
- Highest CCA of any battery
- 3 to 10-year service life
- Charges extremely fast
- Suitable for frequent short journeys
- Discharges after long periods without use
4. Best Compact Battery: Optima D51 YellowTop Dual Purpose Battery
- Cold Cranking Amps: 450
- Reserve Capacity (in minutes): 66
- Group Size: 51
Size doesn’t matter – or does it? If you have a small car with minimal space, a large battery won’t be suitable. You’ll have problems trying to fit it, and it’ll probably be overkill for your needs anyway. That’s where this Optima D51 YellowTop battery comes in.
It’s very compact and light, weighing just 26 pounds. It should fit without an issue in most small cars as it can be mounted in any position thanks to its leak-proof design.
The YellowTop has been designed for cars with high drain electronics or vehicles without alternators, such as racing vehicles, allowing them to start and run for around an hour without being charged. If your car doesn’t have high drain electronics and it has a functioning alternator, we’d suggest buying the larger Optima RedTop Starting Battery.
While the lower CCA and RC ratings shouldn’t be an issue for small gasoline cars, it probably won’t be powerful enough to start larger cars or diesel engines, especially in the cold. If you have a large car with high drain electronics, take a look at the bigger and more powerful Optima DH6 YellowTop Dual Purpose Battery. It’s pretty much the same as this battery, just more powerful and bigger in size.
- Light at just 26 pounds
- Suitable for cars with high drain electronics
- Can be mounted in any position
- Compact design
- Low CCA and RC ratings
- Only suitable for small cars
5. Best for Small Vehicles: Odyssey PC680 Battery
- Cold Cranking Amps: 177
- Reserve Capacity (in minutes): 24
- Group Size: 26
We’ll be honest: this battery doesn’t have enough cold cranking amps to start most cars, not even small ones. However, it’s ideal for use in other small vehicles like motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. It’s tiny and weighs only 15 pounds, which explains why it’s much less powerful than the other batteries on our list.
For extreme cold temperatures, this battery may not be powerful enough, even for small vehicles. It won’t struggle in relatively cold temperatures. However, if you live somewhere that’s absolutely freezing, then the Optima D51 YellowTop is a more suitable option as it has a much higher CCA rating while remaining compact and light.
This battery comes fully charged from the factory, so you can fit it and get going straight away. It also comes with L terminal adapters, so there’s no need to purchase any if they’re needed. Compared to other batteries of its size, this Odyssey battery provides more power and reserve capacity due to its greater plate surface area.
- Super light at just 15 pounds
- Comes with L terminal adapters
- Fully charged from the factory
- Only suitable for small vehicles
6. Best for High Drain Electronics: Optima DH6 YellowTop Dual Purpose AGM Battery
- Cold Cranking Amps: 800
- Reserve Capacity (in minutes): 140
- Group Size: 48/H6
The Optima DH6 YellowTop is the bigger, more powerful version of the Optima D51 YellowTop. It has a higher CCA rating and significantly more reserve capacity. In fact, it has the highest reserve capacity of any battery in our list, only matched by the equally powerful but slightly cheaper Delphi MaxStart Battery.
This battery has been designed for use in cars with high drain electronics. If your car has an aftermarket sound system, entertainment system, or some other power-hungry device, this is the battery for you. It has been designed to handle these additional power drains, so starting your car will be no issue, even in freezing temperatures.
While it is rated at an impressive 800 CCA, this battery is likely underrated and closer to 1000 CCA, which is more powerful than expected. This battery will start your car much faster than a traditional battery, even more so when it’s chilly.
The DH6 YellowTop has a solid design, which makes it pretty heavy and very secure when fitted. This means there’s minimal movement and a fair amount of vibration resistance. Being a larger battery, it may not fit some cars, so it’s best to double-check if it’ll fit yours.
We like the fact that the terminals have protection to prevent sparks. Sparks coming off a battery always cause a brief moment of panic (at least for us).
As with some of the other batteries on our list, this car battery will need charging once it arrives as it doesn’t come fully charged. It is an Optima battery, though, so you know it’s a high-quality battery that’s designed to last for many years.
- Designed for vehicles with high drain electronics
- Impressive reserve capacity
- Higher CCA than advertised
- Solid design that doesn’t move about
- Doesn’t come fully charged
- Large size may not fit some vehicles
7. Best OEM Replacement for American-Made Cars: Delphi MaxStart AGM Battery
- Cold Cranking Amps: 800
- Reserve Capacity (in minutes): 140
- Group Size: 94R
The Delphi MaxStart is a great choice for people who want a battery that just fits without any messing about. It’s an OEM fit for most cars, so you can simply remove your old battery and directly replace it with this – no adjustment is needed.
Performance-wise this battery keeps up with the big boys. It’ll start most cars the first time with no issues in cold environments. And, thanks to its 140-minute reserve capacity, you can sit in your car listening to music, engine off, without having to worry about killing the battery.
We like that it’s made in the USA and we like that it comes fully charged from the factory – no need for a battery charger. While it’s perfect for cold climates, this battery also performs well in hot climates too. This might be beneficial for people who regularly travel between different states where the temperature varies significantly.
The only thing to watch out for with the Delphi MaxStart is that the polarity is reversed. That means the terminals are on the opposite ends compared to regular batteries. While this isn’t a major issue, especially as the polarity is clearly marked, it’s something to note. You don’t want to accidentally connect the polarity the wrong way, as it can damage the battery.
- Made in the USA
- Fully charged from the factory
- Designed for both hot and cold climates
- OEM fit for most cars
- Terminal polarity is reversed
Everything You Need to Know About Car Batteries for Cold Weather
You may be wondering whether you need a car battery for cold weather or just a regular battery. If you live in a cold climate or know that your battery can’t handle the cold, then the choice may be obvious.
In this section, we’ll run through the benefits of cold-weather car batteries and take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to car batteries for cold weather.
Benefits of Specialty Car Batteries in Cold Weather
There are several benefits to using a car battery that has been designed for cold weather over a regular everyday battery. Below are the top 3 benefits.
- Faster engine starts. Car batteries designed for cold weather deliver a high amount of current in a five-second burst. This burst of power allows the engine to start quickly, even in freezing cold temperatures.
- Reliable performance. No matter how cold it is outside, a cold-weather battery will start your car straight away; no hassle, no drama. This is because the batteries have been engineered to cope with sub-zero temperatures, unlike regular batteries. No more turning the ignition and praying!
- Better (dis)charging rates. Regular batteries have a much lower capacity in cold weather due to the slowing of chemical reactions within the battery. This is bad for both the battery’s performance and reliability. This isn’t an issue with cold weather batteries as they use different chemistry, which means they have better charging and discharging rates.
When Does Reserve Capacity Matter?
We briefly looked at reserve capacity at the beginning of this guide. We mentioned that it isn’t as important as the cold-cranking amps, and while that is generally true, we want to explain when it does matter.
When you start your car, the battery powers all of the electronics and the starter motor. This is what allows your car to start up. Once the engine is running, the alternator takes over to provide the car with electricity. It also recharges the battery.
Reserve capacity matters a lot in cars with lots of aftermarket electronics. That’s things like sound systems, DVD players, and aftermarket head units. These devices use a lot of power and can quickly drain a battery when the engine isn’t running. With a high reserve capacity car battery, you can sit listening to music with the engine off for extended periods of time.
How to Maintain Your Battery During Cold Weather
There are a few things you can do to maintain your battery during cold weather. Whether or not you should do them will depend on several factors, which we’ll look at below.
If you regularly drive your car a reasonable distance at least once per week, you needn’t do anything. While starting your car will drain some of the battery’s power, the alternator will recharge the battery if you run the engine for long enough. Some batteries recharge quicker than others (for example, the Odyssey 34R), which is better for people who make shorter trips where the alternator doesn’t have much time to recharge the battery.
If you don’t drive your car regularly, you may want to disconnect the battery and keep it charged using a battery maintainer or trickle charger. A battery maintainer will ensure the battery stays topped up when it’s not in use. Most maintainers these days are fully automatic, so you can put it on charge and leave it to do its thing. All batteries will discharge over time when left unused, so this is a good idea if you’re not using your car very often.
Make sure nothing is left on in your car, especially if you have aftermarket electronics. Leaving a power-draining device running, like a dashcam or display, can quickly zap the power from your battery.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Do Car Batteries Last?
A typical car battery can last for anywhere from 3 to 10 years, and sometimes even longer. This all depends on various factors, such as the type of battery, how often it’s used, and more.
When Should I Replace My Car Battery?
If you notice any leaks or nasty smells coming from the battery, it’s time to replace it – pronto. You may also want to replace the battery if it no longer holds its charge or if it no longer starts your car after several attempts.
Which Brand of Car Battery is the Best for Cold Weather?
Optima batteries are some of the best car batteries out there. Odyssey also produces very high-quality car batteries for cold weather too.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to buying a car battery for cold weather. You don’t need to suffer with a car that won’t start just because it’s cold outside.
By replacing your standard car battery with one that’s designed for the cold, you can rest easy knowing your car will start the first time. That means no drama and no expensive trips to the mechanic.