Extreme conditions in either direction, extremely hot or extremely cold, are never a good thing for your vehicle’s battery. On those days when the temperature reaches ridiculous heights or absurd lows, there are automotive battery manufacturers everywhere popping champagne corks. These conditions put an added strain on your car’s battery, and if it’s already put in a few years of work it could be getting ready to kick the bucket as we speak (knock wood). It’s not that car owners fear the cost of a new battery; many good batteries can be had for the price of a couple fill-ups at the gas pump. It’s the thought of being stranded somewhere with a dead car that is so unappealing. For this reason, it’s always better to be safe than sorry; have your battery tested regularly (once every three-to-six months or so is regular in terms of battery life) if it is more than three years old. If it shows as weak or having any dead cells, you may want to catch this breakdown before it happens and buy a new one. For those who are new to the automotive or battery-buying world, here are a few tips to help you with your purchase.

There are two types of batteries: low-maintenance and maintenance-free. Most people will want to go maintenance-free here. The only real difference is that one is sealed (maintenance-free) while the other is unsealed. People in hotter climates may prefer low-maintenance for the convenience of being able to add battery acid when it gets low. Aside from that, the less hassle the better.

The main spec you need to know about is called the battery’s cranking amps. This is basically the amount of power the battery has to be able to start your vehicle. Every battery will have two ratings for this category: cranking amps (CA) and cold cranking amps (CCA). Cranking amps are the amount of power at normal temperatures, while cold cranking are the amount of power the battery sustains in cold temperatures. It represents the amount of amps your battery will produce at 0º F for 30 seconds. Your vehicle requires a certain amount of cranking amps in both conditions. You should be able to find the amount your vehicle requires in your owner’s manual or from your local dealership. It’s always a good idea to get a battery that exceeds the recommended cranking amps, especially if you live in non-temperate climates which can put a serious strain on your battery. The colder an engine is, the harder the battery has to work to start it. The more cranking amps, the better.

Another rating you should pay attention to is called reserve capacity. Your alternator is actually what provides the power to your vehicle when it’s running. If your alternator fails, the vehicle will run off of the battery’s power until it depletes below 10.5 amps. A fully charged battery runs at 25 amps. The reserve capacity is the estimation of the number of minutes your vehicle will run only off the battery should the alternator or serpentine belt fail. Basically, you want a high reserve capacity.

Something else you may notice if you’re going to purchase a new battery is the group size. Each battery will be labeled with a number called its group size. This simply refers to the outer dimensions of the battery and what vehicles it will fit into. If you get some help from a store professional wherever you go to purchase your car battery, you shouldn’t need to worry about the group size. He/she should be able to look up the battery size that fits your vehicle, and give you some choices of options.

Some little things to remember before your purchase:

1.) Never purchase a battery that has been at the store for more than six months. You can always tell a battery’s age by the two-character label affixed somewhere to the battery. It will consist of a letter and a number, usually separated by a dash. The letter represents the month the battery was produced. For instance, “A” is January, “B” is February, etc. The number is the last number of the year it was produced;“9” would be 2009, “0” is 2010, etc.

2.) Avoid buying batteries from places who don’t sell a lot of them, since the stock isn’t rotated nearly enough. All batteries will eventually deplete their charge over time.

3.) When considering a battery, OEM or aftermarket is one of the most-asked questions. Does it matter? Yes. An OEM battery is going to provide the same amplitude and power that originally came with the vehicle. They are typically not of a better quality, just better fitting. There are several aftermarket brands that are better, more powerful, and cheaper than your OEM choice.