Can a Car Battery Die While Driving?

It’s always a good idea to be prepared for the worst, but generally, it’s assumed that your car battery won’t ever go out while you’re driving. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case – especially if you have an older car battery. But can a car battery die while driving?

Quick Answer: Yes, an old or worn car battery can die while driving or even shortly after starting your vehicle. But while it is possible, chances are small that it is the battery causing it. Instead, it’s more likely to be a malfunction in the charging system, electrical components, or an issue with the fuel supply.

In this article, we’ll explore the question, “can a car battery die while driving?” and provide some helpful tips so that you know what to do in such a situation. 

Why Would a Car Battery Die While Driving?

The most common causes for a car battery to die while driving is an old, worn-out battery, problems with the alternator, or lack of use. Short trips don’t give the alternator enough time to charge the battery, leading to failure. However, many times it could also be loose battery cables or corroded terminals.

So while you may think it’s the battery, chances are it’s not. So before taking any harsh decisions, let’s take a look at a more detailed list of things that could cause your car to die while driving

1. Faulty Battery 

A faulty battery’s inability to supply enough power to the engine can be attributed to several factors. Age is one of the biggest culprits – an old or worn-out battery will struggle to hold a charge, leading to starting issues and even complete failure to start over time. 

But it doesn’t have to be the battery itself. In fact, you’ll first want to check for loose battery cables or corroded terminals causing bad connection. If so, simply tighten the clamps or clean the corrosion off and you’re probably good to go.

Other indications of a faulty battery include:

  • A weak engine crank.
  • Dim lights when the car is on.
  • An increased frequency of jump starts.

2. Alternator Problems 

An alternator that is faulty or worn out can cause a strain on the vehicle’s electrical system. Common signs of a malfunctioning alternator are dim headlights, slow engine cranking, and starting issues. 

In worst-case scenarios, it can lead to a complete loss of power as the battery won’t receive enough charge from the alternator to start up the engine.

Other signs of a failing alternator:

3. Empty Fuel Tank 

Running out of fuel is one of the most common reasons a car won’t start, and it has nothing to do with battery strength. As you know, if your fuel tank is empty, your engine won’t be able to create enough combustion pressure to generate power. This means that no matter how powerful your battery is, it won’t be able to start the vehicle.

So if your fuel level gauge is at the bottom, this could very much be the problem. Make sure always to check your fuel levels before setting off on a long journey!

4. Faulty Fuel Pump 

Even if you know there’s fuel in the tank, it could still be problem related to fuel. But not because its out, but because it doesn’t reach the engine due to a faulty fuel pump.

A fuel pumps job is to transfer the gasoline, diesel or other fuel from the tank to the engine. If it malfunctions, the engine won’t receive enough fuel and will stop running. 

Suppose you believe your vehicle’s fuel pump is not functioning correctly. In that case, it’s best to get it checked out by a professional mechanic.

PRO TIP: Most fuel pumps are located inside the fuel tank. Try giving it a kick with your foot or similar and see if the car starts then. If it does, you most likely have a problem with your fuel pump.

Other signs of a failing fuel pump are:

  • Noises from the fuel tank
  • Poor and sluggish acceleration
  • Rough idling
  • Stalling between shifts

5. Ignition Switch Issues 

Another possibility that has nothing to do with the battery is the ignition switch. And even though it’s not the first fault to be suspected, a worn-out ignition switch can cause a car to die while driving in several ways. 

First, the switch can become worn over time, leading to an inefficient connection between the battery and starter motor that causes the car to suddenly die when you put it in gear. 

Additionally, the switch may become jammed or rusted with dirt and grime, causing it to lose its ability to properly communicate with other key electrical components within the vehicle.

Besides stalling, other signs of a bad ignition switch are:

  • Car cranks but won’t start
  • Key won’t turn in keyhole
  • Car doesn’t start at all
  • In rare cases, flickering dashboard lights

6. Malfunctioning Sensors

Modern cars are complex machines filled with a vast array of sensors that allow the car to monitor and adjust its performance. When one or more of these sensors fail, it can cause the car to suddenly die out while driving. 

Malfunctioning sensors can result in an insufficient supply of fuel, air, or spark; all essential ingredients for a car’s engine to run properly. Not receiving enough of any one of these will cause the engine to shut down before causing significant damage. 

Not all sensors can cause your car to die though, but one of these that can is the crankshaft positions sensor. However, the best way to find out is to check for trouble codes.

A few signs of a faulty crankshaft positions sensor:

  • Issues starting
  • Intermittent stalling
  • Check engine light
  • Misfires, rough idle, or vibrations
  • Uneven acceleration and reduced gas mileage

A reliable mechanic should be able to diagnose and address any malfunctioning sensors in your vehicle.

What To Do If Your Car Battery Dies While Driving 

If your car battery dies while driving, it can be a scary experience, no matter the reason. But besides testing our 5 dead car battery tricks. Here’s what you should do:

1. Pull Over Safely 

First, it’s important to pull over safely as soon as possible. While it’s not easy if your car dies, trying to find a safe spot to stop will ensure that you don’t put yourself or others in danger.

2. Try Restarting Your Car 

After pulling over, try restarting your car. It’s possible that the battery may have just died momentarily and can easily be restarted with a few tries of the key.

3. Turn on Emergency Lights 

If starting your car doesn’t work, turn on your emergency lights for safety. This will signal to other drivers that you may need help or assistance on the road, and it also indicates that you are not moving and are able to receive help if needed.

4. Call for Tow Truck

Finally, if all else fails, it’s time to call a tow truck! A tow truck driver can take care of getting your car and its dead battery off the road until it can be fixed or replaced by a mechanic or technician. 

Knowing what to do in an emergency situation like this can save you time and keep you safe from further danger.

How Do I Know When My Car Needs a New Battery?

It can be difficult to know when your car needs a new battery as the signs of a bad battery vs alternator can be subtle. Here are common signs indicate that you might need a new battery:

Slow Cranking or Dimmed Lights

The first sign that it’s time to change the battery is that the engine starts slowly, and the headlights or the dashboard lights are dimmed. You may not notice this so much if temperatures are moderate, but as temperatures start to drop, these signs become more apparent.

Clicking Sound

Additionally when the battery is close to failing, you may hear a clicking sound when you turn the key in the ignition. This could mean your starter has trouble drawing enough power from the battery to start the engine.

Battery Age

Finally, it’s important to check how old your battery is. Most last between 3-5 years, but this depends on use and maintenance – so it might be time for a replacement even if none of these symptoms appear.

How to Test the Battery’s Condition

To ensure that it’s the battery causing the problem, testing both the battery and output of the alternator is a good way to find out. Here’s how to do it:

Testing the Battery

Test the battery first. To do this, you’ll need a digital multimeter.

To test your battery, start by ensuring the vehicle is not running and all accessories are off, then locate the positive and negative terminals.

Connect a multimeter to the battery’s terminals, turn it on, set it to DC Volts, and take a voltage reading; this should be between 12.5 – 12.8 volts. This indicates that you either have to recharge or replace the battery.

Depending on the results of the test, and before taking any harsh decisions on replacing the battery you can try to recharge the battery. This will also allow you to test the alternator.

Learn More: Which Battery Cable to Connect First? (Correct Order & Why)

Testing the Alternator

Next, you’ll want to test the alternator by measuring its output voltage.

To test the alternator, make sure your engine is off and then attach your meter leads to the battery terminals. The battery voltage should be between 12.2 and 12.8. If it’s below that, you need to either recharge or replace the battery before you conduct the test again.

If the readings are okey, proceed by starting the engine and check the readings again. The multimeter or voltmeter should now give you reading between 13.8 and 14.5. If it does, this indicates that your alternator is working properly and it isn’t responsible for any issues with electrical output in your vehicle.

Anything lower than 13 volts could indicate a bad alternator since it’s unable to provide enough charge to power electrical systems in your car correctly.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Can a Car Run Without a Battery?

Unfortunately, a car cannot run without its battery. The battery is an essential component in the electrical system of the car, working in conjunction with the alternator to provide power to all the components that allow it to start and stay running. Without the battery, the car won’t be able to stay running for long.

Can A Car Battery Just Die Without Warning?  

Yes, a car battery can die without warning. Heat, age, vibration, and lack of usage can all cause a battery to fail suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s important for car owners to have their batteries tested regularly to ensure long-term reliability.

How Can You Tell If It’s The Battery or Alternator?

To tell if it’s the battery or alternator, you either want to test the outputs with a multimeter or perform a visual test by turning on the headlights; if they are significantly dimmer than normal or flickering, it’s likely the alternator. However, it’s always best to test them both to make sure.

Do Alternators Go Out Suddenly?

Alternators can go out suddenly, though oftentimes, the vehicle’s electrical system will start acting erratically before the alternator fails and needs to be replaced. This may include the dimming of lights and flickering displays or a very noticeable decrease in engine power.

Final Thoughts

A car battery can die while driving, but it’s a much less common occurrence than many people think. But if your car dies due to the battery and if your battery starts adding up years, it may be time to replace it.

If you think your battery died while driving and the car won’t start, but lights still comes on, make sure to read our article about that issue here.

Keeping tabs on your car’s battery health and following basic maintenance guidelines can help reduce the chances of this happening. Driving is only one part of the ownership experience, and taking proper care will go a long way in making sure you stay safe, and your vehicle remains reliable!

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Rickard Cefalk

Rickard is the owner of and a dedicated and avid do-it-yourselfer who has always enjoyed working on his own vehicles since childhood. He now devotes his time to sharing his expert knowledge of car maintenance and other car-related information through his website.

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