NEW YORK CITY — A steady increase in the number of electrical accessories in the average car is shortening battery life. As vehicles are now being designed to operate more systems, they still use the same basic type of 12-volt battery that has been in use for decades. In the past decade or so, cars have evolved from basic transportation to something resembling dens, kitchens, and offices on wheels, with everything from DVD screens, subwoofer sound systems, and mood lighting to built-in refrigerators and cup holders that heat coffee and cool soft drinks. The automotive aftermarket also offers an ever-growing range of gadgets that help multitasking drivers and passengers talk, eat, find their way around, and get their work done on the road.
All these power-sapping accessories — coupled with vehicles' increasingly complex networks of electronic-ignition systems, pollution-control devices, security systems, and display screens — could be helping to drive up the death rate for car batteries. Even parked cars are using more juice than they used to. It isn't that owners are simply forgetting to turn off the headlights, or leaving their cell phones charging overnight. There are many electronic devices in today's vehicles that continue to draw power even after the ignition is turned off.
Electric fans under the hood may run for several minutes after a vehicle is turned off to cool the engine. And navigation, engine-management, and diagnostic systems need power to maintain memory and can slowly discharge a battery to where it cannot easily be recharged simply by running the car.
Sales of replacement batteries — which range from $50 to $200 — jumped 13% to 67.7 million in 2006, compared with 59.9 million a year earlier and an average of about 54 million a year for the previous 10 years, according to data from Industry MR, a research firm in Oak Brook, Ill.
Source: Wall Street Journal