What Does Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) Mean On A Car Battery?

CCA rating must be higher if you drive a car in cold weather.

What does CCA mean on a battery? To the people in the battery industry, CCA is a piece of common knowledge. But, to many of the car owners who don’t know much about the working of a battery, the term is shrouded with mystery. This was true in my case. It was not until I needed to replace my car battery did I fully understand what CCA means.

What does CCA stand for and what does it mean? CCA stands for Cold Cranking Amps. It is a battery industry rating used to determine the ability of the battery to start or crank up an engine when the weather is cold. Specifically, it refers to the amps that can be delivered by a 12-volt battery for 30 seconds at 0°F or -18ºC and at the same time maintain a minimum voltage of 7.2 volts.

In general, it is more effortless to start an engine when the weather is warmer rather than when it is cold. That is why you need more battery starting power in a colder climate. A high CCA means the battery has stronger starting power.

For vehicles with more electricity-hungry accessories, the industry also recommends a car battery with higher CCA since they will need a more powerful battery.

Is CCA Really Important?

In the last several years, the battery industry has extensively used CCA as the criterion for measuring and comparing the performance of batteries. The belief is that the higher the CCA, the more powerful the battery and the longer is its life. As a result, a lot of battery manufacturers have designed their products with extremely high CCAs while sacrificing other more important design aspects.

In generating a higher CCA, manufacturers add more plates into the battery. But this has a downside. In adding more plates, the size and thickness of the materials for separators and plates usually suffer.

This is well and good in places where it gets really cold such as in the US and Europe. But, in Australia, Asia, and Central America, where the climate is more temperate, batteries designed to have high CCA could die an early death because of water loss, constant idling, and vibration.

Of course, CCA is important. However, it is not the best benchmark of performance in countries with a warmer climate. It is the battery industry’s rating in defining a battery’s capability to crank up an engine in places where the temperature can get extremely cold. As such, CCA is more relevant for the European and North American markets.

Check this article on the best car battery for cold weather if you live in a cold climate.

How Much Cold Cranking Amps Is Really Needed To Start A Car?

The cranking power needed to start an engine differs from car to car. It is determined by the size of the engine, temperature, circuit, accessory loads, and the consistency of the engine oil. A four-cylinder engine could require the same cranking power as an eight-cylinder since it may have to crank more quickly to start. These are the considerations taken into account by a battery manufacturer when specifying the CCA of the original battery of a car.

If you are living in an area where it gets really cold, then the CCA rating of the battery should be one of the vital criteria in buying a new car. The starting power of a battery diminishes as it ages. Buying a car with a battery whose CCA or starting power rating is high would give you more assurance of sustained good performance over time.

If you are replacing your car’s battery, it is not necessary for you to buy the same brand as the old battery, but, the replacement battery must have the same CCA rating. The new battery’s CCA should be the same if not higher than that of the original battery.

The rating for the CCA is crucial. It is the estimated amperage that the engine requires when the car battery is subjected to the most severe strain such as starting in an extremely cold condition. If you use a battery with a lower CCA rating than that of the original to start your engine, you might overload it, then you will have a problem.

It is really not imperative to overbuy a battery because of cranking amps that may not even be required. As recommended by manufacturers, a replacement battery should have the same or a higher CCA rating as the original. However, in a lot of instances, purchasing a replacement battery with 300 CCAs more than that of the original is not really needed, but could cost you a lot more.

How To Measure Cold Cranking Amps (CCA)

Measuring a battery’s CCA should give you a good idea of what you can expect from your battery under some of the most adverse conceivable conditions to start a car. Is there an instance when you may have to start your car when the temperature is lower than 0°F or will there be a need to crank your engine for more than 30 seconds? If the answer is yes to both questions, then you really need to have the CCA rating of your battery measured.

However, outside of a car battery manufacturer’s testing laboratory, CCA cannot be measured accurately. It can only be estimated. The CCA of the original equipment (OE) or original battery that comes with the car is indicated in the user’s manual. If after years of usage, you want the battery tested for CCA, there are several devices that you can use.

A battery load tester

A battery load tester is a device used for testing the condition of a battery including the analysis of the CCA capacity of the battery. This information can help you estimate the residual service life of your battery.

To test the CCA capacity of a battery using a load tester, the battery must have at least 70% to 100% state of charge. It is loaded with one half of the CCA as specified by the manufacturer for 15 seconds at a 50º F or 10º C or higher.

Battery rated at 500 CCA should discharge 25A in 15 seconds under said temperature. The battery will pass the test if the voltage remains at 9.6 volts or above. If the temperature is cold the voltage will fall further.

A multimeter

A multimeter is also called a volt-ohm meter. It is a portable tester meant to measure amperage, voltage, resistance, and other ratings or values. It can also detect faults and even complicated diagnostics, and one of its uses is battery testing. Multimeters come in analog and digital designs.

Here’s how to use a multimeter to test CCA

● Connect the probes of the multimeter probes to the battery terminals and crank up the engine. You will need help or an extra hand here since you will have to observe how the reading fluctuates as you crank up the engine.
● The voltage will drop to 10V or thereabouts, but it will be restored to 12V or more.
● The battery passed the CCA if the reading is steady or constant even when the engine is running.

Reserve Capacity

Cold cranking amps or CCA is not the only value needed to gauge if your battery is healthy. Even if a fully charged battery keeps its CCA rating constant, there is still the possibility that it is nearing its death.

One other important car battery value that will tell you how long your battery can retain power is Reserve Capacity or RC. Reserve Capacity determines how long your battery can keep a constant discharge of 25 amperes when the temperature is 80º F before your battery’s voltage drop to 10.5 volts.

A high Reserve Capacity means that the battery can last longer even if the charging system breaks down. However, Reserve Capacity cannot be correlated to Cold Cranking Amps.

Conclusion

After learning the answer to what does CCA mean on a car battery, I have become more conscious of my car battery CCA. Too low CCA means that my car might not be able to start when the weather is very cold. Other than that, I have also learned that if I live in a tropical country, I need not be concerned with car battery CCA. Too high cold cranking amps may even be bad for my battery.

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