Why Have Car Batteries Become So Expensive?

    The short answer is technology comes at a price

    Illustration of a car battery with blingy start around it Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock

    If you’ve had to replace a car battery in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed they’ve become more expensive. Prices for lead-acid batteries have increased over the past decade. What’s the reason for the price hike?

    We reached out to industry group Battery Council International, whose members attribute the rise in the costs for materials, transportation, labor, and recently, the impact of COVID-19. They also said consumers are moving toward more expensive batteries, choosing models that are high up the “good, better, best” spectrum.

    In addition, Bill Nonnamaker, a vice president at major battery manufacturer Stryten Energy, told CR, “Today’s enhanced battery designs generally require more raw material and a longer manufacturing process to achieve the improved performance requirements to power the computerization in today’s vehicles.” 

    Nonnamaker added, “The combination of enhanced batteries required to power today’s vehicles and the rising costs to manufacture batteries are why consumers are seeing higher prices for batteries on the shelf.”    

    We have seen the rise in our annual tests, with the average price steadily increasing and now averaging $156. Part of the reason for this rise, based on our tested models, is a shift toward absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries to handle the demands of modern, electric-intensive cars. These pricey, maintenance-free batteries use a glass mat separator to move the electrolyte solution between the thin battery plates. AGMs are built to better stand up to repeated draining and recharging cycles than traditional lead-acid (aka “flooded”) batteries.

    “In recent years, the industry has experienced a change in battery type,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “Manufacturers have shifted to AGM batteries to satisfy the demands of stop-start technology, electronic safety and convenience features, and additional power outlets. As technology continues to advance, cars need more and more power to operate all of these new features.”

    In Consumer Reports battery ratings, AGM batteries cost 40 to 100 percent more than traditional lead-acid batteries. The top batteries in almost all sizes are in the $200 to $300 range.

    “The good thing is that the added expense for an AGM does bring real benefits to the consumer,” Stockburger adds. But even though AGM batteries can cost twice as much as traditional batteries, they won’t last twice as long.

    Fortunately, there are still some solid-performing lead-acid and AGM batteries that represent a good value. See the best car batteries for the money from our tests.

    This article has been adapted from an episode of Talking Cars.