It can be incredibly frustrating when you go to start your truck and the battery is dead. A truck that won’t start leaves you stranded and scrambling to figure out what’s wrong. Often, the culprit is a battery that is no longer holding a charge. But why is your truck battery not charging in the first place? There are several common causes to be aware of. Read on to learn more about diagnosing and solving a truck battery that won’t charge.
How Does a Truck Battery Work?
Before diving into the reasons your truck battery may not be charging properly, it helps to understand how a lead-acid battery works in the first place.
The battery contains lead plates immersed in an electrolyte solution of sulfuric acid and water. When the battery discharges, lead sulfate forms on the plates. When the alternator charges the battery, the lead sulfate returns to lead on the plates and sulfuric acid in the electrolyte. This process is called sulfation.
As a battery ages, some of the sulfate becomes permanent and accumulates on the plates rather than returning to sulfuric acid. This buildup causes the plates to gradually lose capacity for holding a charge. Eventually, the battery will die.
So in order for the battery to continue charging properly, the chemical process must be completing full cycles each time. If that cycle is interrupted at any point, battery issues start to occur.
What Causes a Truck Battery to Stop Charging?
There are four main reasons why your truck battery may no longer be charging:
a. Faulty Alternator
The alternator is responsible for charging the battery while the vehicle is running. It outputs voltage to the battery by spinning a rotor inside a stator. This creates an alternating electromagnetic current that charges the battery.
If the alternator is not working correctly, the battery will slowly drain as you drive instead of recharging. Some common alternator problems include:
- Bad diodes – Diodes convert AC voltage to DC for charging. If they fail, charging ability decreases.
- Worn brushes – Brushes connect the rotating rotor to the voltage regulator. Worn brushes prevent proper contact.
- Bearing failure – Bearings allow the rotor to spin freely. If they fail, the rotor may lock up.
- Slipping belt – Power is transmitted from the engine to the alternator via a serpentine belt. A loose or worn belt will cause it to slip, resulting in insufficient charging.
b. Faulty Battery
An old battery that is no longer capable of holding a full charge is the most straightforward reason your truck won’t start. As batteries age and sulfur buildup increases on the lead plates, their capacity for holding a charge diminishes. An average lead-acid battery generally lasts 3-5 years. Heat is an enemy of batteries and will shorten their lifespan.
Signs that your truck battery is worn out and can no longer receive a charge include needing a jump start to turn over the engine, the battery not lasting as long between charges, visible corrosion on the terminals, and sluggish electrical performance. Checking the battery’s charge with a voltmeter can confirm if it is still holding voltage.
c. Electrical System Drain
If your battery is constantly running down despite the alternator working properly, there is likely a drain on the electrical system. Something is continuing to draw power when the vehicle is off. This steadily drains the battery.
Some common sources of electrical drains include:
- Interior lights being left on
- Short circuit in wiring
- Malfunctioning component like a door switch or trunk light
- Installed aftermarket accessories
Using a multimeter and performing a parasitic draw test will help you determine if there is an unwanted draw on the battery and how much current is being drained. This can isolate the faulty system.
As explained previously, lead sulfate naturally forms on the battery plates during use. During charging, this sulfate should convert back to lead and sulfuric acid. But over time, some sulfate remains permanently on the plates rather than converting. This hard sulfate buildup is called sulfation.
Sulfation reduces the battery’s capacity to hold a charge. It forms more quickly if the battery remains discharged for extended periods. Fully recharging the battery after each use will help reduce sulfation. But it can still build up over time and is a natural part of a battery’s aging process.
Deep cycle batteries, like those used on trucks for auxiliary power, are particularly prone to sulfation because they discharge greater than 50% with each use. The sulfation eventually causes the battery to die and fail to accept a charge.
Solutions for a Truck Battery That Won’t Charge
Now that you know the likely culprits of a truck battery that won’t charge, here are solutions to get your truck starting again:
1. Test the Alternator
Start diagnosis by visually inspecting the serpentine belt for any cracking or glazing. If the belt seems loose, tighten it to the proper tension. Turn on the headlights and rev the engine. If the lights dim, this indicates a problem with the charging system.
Use a voltmeter to test voltage at the battery terminals with the engine off and running. Turn off all accessories. With the engine off, you should get a reading around 12.6 volts. With the engine running at 1,500 RPM, the reading should be 13.7-14.7 volts if the alternator is working properly.
If voltage is low, take your truck to an auto parts store or shop to have the alternator tested. They can diagnose issues with the diodes, stator windings, brushes, bearings and more. Replace the alternator if it is determined to be faulty.
2. Load Test the Battery
You’ll want to load test the battery to determine if it is still holding a charge or needs replacement. Many auto parts stores offer free battery testing. You can also purchase a load tester that applies a small drain to the battery while measuring voltage.
Check the voltage without a load, then test it under a load. If voltage drops below 9.6 volts when a load is applied, the battery is likely bad and can no longer hold a full charge.
Replace it with a new battery of the same group size and cold cranking amps (CCA) rating as your old one. Be sure to check that the new battery fits properly in the tray and terminals line up correctly.
3. Check for Parasitic Drains
If both the alternator and battery check out fine, a parasitic drain is likely causing the battery to die. Turn off all accessories such as lights, radio and phone chargers. Then use a multimeter to test parasite draw.
Attach the red probe to the positive battery terminal and the black probe to the negative terminal. Set the multimeter to read DC milliamps. Parasitic draw should be under 50 milliamps in a modern vehicle. If draw is heavier, start pulling fuses one by one until the draw drops below 50mA. This locates the circuit with the issue.
Common culprits include dome lights, trunk lights, electric seats, power windows and other accessories. The specific faulty component on that circuit will need to be found. Replace as needed to resolve the excessive current drain.
4. Clean Corroded Battery Terminals
While corroded battery terminals won’t directly cause your truck battery to stop charging, they can interrupt the charging process. Corrosion causes resistance on the terminals, which limits electrical current flow.
Clean corroded terminals using a wire brush or baking soda and water solution. Tighten the cable connections with a wrench. Apply dielectric grease to the posts and connections to prevent new corrosion.
5. Try Charging the Battery
Attempting to charge a battery that is no longer accepting a charge won’t bring it back to life. But if the battery still has some capacity and is just deeply discharged, charging it may help. Use a battery charger to try recharging the battery overnight and testing voltage again in the morning.
Some chargers have a battery recovery mode that applies gentle voltage pulses to breakdown sulfation. This could help prolong battery life a bit longer before replacement is required.
Perform Regular Vehicle Maintenance
The best way to prevent headaches from a truck battery that won’t charge is by staying on top of regular maintenance:
- Inspect the serpentine belt frequently and replace at signs of wear. Ensure it remains tightened properly.
- Check battery terminal connections are secure to allow proper charging.
- Keep the battery posts and cables clean.
- Have the charging system tested during routine service checks.
- Use a voltmeter to periodically check the resting and running voltage.
- Don’t let the battery remain discharged for long periods.
- Consider replacing the battery proactively every 3-5 years.
Performing preventative maintenance will help catch underlying charging issues before the truck battery leaves you stranded. Be alert to any signs of sluggish starting or electrical problems.
When to Call a Professional Mechanic
In some cases, troubleshooting your truck battery and charging system is a DIY job. But if you don’t have automotive knowledge or the right tools, it’s safest to have a professional mechanic diagnose the specific issue. Warning signs it’s time to take your truck to the pros include:
- You’ve tested system components but can’t pinpoint the problem.
- The truck requires frequent jump starts.
- Electrical issues are getting worse.
- The battery is over 5 years old.
- You don’t have time or knowledge for extensive troubleshooting.
Relying on a skilled mechanic to assess your charging system can save you time, money and frustration compared to guessing at potential causes and solutions. They have the expertise and equipment to isolate faults and make spot-on repairs.
Get Back on The Road With a Fully Charged Truck Battery
Nothing slows you down like a dead truck battery when you need to hit the road. But armed with some fundamental charging system knowledge and troubleshooting techniques, you can determine why your truck battery keeps dying and resolve it. Rule out alternator problems, parasitic drains, sulfation, and more. Or entrust professional technicians to diagnose and fix the issue promptly. Keep your truck battery charging properly so your travels never get interrupted by a no-start situation.