One thing every powersports vehicle will eventually need is a new battery – but how do you know if the battery you’re buying is the right one for your vehicle? One way is a unit of measurement called “cold cranking amps,” or CCAs, which manufacturers use to rate the starting power of a battery. We explain how it works and what it means here.
CCAs are a commonly used term in the world of powersports batteries, and if you’ve ever shopped for a battery for an automobile, motorcycle, or other vehicle, you’ve probably encountered it before. But do you know what it means, or more importantly, what its relevance is to you and your vehicle? In this article, we’ll explain what they are, and how you can use this knowledge to make sure you are getting the right battery for you.
First, the most basic explanation: CCA is simply an initialism for the term “cold cranking amps,” and it is a figure that is used to indicate the power that a starting battery has to crank an engine to life. Starting batteries for vehicles are known as SLI batteries, which stands for “starter, lights, and ignition,” and as the term would imply, their primary purpose is to start a vehicle, along with running it’s lights and ignition system. SLI batteries need to be to able to provide short bursts of high power in order to kick an engine to life (as opposed to other types of batteries that power devices or accessories for long periods of time), and a CCA figure is the industry standard way to represent that cranking ability. This is an oversimplification (as you’ll see in a bit) but at it’s most basic, CCA figures are like a “horsepower number” for a starting battery.
Specifically, “cold cranking amps” is determined in this way: the number of amps (which measure current) that a 12-volt battery can deliver for 30 seconds while maintaining a voltage of at least 7.2 volts at a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s the technical definition, but now let’s unpack that formula a bit. First, you’ll notice the 30 second timeframe and zero-degree temperature that are part of the standard. That’s because CCAs originally come from the automotive world, from back in the days before fuel-injection was standard. Carbureted engines took longer and were more difficult to start than modern fuel injected engines – and all engines are more difficult to start in cold weather – so CCAs came about as a way to reassure buyers that a battery would have ample power to start a vehicle in those demanding conditions. For those with hard-to-start vehicles, like high-compression diesel engines, who live in cold climates, knowing that a battery has the right amount of cold cranking amps is crucial.
However, there are also some quirks about the CCA definition to know about, especially for riders of motorcycles or other powersports vehicles, that make the CCA figure a little less relevant to us. First, you’ll notice that the 30 second figure is quite long – that made sense in the days of carbureted engines, but today’s fuel-injected vehicles are much easier to start and rarely need more than a burst of power that lasts a few seconds. In addition, the zero-degree temperature is probably not as important to most powersports vehicle riders, since most don’t ride in sub-zero temperatures. Finally, the 7.2 volt minimum figure is an oddity of the CCA standard – when voltage drops that low, you won’t be able to start a vehicle with it anyway!
In some ways, the standard for CCAs is more of a marketing concept than a technical form of measurement for a battery’s output – it was started by the battery industry itself, and has stuck around in the mind of consumers for decades. Nevertheless, CCAs have now become the industry standard for measuring a battery’s starting power, and the term’s usefulness is in providing an apples-to-apples comparison when shopping for batteries.
However, as we mentioned in the beginning of the article, while CCAs are a bit like a “horsepower figure” for a battery, that is not the only important figure to pay attention to when shopping for a battery, just as horsepower isn’t the only important figure to pay attention to when shopping for a vehicle – you may, for example, have a sports car and a diesel truck that both put out 350 horsepower, yet have dramatically different torque figures and power curves, and are used for very different purposes.
So when shopping for a battery, while CCAs are a good proxy for starting power, that’s not the only figure that you should pay attention to on a battery. You should also look at amp-hours, which we list along with CCAs for every battery we sell, which gives you an indication of how much total energy a battery is capable of storing. Amp-hours plus CCAs will give you a better overall picture of the battery you’re buying and how it will perform in real world use.
In addition, modern battery technology gives you the option of different forms of battery chemistry, such as advanced variations of lead-acid batteries like AGM (absorbed glass mat) and lithium-iron batteries, that have additional features besides just a certain level of starting power and energy storage capacity. These batteries have safer construction since they are built without the use of flooded cells, last longer, have better warranties, and can cycle deeper than traditional lead-acid batteries – and in the case of lithium-iron batteries, they are much lighter too. (For more information on the pros and cons of each type of battery, check our our Motorcycle Battery Crash Course below!)
So as you can see, what makes a battery is much more than just a CCA number! So make sure to look at all these features, in addition to CCAs, when getting ready to invest in your next battery, to make sure you will get one that will perform for you, start after start, year after year, in the way that is best for you.