How Long Do Cordless Drill Batteries Last?

Cordless Drill Batteries

Cordless tool technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Improvements in speed, power, run times and overall performance have gotten to the point where a cordless tool is a legitimately viable alternative to its corded counterpart.

Case in point: My plumbing subcontractor recently switched over all of his crews to 100% cordless. Roughing in the plumbing for a new construction house using all cordless tools- amazing, right?

With so many people jumping on the cordless bandwagon, let’s take a look at the technology behind the power and figure out how long a cordless drill battery will last.    


Li-ion is the New Uproar!

And no, I didn’t stutter. Li-ion is short for lithium-ion and doesn’t have anything to do with animals you might see on your next safari in the Serengeti, or my favorite character in the Wizard of Oz. They are however the type of batteries that have recently become the standard of the industry. You’ll find them in everything from the smartphone in your pocket, to the cordless drill in the shop, and even in the Tesla Model S out in the driveway.     

Lithium-ion batteries are dramatically better than their predecessors, Nickle Cadmium. NiCad batteries were bigger and heavier, would suffer from reduced voltage drops as the stored energy was decreased, and worst of all- the dreaded memory effect. The battery would have a tendency to remember the point where the last charging cycle began and during the next use, the voltage would drop at that point as if it was completely depleted. That’s the reason it was recommended that you always ran a NiCad battery down to nothing before recharging.   

Lithium-ion batteries on the other hand are smaller and lighter, are able to maintain a reasonably consistent voltage during use, and best of all, have none of that pesky memory effect. They require protection circuitry to keep them operating safely and efficiently, so the only real downside to Li-ion batteries is that they cost more than NiCads.


Are Li-ion batteries More Powerful than NiCads?

In terms of power available to operate a cordless drill, an 18-volt Lithium-ion battery is exactly the same as an 18-volt Nickel Cadmium battery. 18 volts is 18 volts after all.

The difference is in how long each battery is able to supply power to the drill. You’ll get significantly longer run times with a Li-ion battery, but to be fair to the NiCad, part of the increased run time is due to the battery and part is due to the advances in tool design. Brushless motors and intelligent circuitry have had a big effect on better performance.


Smart Charging

Most manufacturers are using some form of smart charging, where the charger and battery are able to communicate with each other. The charger can vary the voltage and current based on the current charge level and temperature of the battery. Overload and overheating protection circuitry also greatly extend the life of the battery.


How Long Will They Last?

The average lifespan of a Lithium-ion cordless drill battery is best stated in charging cycles instead of time, and the typical range is 1,000 to 1,200 cycles. What does that mean in terms of years? A pro charging multiple times every day is going to get 3 to 5 years out of a battery before it needs replacing.

The average DIY-er charging only a few times on weekends could easily get 6 or more years. Most of the major manufacturers like DeWalt, Milwaukee, Makita and Rigid warranty their Li-ion batteries for 3 years. For info on choosing the right cordless drill, check out my review of popular models here.  


Steve Wright

Steve Wright is a general contractor who over the last 30 plus years has built hundreds of new homes, ranging from first time affordable homes to multi-million dollar custom homes and everything in between.