How Tos / Tech

Basic Maintenance Series: How to Properly Maintain Your Battery

Editor’s Note: This guest post is courtesy of the Car Care Council, which is dedicated to educating vehicle owners about the benefits of regular vehicle maintenance through its “Be Car Care Aware” program.

A battery check today can keep the tow truck away, says the Car Care Council, as it advises vehicle owners to have their battery tested and replaced if necessary this fall to avoid being stranded this winter.

Sooner or later all batteries have to be replaced, and excessive heat and overcharging are the two main reasons for shortened battery life. Heat causes battery fluid to evaporate, thus damaging the internal structure of the battery. A malfunctioning component in the charging system, usually the voltage regulator, allows too high of a charging rate, leading to slow death for a battery. Colder temperatures increase the thickness of the engine oil, making the engine harder to turn over and the battery work harder, leading to harder starting.

To get the most life out of a battery, the Car Care Council suggests the following:

  • Be sure the electrical system is charging at the correct rate; overcharging can damage a battery as quickly as undercharging.
  • If your battery is the type that needs to be topped off, check it regularly, especially in hot weather. Add distilled water when necessary.
  • Always replace a battery with one that’s rated at least as high as the one originally specified.
  • Keep the top of the battery clean. Dirt becomes a conductor, which drains battery power. Further, as corrosion accumulates on battery terminals it becomes an insulator, inhibiting current flow. If there are encrusted deposits on the battery, carefully clean the terminals with a wire brush dipped in baking soda and water.
  • Check that the battery cable ends are securely attached to the terminals. A loose cable end can cause a car not to start and mimics the symptoms of a dead battery. Be extremely careful when disconnecting the battery cables from the brackets. If you do need to disconnect the battery, remove the negative terminal first, then the positive.
  • Make sure the battery brackets are tight. A loose battery can be knocked around while driving, causing the life of the battery to be shortened dramatically.

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