Checking up on your car battery

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Car battery

Just like the rest of your car, your car battery can wear out with age. This is basic stuff that everyone should be able to do, so forgive me if you already know all this (If you do, skip to the video, you might not know this hack).

Make sure your kids know how to do this, and don’t forget to help elderly neighbors with their vehicle preparation for winter.

Check the battery fluid level (you can’t check this if you have a sealed battery). This should be done semi-annually in mild climates and quarterly when your auto will be exposed to torrid summers.  If you do this yourself, use a flat-bladed screwdriver to pry the cover off the top of each cell.  Add distilled water as needed to each opening on the top of your battery to bring the level of sulfuric acid to about 1/2-inch below overflow.  Use a discarded 1/4 or 1/8-cup measure to avoid undue splashing.  Don’t fill to the top or some of the water-acid mixture may come out when you replace the covers.

  1. How to check the water level and add water:

If your battery has removable vent caps then they can be pried off with a flat-head screwdriver. Once removed, you will see individual vent wells. Look down into each individual cell to make sure that the water is covering the lead plates and is at the proper level. Add water to any cells that are low on water. Always use distilled water that is available from a supermarket to fill the battery in order to prevent chemicals from contaminating the battery.

  1. How to determine the proper water level:

Ideally, the water level should be no higher than just below or to the bottom of the tubes (in a 12-volt battery there are 6 tubes) that go down into the battery.  To avoid damage to the battery, make sure the fluid level never drops below the tops of the lead plates in each of the cells.  Also, avoid adding too much water, which may result in acid overflow and damage around the battery.

If you pay for oil changes instead of doing them yourself, ask for the battery fluid to be checked (they may normally omit this from their fluid checks).  If you check your battery at home, it is better not to do this on your nice concrete garage floor or driveway due to the possibilities of acid staining and etching.  Also, protect exposed skin by wearing an old, long sleeve shirt and glasses when working with an auto battery.

After a long, cold spell, you may find that your car battery has died without warning. To charge a dead battery yourself, you will need jumper cables and another car with a fully charged battery. Before you jump-start your car, make sure your battery is not cracked or leaking. (If it is leaking battery acid, do NOT try and jump-start it.) Next, park the two cars with their fronts facing each other. Make sure that the distance between both cars’ batteries is close enough that your jumper cables can connect the two cars. Open the hoods of both cars and connect each end of the positive jumper cable to the corresponding positive terminals on each car battery. Connect one end of the negative jumper cable to the negative terminal on the functional, charged battery. Then attach the other end of the negative jumper cable to a grounded metal component of the car with the dead battery. Now start the engine of the charged battery’s car. Allow it to run for at least five minutes. This transfers some of the fresh battery’s energy to the dead battery through the jumper cables. After five minutes, try to start the dead battery’s car. It should run easily. If it doesn’t turn on, keep running the other car until the dead battery regains a charge. To end the process, disconnect the jumper cables in the REVERSE order to how you connected them (negatives first, then positives). Make sure you allow the jump-started car to run for a few minutes so it can finish charging.

If you have long, sweltering summers, your auto battery may last only three years  or so, regardless of its warranty.  But keeping the fluid level up will definitely extend battery life.  If you find that they won’t hold their charge very long or if the fluid level won’t stay up in one or more cells, then you need a new battery.

Matt’s truck has a lot of battery corrosion. See how he cleans it!