Imagine loading your kids into the car a cold winter morning to drop them off at school on your way to work. You turn the ignition switch to start and the engine refuses to go. A quick look under the hood reveals the problem: the battery posts and terminals are buried in white greenish powder. That’s corrosion buildup due to lack of maintenance. Fortunately, these and other common no-start car problems can be avoided following these five simple battery maintenance tips.
1. Clean Battery Posts and Cable Terminals
Put on your goggles and latex gloves to protect yourself form battery acid. Starting at the black or negative terminal, remove the cables from the battery using an open wrench as a back-up to hold the nut on the terminal bolt and a six-point wrench to turn the bolt loose-or just one wrench if your battery has side posts. Clean the terminal and posts with a battery post cleaning brush, an excellent tool to remove corrosion which prevents full electrical current from reaching the engine and its electrical components.
2. Clean the Battery Case and Tray
Remove the battery hold-down assembly and lift the battery off the engine compartment. Thoroughly clean the battery case and tray using a solution of 1 qt. of warm water and two tbsps. of baking soda to neutralize and remove any acid buildup and dirt. Apply the solution with a soft brush and wipe it clean with a shop towel. A clean battery blocks corrosion and makes inspection easier.
3. Inspect Battery and Components for Damage
Closely inspect the top, sides and bottom of the battery case looking for cracks, buckling and other possible damage. If you find any of these problems replace the battery. Make sure the tray is in good condition and all the screws are in place. Also, inspect the cables for distortion and other damage. Replace them if necessary.
4. Check the Battery Electrolyte
Carefully remove the vent cap(s) from the top of the battery using a small standard screwdriver-if you have a free maintenance battery skip this step. Look through each of the fill openings and make sure the electrolyte is covering the charging plates and touching the bottom of the fill ring. If necessary, add distilled water or battery acid-do not use tap water which contains chemicals that may ruin the battery.
5. Secure the Battery in Place
Replace the vent cap(s), lay the battery on its tray and secure it in place but do not over tighten or leave the hold-down fasteners loose. This may cause the battery case to buckle or crack. You may want to use treated felt washers-found in auto parts stores-on each post before installing the cables, this will inhibit corrosion. Once you install the cables, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the battery post to further fight acid buildup.
A car battery may give you years of trouble-free service under normal conditions, but lack of maintenance reduces its service life. Performing these easy and quick maintenance tips at least every 3000 miles-or sooner if you suspect battery problems-will keep your battery working at its best and help you get rid of those unwanted surprises when you least need them.