If you’re driving an older vehicle, then most likely you’ve got a conventional lead-acid battery under the hood. For the most part, motorists don’t have to do much. As long as you do your regularly scheduled maintenance visits at the local service center your vehicle won’t let you down. These so-called maintenance-free batteries just need to be monitored and kept clean.
However, this can lull some motorists into a false sense of calm when it comes to their batteries. Some people might even be afraid to touch their battery out of fear that it will shock them or poison them. That line of thinking won’t help you in the case of an emergency when a bit of hands-on troubleshooting could save you time and money.
Your battery is very important. It’s the electrical powerplant that starts your car or truck. It also provides electricity for a number of internal systems. So, one of the best things you can do to safeguard your vehicle is to get acquainted with your battery.
Identifying Your Battery
When you lift your hood, the battery is easily recognizable. It’s a rectangular block near the front of the vehicle’s radiator. It has a thick polypropylene case to protect what’s inside the battery. There are two terminals on top, one for positive and one for a negative charge. Touching the casing won’t hurt you. You can even touch the terminals provided that your hands are dry. There just isn’t enough power in a 12V battery to electrocute you.
Inside the case are battery plates. These plates are stacked together in cells. These cells are suspended in an acidic solution that facilitates the chemical reactions that create electricity for your vehicle. This reaction creates electrons that travel around the plates and through the terminals.
Your battery’s power is measured in amps. You’ll hear the term “cold-cranking amps”. That’s the amount of power it takes to start your vehicle at a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. You should refer to your vehicle’s owner manual to determine the right amount of amps needed for your vehicle.
Starting Your Vehicle Properly Saves Battery Life
One of the most important things you can do to maintain your battery happens when you’re starting your vehicle. Anywhere from 100 to 130 amps are required to start your vehicle and the more electrical systems that you leave active, the more power it will require to start your vehicle.
So, be sure to turn off all your electrical systems when you park your vehicle. That includes your radio, air conditioning, and any other tech amenities like heated seats or adaptors that pull power from the vehicle’s battery.
Before you start your vehicle, avoid turning on electrical systems first. Give your battery less work to do and it will work longer.
Keep Your Battery Clean
Most people avoid touching or even checking up on their battery before the scheduled maintenance and that’s a problem. Dirt, grease, and debris can crowd the terminals of the battery. This can significantly weaken the circuit running between your electrical systems and your battery.
So, keep it clean by removing the negative terminal first. Then, remove the positive terminal. Clean the terminals with a cloth towel, old toothbrush, or rag. You can even use a bit of baking soda and water. Then, replace the terminals in reverse order. That’s positive first and then the negative.
Checking the Fluid Levels
Lastly, let’s talk about fluid levels inside your battery. If you have a maintenance-free battery, then you won’t be able to access the internal cavity, but other conventional batteries have caps on the top. Always make sure that your engine is turned off before you access the battery.
Then, carefully remove the battery caps to check the fluid levels. There are markings to tell you the proper fill amount and you should never overfill the battery. You can find battery acid at an automotive store, or you can use distilled water. Also, be sure to protect your eyes and hands.
These are just a few of the basic ways you can keep your vehicle’s battery in top working order. Don’t wait until you have a problem and you’re left stranded on the side of the road. Identify your battery and all of its parts, turn off all electrical systems before you start the vehicle, make sure that your terminals are clean, and check the fluid levels regularly.
I hope these maintenance tips are helpful and remember to always drive safely.