Unlike many toys, your vehicle actually comes with a battery. But your car battery won’t keep working without some diligence on your part. Before we get into the maintenance tips, there are a few things worth knowing about automotive batteries, which will help you understand exactly what they do.
The battery stores energy in chemical form that is released on demand as electricity. The energy is used by the vehicle’s ignition system to crank the engine, as well as power the lights or other accessories. If your alternator fails, your vehicle can run on the battery alone, at least for a short period of time. Normally, however, as long as your engine is running, the alternator keeps the battery recharged. If you operate any electrical items with the engine off – such as power windows, the audio system or headlights – the battery will slowly drain.
Because automotive batteries contain hydrogen-oxygen gases and sulfuric acid that can cause serious burns, you need to observe some precautions before you handle the battery. The American National Standards Institute recommends wearing safety glasses or goggles and a face shield. Other precautions include never leaning over the battery, working in a well-ventilated area and keeping all ignition sources like cigarettes away from the battery. Now, on to car battery care:
First, if your battery is an older type that’s not sealed, it’s important to make sure the water level is adequate. It’s easy to tell which type you have: unsealed batteries have small vent caps on top that can be easily unscrewed. If the water level is not up to the bottom of the cap, replenish it. For areas where the tap water is hard (with a high mineral content), use distilled water. If you’re really not sure if the local water is hard or soft, distilled water is your best and safest bet. Check the water levels often during hot summer months, as heat tends to evaporate water more quickly. If the battery water level is allowed to get too low, the heat generated within the battery will destroy the battery cells.
Next, visually check the car battery terminals (one is marked positive “+” and the other is marked negative “-“). Before cleaning the connections or removing the battery, disconnect the negative terminal first whenever you disconnect the battery cables from the terminals. Removing the positive connector can cause a spark, especially if you’re using a metal tool that comes in contact with any piece of metal on the car. The spark can create an ignition source that could cause the battery to explode.
Unless the battery manufacturer indicates otherwise, the average life of a battery is about four years. So, if you want to enjoy several years of confident vehicle starts, follow these simple maintenance tips and check your battery water levels, terminal, bracket and tray condition about every two months.