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Car Battery Maintenance: Avoiding a Dead Battery

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Car Battery Maintenance: Avoiding a Dead Battery

Dale Benton
May 25, 2013

Car battery maintenance is often ignored, yet is an extremely important aspect of maintaining a car. To most people the battery keeps on working and never gives them problems. Why do they think that? Because the manufacturer tells them so! Wrong!

You should make sure that you give your car battery a regular check. Here is how to do that, and why it is necessary:

Terminal Integrity and Cleanliness

The two terminals of your car battery enable the electrical current to pass from one to the other - via the various components of your car that the battery powers. It would take too many pages to list all of these, but among them may be your steering, the comfort accessories in your seat, your car radio, heating, warning lights, dash gauges and even the starting of your car. In other words, no battery, no driving!

However, your battery could be in excellent condition, but your electrics still fail. Why? Because the terminals are in poor condition! Some people find it difficult to get the cable studs to slip over the terminal posts, so grease them to make it easier. This can insulate the terminal post from the stud, so you have no current. It doesn't matter how tight you screw the stud to the post, you will not get a connection if there is grease between them.

Cleanliness is a large part of car battery maintenance. The battery can be dirty including the terminals and salts and moisture can lead to short circuits across the terminals. It is important to keep the battery clean, particularly around the terminals and studs. Use a damp rag and a mild detergent if you need it.

When you disconnect a car battery, make sure that you remove the black negative cable first. The remove the red positive cable. You can clean the terminal posts with a toothbrush and some baking soda pasted with water. A wire battery brush would be better if you have one.

Check the battery for any cracks, and make sure the visible electrolyte levels are correct. Then reconnect the terminals in the reverse order you disconnected them: re positive cable first. Then cover the connections with a coating of grease to protect them from moisture and potential short circuits and corrosion.

Jump Starting Procedure

Many people make elementary mistakes when trying to jump start their car using cables. Here is how to use ump cables correctly:

a) Switch off both engines.
b) Connect the positive (red) lead to the positive terminal post of the dead battery.
c) Connect the other end of the positive lead to the positive terminal of the live battery.
d) Connect the negative cable to the negative terminal post of the live battery.
e) Find or create an unpainted area of car body as far away from the dead battery as possible. Then connect the other end of the negative cable to this bare metal area.
f) Wait about three minutes so the voltages between the batteries stabilize.
g) Start the engine of the good car and run for one minute. Keep it running while you:
h) Now start the dead car. Then leave both cars running for about 10 minutes on idle. His will make sure that the dead battery is recharged sufficiently.
i) Switch off both cars.
j) Remove the terminals in the reverse order - start with the positive and end with the negative terminals. Keep all clips away from each other and the body of the car when disconnected.
k) The dead battery car should now start. If not there is a more serious problem.

Car Battery Maintenance 101: Topping Up a Battery

There are batteries that still need topping up with water. Batteries rarely lose electrolyte, unless they spill in a collision or when being carried. You are then recommended to buy a new battery, or have it topped up by a service center. If you are topping up due to evaporation, use distilled water. Regular bottled water might contain too many electrolytes.

Your battery is critical to your car, yet many people ignore it until it gives up! Car battery maintenance is very important and does not take up a great deal of your time. The only occasions that it does so is when it gives up, and then it is generally due to negligence.

No forms of car maintenance should be ignored. This is particularly true of car battery maintenance. Visit the Benton Nissan website for more information on car maintenance and how to look after your vehicle properly.

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