Car battery maintenance tips for extended life
Your car's battery is the heart of its electrical system and the chief cause of winter weather start-up woes. In cold weather, the battery loses about half its strength while the demands on the battery increase. Low temperatures reduce the battery's engine-cranking power, and by thickening the engine oil, they also make it more difficult for your engine to turn over. Cold fuel doesn't vaporize well, which adds to the difficulty.
Almost all private and public vehicles that we see on major and provincial roads use battery for their electrical needs. Radio, lights, horn and the ignition system is dependent on the battery which is a component of the vehicle’s electrical system.
Some may be wondering why the vehicle’s battery doesn’t drain off quickly despite continuous and repeated use. This is because vehicles have their own charging system composed mainly of the alternator and voltage regulator. The charging system ensures that the battery is continuously charged every time the engine is running.
The most common type of battery vehicles use is the lead acid-type battery. These types of batteries have lead and lead oxide plates submerged in about 35 percent sulfuric acid and 65 percent water solution, creating a chemical reaction. The product of this chemical reaction is electricity.
Most often than not, drivers put tap water on batteries, unaware of its negative effects. Tap water has minerals that can ruin battery function, which would eventually slow down the electricity generation. It is necessary to use distilled or de-mineralized water only on batteries to prevent break down.
Care for car battery
The battery is one of the most important parts of the vehicle that needs continuous check-up and maintenance. It is important to know the appropriate care to extend its operating life and at the same time, proper handling to prevent accidents.
Here are some important tips to consider in battery maintenance:
- First, wear eye, hand protection and the proper clothes are worn if you are going to personally check your battery. Remember, battery contains acid and protective gears can shield you from the corrosive chemicals inside the battery. When battery is mishandled, it may cause burns or more serious injuries. Once you are fully-geared, place the battery properly and make sure that it’s stable, not shaking or rocking when mounted, to avoid any short circuit.
- Check the terminals where the battery cables connect to be sure they are tight and free of corrosion. If corrosion is present, get a qualified technician to clean the terminals.
- The plates must always be submerged in water (distilled or de-mineralized) inside the battery but never over-fill your battery. The water level must not go below the recommended level to prevent rapid deterioration of battery plates. Fill to 1/4" below bottom of split ring (1 1/2" below top). Water should be added after charging. Filling before charging can cause the battery electrolyte to bubble over during charging. If plates are exposed, however, add enough water to cover the plates by 1/8" before charging.
- Don’t use sulfuric acid in refilling the battery, it is recommended to use water only for refilling. The sulfuric acid inside more or less remains the same throughout the battery life. (Some batteries do not require water refilling because they are sealed. These are commonly known as maintenance-free batteries.)
- Change the battery in case you happen to see any cracks, vents or swelled battery casing. Most likely, your battery is gradually failing and replacement is inevitable.
- Also, always make sure that the battery is always clean. Even a small amount of dirt can cause “power leak” causing uncontrolled discharge and electricity loss.
- Make sure the battery is firmly secured to its mounting bracket. An unsecured battery that shifts around can become damaged, and possibly cause short circuits. All exposed metal parts of the terminals and cables should be greased to prevent future corrosion.
- Aside from the battery, you must also check the electrical wirings and cables to ensure that there are no stray strands or damaged insulation (leading to exposed wires) that may cause electrical leaks and short circuits.
- Batteries come in many different sizes. When replacing a car battery, make sure you choose the right size for your car. When it comes to car batteries, bigger is not always better.
- The terminal clamp of the cable must be kept clean. Use a simple solution of baking soda and water in cleaning the terminal clamp especially when you notice the accumulation of white powdery substance around the electrodes. There are times the engine would not start if the battery terminal is corroded.
- In removing or cleaning the battery, remove first (-) ground cable followed by the (+) cable. If you are going to reinstall the battery, the (+) cable must be put first before the (-) ground cable. In this way, we can avoid short circuit if the wrench accidentally touches the grounded part of the vehicle.
- Use warm water and a mild detergent to remove grease and dirt from the plastic surface of the battery. This is important because a layer of dirt can actually act as a conductive agent, causing the battery to constantly discharge slightly.
- Do your part in protecting the environment by simply returning used batteries to battery shops for recycling. Recycling is one good way to reduce pollution.
- Your mechanic can load-test your battery to see if it is capable of sufficient charge on below-freezing days. Replace it if it does not pass the test.
- “The battery is literally the life spark of your car,” says Dave McMullen, director of marketing at EnerSys, makers of Odyssey Dry cell Batteries. “Your automotive winterizing routine should include a full check up and cold-weather prep for your car battery.” If you live in climate that is excessively cold, think about obtaining a battery or engine heater. The heater will help the battery start the car by reducing the power necessary.
- Read your owner's manual before disconnecting your battery to ensure that computer or radio memories are not lost. You may need to enter a password to get these components functioning again. These passwords are normally included with the owner's manual packet that came with your vehicle.
- Always disconnect the battery before doing anything else. Remove the cable from ground first, which is usually the negative terminal. This disconnects the battery from the car’s entire electrical system and minimizes the risk of causing sparks. Then remove the positive terminal connection. Never use a screwdriver to pry off stuck-on battery cable terminals because you could damage connections inside the battery post. Instead, use a battery puller tool to remove cable terminals.
Recharging guidelines for maximum life
- Recharge immediately after each use
- Use battery charger matched to the battery's size
- Do not overcharge; an automatic charger that turns off or on with a timer is your best bet
- Always slow charge a deep cycle battery; never fast charge or boost charge it
- A 10-12 hour charge with the appropriate charger at the correct amp rate will usually bring your battery to a full state of charge from a deep discharge
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