A car's battery is an essential component to keep any car running efficiently. Without it, the car will not even turn over. Modern automobiles contain 12-volt batteries made up of cells. Each cell contains electrolytes that work to generate electrical currents when they are needed, along with plates that contain both positive and negative charges. Car batteries are typically designed to last several years, but with proper care, you can ensure they last beyond that.
Batteries contain sulphuric acid, a highly caustic substance. Due to the potential for injuries, you should always take safety precautions before working with a battery, or its components. Sulphuric acid is not only likely to burn the skin, but it can even burn through clothing. For this reason, you should wear gloves and goggles. If the acid does touch your skin, wash it off with heavy-duty soap or baking soda immediately. You should never lean over a battery when charging or testing it. Also, only charge in well-ventilated areas. Additional precautions include always disconnecting the negative cable first and never jump-starting a battery if it is frozen.
Charging the Battery
When a battery loses its charge, you can use different methods to recharge it. One method, trickle charging, works slowly, but it can keep the battery healthy for longer. Trickle charging consists of using a charger that adds a charge to the battery at a very slow pace without allowing for a normal depletion. Trickle chargers can be used on vehicles that are parked for long periods to preserve the battery. Trickle chargers are easy to use as they work on standard outlets. Plug the charger into an outlet and connect the negative alligator clip to a part of the metal frame and place the positive clip on the positive battery terminal. You must also select the proper settings for the type of battery being charged As the battery charges, the trickle charger will have an amp metre that moves. Quick charging is another option and this is ideal if you are in a hurry. This is done by using another vehicle to charge the battery by hooking charging cables to both vehicles at the same time. This typically takes only a few minutes.
Restoring a Charge
After charging a battery, ensure it maintains a solid charge. Do this by driving at constant speeds for about 30 minutes. Turn off all components such as the radio and air conditioner. Failing to give the battery a solid charge can result in it being dead the next time you try to start the car.
Check the Water Level
Each cell in a battery contains acid and water. Over time, these levels can drop below normal, which will affect the performance. Every few months, glance at the refill holes on the bottom or sides of the battery. If the levels are low, add distilled water. Never overfill the cells as this can lead to corrosion.
Clean the Battery Terminals
As a battery ages, it is prone to corrosion build-up on the terminals. This is easy to fix by cleaning them with a wire brush. Coke can also be poured over the top of the terminals to reduce the amount of corrosion. If the corrosion continues to build up, it can cause the battery to receive a poor connection.
Maintain the Battery While the Car is Parked for Long Periods
If you are leaving on vacation or parking the car for long periods of time, use a trickle charger. This ensures the battery maintains a correct charge and extends the life of the battery. If a battery is continuously allowed to lose its charge completely, it can cause damage.
Though the main components of a battery are housed in a plastic case, you should still take care to keep it secure from vibrations. Strong or repeated vibrations can cause a battery to short circuit. This in turn can result in damage to the car itself. If possible, keep the battery secure in its place. Many cars have straps or other parts that allow you to bolt the battery in the correct spot.
Insulate the Battery
Extreme temperatures can wreak havoc on batteries. If you are facing extreme temperature changes, invest in a battery insulation kit. These are typically inexpensive and they are made for specific makes and models of cars and trucks. They come in the form of sleeves that insulate the battery while still allowing it to vent as needed.
In some cases, overcharging a battery is just as damaging as a weak charge. Overcharging a car battery can result in oxygen and hydrogen being released. When this occurs, an explosion can take place, which can not only harm the vehicle, but cause injury to you or others. Overcharging also alters the water and acid levels in the battery.
If you find yourself recharging or replacing your car's battery more often than every few years, it is time to take some battery maintenance into consideration. With proper maintenance and a few tips, you can extend the life of your battery.