Battery basics: Keep your vehicle's energy flowing


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A weak battery can leave you out in the cold, literally. Not all batteries require maintenance, but following some basic health tips can improve the life of your car’s battery.
 
An automobile’s battery is made of lead and plastic components. It contains an electrolyte solution of sulfuric acid and water. When you turn your car key, the electrolyte solution delivers a short burst of high power.
 
According to Battery Council International, the majority of auto batteries manufactured today are maintenance-free. In other words, you do not check fluid levels or add fluid. Battery manufacturers provide instructions with their products and all motorists should follow those instructions to assure battery health.
 
“If a battery cap is designed for opening, you can do it without much effort,” Randy Hart, president of BCI and head of Superior Battery Manufacturing in Russell Springs, Ky. “Forcing or prying these caps open may destroy or permanently damage the battery.”
 
BCI suggest following these battery guidelines:
 
Find out what kind of battery your car uses. “Maintenance free” batteries do not require adding fluid. Look for user guidelines or a label that warns against opening battery caps. Although it may appear removable, the battery cap may be glued or locked in place.
 
“Maintenance accessible” batteries may require adding water in hot climates or high heat. Look for a battery label and follow manufacturer guidelines.
 
Check fluid procedures. Some batteries have removable battery caps. Others carry a “magic eye” – a small, round device that floats to the top of the electrolyte. Or the battery may be designed as a translucent case so you can check without opening the caps.
 
Add fluid if needed (maintenance accessible batteries only). If fluid level is low, use a small amount of distilled water. Do not use tap water. According to Battery Council, tap water may contain chlorine or other chemicals that can change electrolyte composition.
 
Inspect terminal connections (where the battery cables are hooked to the battery). Make sure the connections are tight and free of corrosion. Corroded terminals can be cleaned with a brush (such as a discarded toothbrush) and a light paste of household baking soda and water.
 
Replace the battery if needed. Batteries eventually fail even if properly maintained. Buy a compatible replacement and—if installing it yourself—follow the instructions with the replacement battery.
 
Get your vehicle’s charging system checked. Problems in your vehicle electrical system can cause a battery to dry out and fail prematurely.
 
“In a properly designed, voltage-regulated system, water loss should not cause maintenance-free batteries to fail,” Mr. Hart said. “Lead-acid batteries satisfy our voracious appetite for clean, recyclable and recycled energy under the hood, and there’s no mystery to keeping them in top form.”
 
For additional information on battery maintenance, check out these web sites:
 

www.leadacidbatteryinfo.org


 
 Article by Jay Alling, editor of Sensible Driver. Write to jay@sensibledriver.com.