Your Vehicle’s Battery
Car battery need to know guide and troubleshooting
The last thing you need is to be stuck with a vehicle that will not start because of a dead battery. The electrical energy, stored in the battery, is what helps the vehicle to start and continue running. This is something we take for granted; we just assume that our vehicle will start every single time we turn that key (or press that button or crank that handle). Many vehicle owners underestimate the importance of vehicle maintenance, but at the end of the day it is proper maintenance that keeps a vehicle running, and the battery is not excluded from this.
At Steves Auto Clinic, we consider ourselves one huge family. From the first moment you interact with us, you become a part of this family. As a family, we care about maintaining our standards in all aspects that is reflective of a professional automotive servicing and repair franchise. We also value the relationships our clients (as family members) have with their vehicles. Because of this, we at Steves Auto Clinic will continue to give sound advice when it comes to care and maintenance of vehicle components and systems. In this article, we will do nothing less than that, which is why we want to draw your attention to the importance of the battery and how to maintain and take care of it in a responsible manner.
Battery Maintenance & Care
No vehicle can function without a battery giving it the “breath of life”. It is therefore important to maintain your vehicle’s battery in a proper fashion, thereby ensuring that it will work at peak performance. Before you do that, it is important to know that not all batteries can be maintained in the same manner. Some batteries are closed (sealed) systems while others are not, so be sure that you know the type of battery in your vehicle. Your vehicle, according to Battery Stuff (2017), will most likely have one of three typically used batteries: the WET CELL (also known as a flooded cell), GEL CELL, or ABSORBED GLASS MAT (AGM) type. Many people are not sure which one of these are the most preferable. Let us touch on them and leave the preferred choice up to you.
The Wet Cell (flooded) comes in two styles: serviceable and maintenance free. Both of these are filled with electrolytes and are essentially the same. Many prefer the one you can maintain by adding water to it and checking the electrolytes with a hydrometer. A quick word about a hydrometer. This small device is used to test the charge state of a battery’s cell. It measures the density of the electrolytes by measuring the gravity of the electrolytes. The greater the sulphuric acid (H2SO4) concentration, the more dense the electrolytes becomes.
Both the Gel Cell and the AGM batteries are so-called specialty batteries. They are more expensive than your typical premium wet cell battery but they hold their charge better and they do not sulphate or degrade as easily as wet cell batteries. More about battery sulfation later. The Gel Cell batteries are maintenance-free and spill-proof. They require a charging method specifically suited to its internal chemistry or otherwise it will dramatically shorten its lifespan. A fixed, regulated voltage source is the best way to charge these types of batteries, with special attention given to the exact charging voltage and initial charging current. The AGM type batteries are also maintenance-free and dry batteries, so you can position them on their side without worrying about any leaks. They will give you a greater life span than a wet cell battery. Just remember, NEVER attempt to open an AGM battery. As we said earlier, your choice of battery will be left up to you, but what should not be neglected, is maintaining these batteries.
In order to practice proper battery care, you may consider taking the following maintenance and care tips to heart.
Clean corrosion from the battery
Corrosion on the terminals of the battery, as can be seen in the image, is caused by hydrogen gas released from the acid within the battery. If you want to prevent a build-up of corrosion such as that shown, then make it a habit to clean the terminals at least every six months. To clean these, simply add a tablespoon of baking soda to a cup of distilled water, and with a non-metallic brush, gently clean the terminals. When you are done, flush the area with distilled water.
When you replace the cable connections, whether it is after cleaning the terminals or replacing a battery, then it is advisable to connect the cable to the positive terminal first and the negative one last (for negative ground systems). It is sound advice to smear a little petroleum jelly onto the terminals before fastening the cable clamps to the posts because that will help slow any corrosion.
Secure the hold-down bar
Some batteries have a hold-down bar (as seen in the image) or other forms of fasteners to ensure that your battery is securely seated in its place. It is important that the battery is secure because it will help minimize any vibration. A loose battery is a danger because it may not only fall over if it comes loose and short out, but unnecessary vibrations due to a loose battery can be detrimental to certain types of batteries.
Check the battery insulator
Some vehicle include an insulator to protect the battery against very high temperatures. Ensure that the insulator is in place and undamaged.
Battery water levels
Whenever the electrolyte levels in the cells of a non-maintenance-free wet cell battery are too low (the plates are exposed), make sure to fill each cell so that the plates are just covered. Always use clean, distilled water, use a funnel and do not overfill the cells. After adding water, allow the water and electrolyte to mix for a few hours before you use the battery. It is good practice to check water levels at least every 2 – 3 months. By doing so, you will ensure that your battery stays hydrated.
Drive your vehicle regularly
If you regularly drive your vehicle, then the battery should stay well charged. If you know that you will not drive your vehicle for quite a while, then either disconnect the battery or arrange with someone to start your vehicle at least once a week and leave it running for a few minutes. This will maintain the battery charge.
Cut down on short trips
Regular drives are encouraged, but we discourage frequently done short trips (less than 20 minutes). Such trips will not give your battery sufficient time to charge. Your battery will drain faster and it may leave you stranded.
Inspect cell voltage
Consider investing in a good battery tester. This will allow you to conduct frequent tests on your battery with regard to its voltage level. A fully charged battery will have a charge of between 12.5 and 12.6 volts, which may climb to between 13.7 and 14.7 volts when the engine is running. It is important to know the voltage level of your vehicle’s battery, because if it drops below 12 volt, then sulfation will start.
As soon as the battery’s voltage level gets too low, the accumulation and growth of lead sulphate crystals inside the plates is stimulated. These crystals will eventually combine to form larger crystals, and these are harder to dissolve and recharge. The outcome – battery failure. There are charger that have a de-sulphating mode that will slowly dissolve the crystals and recharge them, but our motto is prevention rather than cure. Be sure to test the voltage or have it tested regularly.
Never jump-start a flat battery
Most vehicles have engine control units that monitor and regulate vehicle components. You can just imagine what will happen if this electronic brain receives an unwanted electrical current. That is what can happen if you jump-starting a flat battery. To avoid (or reduce) the possibility of sending an excessive current into the electronic system, ensure that the headlights are switched on if ever you are forced to jump-start a flat battery. This may help avoid electrical surges, but it is always better to consult your vehicle’s manual for recommendations on how to jump-start your vehicle before you do so.
Do not leave lights and accessories on without the engine running
Always unplug accessories and turn off lights when your vehicle is not running. If you leave these on, the battery will discharge. Frequent recharging of a battery is unhealthy, so do not use that as an excuse to let the battery run down.
Replace your vehicle’s battery at least every 3 to 4 years.
On average, a wet cell battery will last you between three to four years, depending on your driving conditions, habits, weather, and the way you maintain it. It is nonetheless safe practice to have it replaced as suggested. It is common for AGM batteries to last as long as seven years, so the choice will again be left to you with regard to when you decide to change your vehicle’s battery.
The Battery Maintainer
If you know that you will not be using your vehicle’s battery for a long time, but that it must be ready and in a working condition the moment you need it, then you may consider acquiring a battery maintainer. A “battery maintainer” is designed to monitor battery voltage and automatically adjust the charge to avoid under- and overcharging. If you leave a battery connected to a normal charger, it will overcharge the battery and that will cause damage. A battery maintainer will not do that.
These are the steps to consider taking to maintain and care for your battery, but you may still wonder how you will know otherwise if the battery is failing? The following are signs of this.
SIGNS OF A LOW OR FAILING BATTERY
Lights dim and bright
Your headlights look dim at idle and then brighten when you rev the engine. Inspect your battery for failure.
Slow starter turn
This may be due to a failing battery, but do not exclude alternator wiring problems preventing the battery from charging.
The battery is more important than you may have initially thought. It is therefore equally important to take care of this piece of equipment by maintaining it properly. If you experience constant issues with a battery, then replace it. If you lack clarity regarding any battery related issues, then contact your nearest Steves Auto Clinic workshop for advice. We have the expertise to assist you. Steves Auto Clinic are there to assist you with friendly, fast and efficient automotive servicing and repairs.
Sources consulted during the writing of this article:
- Battery Stuff. (2017). Battery Basics. Online available at: https://www.batterystuff.com/kb/articles/battery-articles/battery-basics.html Accessed on 9 August 2018.
Images used in this article:
- Image 1. – Battery Corrosion. Online available at: https://www.carspiritpk.com/2018/02/19/guide-maintaining-car-battery/ Accessed on 9 Aug 2018