How to Use a Car Battery Correctly to Extend Its Life
When do you need a new rechargeable battery, one of the things that you want to know is how long the battery will last. Of course, you want to get the most for your money. Long battery life begins with purchasing a quality battery, but if you do not take care of it properly, then you could accidentally shorten its life. Regardless of the battery that you buy, this guide will help you get the most from it.
9 Steps for Keeping Your Battery Healthy
Many different types of batteries are available on the market today. The steps outlined in this article are mostly for car and vehicle batteries, but they also apply to batteries for solar power systems, RVs, boats and marine use, lawnmowers, power tools, motorcycles, medical devices, security systems, and any other type of application that uses a lead-acid battery.
How To Measure and Test the Battery’s Health, Voltage, and Charge Level
One thing everyone should have one hand is a multimeter. It is important to make sure that your battery has the proper voltage and charge level at all times. As your battery ages, its ability to store charge can drop. Other factors, such as storing it in cold conditions, long-term storage, and using the wrong charger can also cause your battery to lose the ability to maintain charge.
Automotive batteries fall into two general types. The first type is the starting-lighting-ignition battery (SLI), designed to deliver a short burst of power for starting the engine. The other type is a deep-cycle battery designed for the long-term operation of electronics and other items that place a continuous load on it. Deep-cycle batteries are designed to be discharged to lower levels than SLI batteries. They can also handle frequent charging. If you treat an SLI battery this way, you will quickly decrease its lifespan. Therefore checking your battery’s voltage and charge level is important for this type of battery.
There is another reason to check the battery’s charge level: if the vehicle has not been started in the last one or two weeks. If the charge drops, you cannot expect the battery to start the vehicle when you need it. To check the charge level, you will need to purchase a multimeter. Here is how it works.
- Turn the multimeter to the proper setting: amps, volts, or ohms;
- For this test, you should use volts;
- Connect the multimeter’s clips to the corresponding terminal posts of the battery, positive to positive and negative to negative;
- Read the numbers on the readout;
- When ready, disconnect the clips from the battery posts, starting with the negative one first.
A fully charged car battery should read at least 12.6 volts. Anything less than this means that your battery needs to be charged to make sure your car will start. If you test the battery when the car is running, the multimeter should read 13.7 to 14.7 volts. Keeping your battery charged to within this range will help preserve its life and make it more reliable.
How to Test and Find a Parasitic Battery Drain when your car is Off
Here’s a video instruction using a simple multimeter:
Cleaning the Battery Posts, Contacts, and Cable Connectors from Corrosion To Improve Conductivity
Some batteries vent gases that can react with metal parts around batteries and cause corrosion. When the battery terminals and cable connectors become corroded, it can interfere with electrical conductivity. In some cases, it can also cause a short that can cause your battery to drain when it is not in use. This is a regular maintenance item that you should do at least every one or two months to keep your battery in good working order. Here is how you do it.
You will need:
- A wire brush or scratch pad
- Adjustable crescent wrench or socket set
- Battery post cleaning and protective spray
- Anti-corrosion washers
How to Clean Battery Posts and Connectors:
- Use the adjustable crescent wrench or hex set to loosen the nut on the cable connectors;
- Remove the cable connectors from the battery terminal post, starting with the negative post first;
- Spray the posts and connectors with the battery cleaning spray and use a wire brush or scratch pad to remove the corrosion until the metal surfaces are shiny and bright;
- Wipe the corrosion and cleaner off with a dry cloth;
- Spray the terminals and connectors with a protectant.
At this point, you can place an anti-corrosion washer over the battery post before returning the cable connectors to their proper place and tightening them down.
Cleaning Battery Case and Tray From Battery Acid and Dirt To Avoid Energy Leaks
While you are cleaning the battery post and cable connectors, it is an excellent time to clean the battery case and clean up any battery acid and dirt on the battery tray. Battery acid and dirt can cause energy to drain from the battery when it is in storage. Cleaning up battery acid also helps to protect any surrounding parts from corrosion. Here are the steps.
- While the battery cable connectors are disconnected, unhook the battery hold down, and remove the battery from the tray;
- You can then use common household baking soda to neutralize any battery acid leaks before cleaning them up. Wait until the foaming stops before proceeding to the next step;
- It is a good idea to wear latex gloves for protection. Use an old rag to wipe up the battery acid and baking soda mixture. You can then wipe it with plain water and thoroughly dry it off;
- Place the battery back in the tray and reconnect the battery hold down. Ensure the battery is seated correctly and not move around once the hold-down is tightened;
- Now you can reconnect the battery cable ends to the battery post, and your car should be ready to go.
Charging the Battery To Avoid Full Discharge if Rarely Used
Keeping your battery properly charged is an important part of prolonging its life. Before choosing a charger, you should always consult your Owner’s Manual, and only use the recommended type. Which type of charger you need depends on the type of battery you have. Although fast chargers are available, many manufacturers recommend a trickle charger for longer battery life. A trickle charger takes longer, but it is easier on your battery.
It is recommended that you disconnect the battery and remove it from the vehicle when using a charger, but you can charge it with the battery connected and the car running. If you choose to do this, you need to be aware that it can produce sparks. A battery charger should not be used when driving down the road or moving the vehicle. The best way to charge the battery when driving your car, motorcycle, or boat is to allow the alternator to charge it.
Don’t Confuse Contacts and Avoid a Short Circuit When Connecting a Battery
When you are jump-starting the battery or reconnecting the battery cables after performing maintenance, it is important to make sure that you connect positive to positive and negative to negative. Clearly identify the positive and negative on the battery and positive and negative on the cable connectors before attempting to hook up anything to your battery. If you accidentally hook the opposite post to the connectors, it can cause a spark and ruin your battery.
Heat the Battery when Extreme Cold Weather
Electric Battery Blanket, Heater Wrap
- Thermal insulation helps maintain battery temperature in warm or cold weather
- Fits battery groups: 22NF, 26, 26R, 51, 51R, 70
Cold weather reduces the ability of the battery to conduct electricity. Unless your car is stored in a heated garage, using battery heaters and blankets is an excellent way to improve your battery’s ability to start on a cold morning. When purchasing a battery heater or blanket, it is important to use those that the battery manufacturer recommends for your type of battery.
Using a battery heater or blanket:
- Open the hood of the car and secure it;
- Next, place the heater or blanket on the battery as directed by the maker;
- Plug the heater or blanket in, and allow it to warm the battery for the recommended amount of time;
- Disconnect the heater or blanket and remove it from the battery before attempting to start the car.
Hold (Fix) the Battery Securely To Avoid Damage
Some batteries are more resistant to vibration than others, but even if you have a battery rated for high vibration resistance, making sure that your battery is securely held down in the battery tray will help preserve his life. First, make sure that the tray is the proper size and that the battery fits securely into it. Next, use battery hold-down straps or a battery hold down bracket to secure the battery firmly in place. You should not be able to move the battery at all when these steps have been carried out properly.
Universal Battery Group Hold Down Straps
- Anti-UV heavy-duty nylon straps
- Stainless Steel Cam Buckle
Checking the Battery Fluid Density in Acid Batteries
To produce the proper amount of electricity to power your vehicle, the battery must have the right density of battery acid. This only applies to flooded batteries and not those that are AGM or labeled maintenance-free. To do this, you will need a hydrometer.
- Disconnect the battery terminal connectors from the battery posts, starting with the negative one first;
- Remove the caps from the battery cells. Most of them can be unscrewed with a flathead screwdriver or pried off;
- Place the hydrometer probe into the battery acid as directed and read the number on display or scale. Some take up to a minute to produce a readout;
- The specific gravity should be around 1.26 for a fully-charged battery at 80°F. Some digital hydrometers can make a temperature correction. The readout is lower than 1.26, then you need to add acid to the cells;
- If you are testing multiple cells, make sure to wipe off the probe before sticking it into the next cell;
- When you are finished, add any electrolyte needed and replace the battery caps.
Replacing the Electrolyte if Battery Is Not Maintenance-Free
If you have a battery that is not labeled as maintenance-free, you need to regularly check the fluid density in the cells and add more acid if needed. Over time, the battery acid density decreases, and it will not produce enough charge. After checking the battery’s density with a digital hydrometer, you might need to add electrolyte if the reading is below 1.26 for most batteries. Here is how to add electrolyte to your battery cells.
- It is always suggested that you wear gloves and goggles when performing this task;
- Use a flat head screwdriver to unscrew the battery caps on top of the battery. Sometimes, batteries have push-on caps, and you might need to insert the end of the screwdriver underneath to pry them off;
- Ensure the level of the acid falls between the minimum and maximum lines on the inside of the cell;
- It is always good to make sure your battery is fully charged before adding acid;
- Use a funnel to fill the battery cell to the proper level with electrolyte;
- Replace the battery caps, and you can then hook it back up to the vehicle.
Did you enjoy this tutorial? Now, you understand why it is important to take good care of your battery to last a long time. The key to getting the most from your battery is to start with a good quality battery and then follow the steps to take care of it. Please share what you think about the steps, and add any other tips you might have in the comments. Of course, if you got something of value from this article, be sure to share it with your friends.
Eric Strong works in the automotive repair industry more than 12 years. His work included repairing electrical systems in various vehicle systems. A hybrid electric car battery replacement experience expanded his understanding of automotive battery technology. Read More…