Today’s automobiles are typically equipped with maintenance-free batteries, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require a bit of tender loving care. Such batteries usually come with vent caps that are sealed, which means you no longer should check water levels — a requirement of some earlier batteries. Here’s how to provide the right maintenance to your maintenance-free battery to keep it in tip-top shape, and ensure it has the longest life.
What’s the difference between today’s automotive batteries and those popular in the 1970s and earlier? The first rechargeable batteries for commercial use were composed of lead-acid, and those components are still used to this day. But earlier car batteries were not as evolved as those used today, which now come with a more durable construction and contain a highly sophisticated blend of alloys that helps reduce water loss and self-discharge. Computerized equipment and robotic processes have also evolved batteries to store and deliver power with peak efficiency lasting much longer than traditional designs.
With proper use, water loss is generally not an issue with today’s lead-calcium alloy batteries as it was with the earlier batteries. Most batteries feature vent caps that do not allow you to open and add water, and the warranty often becomes void if you do.
Although the inside of a maintenance-free battery cannot be physically cared for, the outside certainly can. Try following these steps to ensure that the exterior of the battery is in top shape, and you can extend its life:
- Protect yourself. Before you start, put on a pair of gloves and wear eye protection. Batteries contain an acid, which can damage your skin or eyes if an accident happens.
- Disconnect the battery from the cables. Unhook the negative (black) cable followed by the positive (red) cable.
- Remove the battery from its tray and set it on an even, smooth surface.
- Examine the battery, looking for cracks or other damage. If damaged, replace it at once. Proper recycling drop off centers, like NAPA Auto Parts, will make sure your old battery is safely recycled in a way that’s best for the environment.
- Clean the cables and terminals. If the battery is in decent shape and passes a voltage test, then clean it before returning it to the tray. Remove the corrosion (white dust-like build up) on the cables and terminals with a wire brush. Another method for removing residue is to add a tablespoon of baking soda to a cup of water and stir. Next, pour the solution directly on the corrosion to dissolve it. There are also terminal cleaner sprays that do a fantastic job with less of a mess. Lastly, wipe clean with a rag.
- Before you return the battery to the tray and reconnect the cables, spray the appropriate areas with battery-terminal protectant. This optional step will mitigate future corrosion build up. Attach the positive cable first, followed by the black cable. Start the car to ensure the battery is working.
Some Like It Hot
If you live in a hot location, you may have noticed battery life is shorter than expected. Indeed, heat causes the water inside the battery to evaporate and accelerates internal corrosion. Make sure you check the state of your battery’s health more frequently in this environment. It may not be ready if put to the test when it’s cold.
A tool to include in your collection is a multi-meter, which is useful for conducting a full range of standard electrical tests in a car. A fully charged battery will measure 12.6 volts and above.
Check out all of the batteries available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For additional information on a maintenance-free battery, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.