Most batteries in today’s vehicles fancy themselves “maintenance free,” but that’s not entirely true. This just means you won’t be concerning yourself with pulling terminals or pouring electrolyte. Actually, these batteries require attention to stay in good shape. And using the right techniques and tools for battery maintenance plays a major role in the longevity and safety of what’s just under the hood. Older and neglected batteries can leak acid, emit ignitable gasses and explode unexpectedly. Dead batteries can leave you stranded. But once you know what to look for, it’s easy to keep them maintained.
All the Goods You’ll Need
Safety Equipment: Always wear gloves and goggles when performing any maintenance or inspection. Visible leaks, a rotten egg smell or bulging sides mean the battery needs to be replaced outright, and a battery swap is one of the easier DIY tasks. Remember, always disconnect the Negative cable first to avoid shock.
Battery Post Wrench: A solid connection between the battery post and cable clamp is essential. It must be not only tight but clean. You’ll need to disconnect the clamps to service it, and you don’t want to strip the nut in the process. Make sure to buy the right size wrench for your terminal connectors.
Battery Terminal Brush: This deceptively simple 2-in-1 tool cleans both terminals and clamps alike and is a real must-have in any toolbox. The blueish white crust that builds up around the terminal posts can interfere with battery power. Disconnect the cables, and clean terminals and clamps separately.
Battery Cleaner: This spray neutralizes any acid or surface gasses and removes corrosion at the same time. Simply spray it on, wait according to the directions, and then wipe it off. Voila! Clean battery!
Terminal Spreader: When you’re done, you might notice the clamp is too tight to sit down on the terminal. In order to get it snugly at the base, use a terminal spreader to widen the clamp so it fits all the way down before tightening.
Battery Protectant: Once everything is back together (remember to install the Positive cable first to avoid getting shocked) and tight, grab a can of protectant and spray the surface of the battery, applying a light coat over the terminal connections. This spray keeps things clean longer and discourages future buildup so you don’t have to do this as often.
Being Prepared Is Better
Lastly, check the battery charge with a voltmeter and recharge if necessary. Use a battery load tester to make sure the battery is still in good shape, or have it tested at your local NAPA AutoCare.
It’s a quick and easy maintenance point, and taking care of your battery has a big payoff for longevity and personal safety so grab your tools and get to it.
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Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.