Supercharge Your Next Driving Adventure
Summer fun can turn to family consternation if your vehicle battery loses power. Following some basic health tips can improve the health of your car’s battery.
Your vehicle's battery is composed of lead and plastic components. Two lead plates are immersed inside a solution of sulfuric acid and water. The combination creates an electrical charge that feeds your vehicle components such as cell phones, headlights and entertainment system.
“Even though the lead battery that starts your car is built better than ever before, that doesn’t mean you can install it and forget it,” said Chris Pruitt, president of the Battery Council International.
Pruitt also is head of East Penn Manufacturing Co, a family-owned business operating the world’s largest single site facility for lead batteries. East Penn Manufacturing began as a one-room operation after World War II and has grown into a diverse supplier of battery products for transportation, marine and back-up applications.
The "chur chur" rumble you hear when turning the key begins with a fully charged battery. Electrical charge in the battery turns your vehicle starter and activates the engine and you can drive happily down the road.
According to Pruitt, your vehicle’s battery faces two demanding siblings: infrequent use and extreme heat. Infrequent use is a battery hangover from the COVID pandemic as some vehicles sat idle or were used on short errands. Hot Temperatures have already shown up throughout the US and Canada as stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.
“Combine those two together and you’d better hope you have a well-built battery, a readily available mechanic--or both,” Pruitt said. “Make sure your battery is as ready as you are to embark on your summer destination.”
Most auto batteries produced today are known as “maintenance-free.” That is, there's no need to check fluid levels or add water. Battery care instructions provided by battery manufacturers help prolong battery life.
“While almost all automotive batteries have what is called a maintenance-free design, frequent testing and inspection is still very important, Pruitt said.
Here are some easy guidelines to extend the life of your vehicle battery:
- Test your battery’s health in any season.
“Batteries are put to the test in the cold, but also are worn down in the heat,” said Pruitt of BCI. “Make sure to test your battery with every oil change. That will help ensure you are aware of its continued health.”
- Most vehicle batteries are sealed, also called "maintenance free." They do not require servicing or adding water.
- Don't know what kind of battery your vehicle has? Take a look under the hood. If the battery does not have caps, then it's “Maintenance free” and does not require adding fluid-manufacturer guidelines or a label warns against opening battery caps. Moreover, the battery cap may be glued or locked in place.
- “Maintenance accessible” batteries may need some attention in hot climates or if they encounter extreme heat. Be sure to follow manufacturer recommendations and look for the battery label.
- Get familiar with procedures for adding fluid. 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). Use distilled water when the fluid level is low. Avoid tap water, which may contain chlorine or other chemicals that affect electrolyte composition.
- Check terminal connections (where the battery cables are hooked to the battery) and cables. Keep them clear of corrosion. Clean connections improve battery performance.
If you need to clean the terminals, use a brush (an old toothbrush will do) and paste of household baking soda combined with water. Consider putting cardboard or a discarded pan under the vehicle to catch any drippings.
Reminder: Always wear safety glasses and follow all safety instructions when working around batteries.
- Do not allow pets or other animals to come into contact with battery acid or any drippings from cleaning the battery terminals. It is extremely hazardous.
- Replace when it shows signs of fatigue. Even well-maintained batteries fail eventually. Check for compatible replacement. If you plan to do the installation, read all instructions before removing the old battery.
- Select the right technology for your usage. Some lead battery technologies offer premium benefits such as “Absorbed Glass Mat” or “AGM” can help withstand longer periods without use. They also offer a longer cycle life for all your vehicle’s electronics while maintaining the power needed to start your vehicle.
- Get your vehicle’s charging system checked. Problems in your vehicle electrical system can cause a battery to dry out and fail prematurely.
- Invest in jumper cables.
“Before going on long trips, it is a good idea to have an emergency roadside kit or a good pair of booster cables in case of an unexpected situation,” Pruitt said.
For additional information on vehicle batteries go to: