Car battery installation and maintenance

Essential tips to keep your motor running

Last updated: November 2013

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Should you install a car battery by yourself?

Many auto parts stores and garages offer free installation with a battery purchase. Because car batteries are quite heavy and there are disposal considerations for the old unit, this is a welcomed service.

Help with lifting a battery into tall vehicles like SUVs, or placing one in a hard-to-reach spot, such as under the backseat, can be particularly appreciated. And while at the shop, the old battery can be recycled.

Of course, there are times when an in-shop installation may not meet your needs, due to scheduling or purchasing from a retailer without an auto service department. However, you can install a battery in most vehicles rather easily with only basic tools; just remember to return the old battery to retailer for recycling—most add a "core" charge to the purchase price and refund that money when the old battery is returned.

Car battery installation tips

  • Check the owner's manual for specific instructions or concerns particular to the vehicle.
  • Wear eye protection.
  • Be aware that your radio and navigation system (if you have one) may lose their memory when power is disconnected. You may need to enter a password to get these components functioning again. These passwords are normally included with the owner's manual packet that came with your vehicle.
  • Disconnect the negative cable first. (Removing the positive cable first can cause a spark, and a possible explosion.)
  • Don't force the connectors. If they just won't come off, take the car to a pro. You don't want to risk breaking off a battery post and exposing yourself and your vehicle to corrosive battery acid.
  • Once you remove the old battery, inspect your cables and connections for cracks and corrosion. Replace the cables if needed; they can be found at any auto parts store. Even if they don't need replacement, clean the connectors with a wire brush.
  • Apply a corrosion protection, also available at most stores that carry batteries.
  • Dispose of the old battery properly at a recycling location. Most stores that sell replacement batteries will dispose of the old one, even if you install it yourself.

How to maintain a car battery

It's a good idea to have your car's entire charging system checked once a year, especially after your battery is more than two years old if you live in a warm climate or four years old if you live in a cold climate. This includes the alternator, voltage regulator, belts, and connecting cables. Of course, don't wait until a year is up if you notice potential signs of weakness such as hesitant start-up.

Between routine servicing, check periodically to make sure the cables and terminals are snug and retighten as necessary for good contact. If your connections are dirty or showing a lot of corrosion, disconnect and clean them with a wire brush or cleaning tool. Be aware that when you disconnect the battery, you may have to re-enter a security code in your radio or navigation system.

If you have a sealed, maintenance-free battery with no removable caps, there's little else you need to do. Most new batteries use a chemistry that doesn't off-gas much electrolyte so even If your battery has removable caps, you may not have to check the electrolyte level. If you live in a very warn climate you're your battery has removable caps you can check the water level periodically, and refill with distilled water as needed.

Finally, if the vehicle is going to be parked or stored for an extended period of time, you may want to consider investing in a trickle charger to keep it charged.

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