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Getting charged up on battery maintenance

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Updated 6 May 2021

Joel Ilton

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There’s nothing worse than jumping into your car when it’s pouring with rain, turning the key over, and your car not starting! We often take for granted that the battery will start the car, and don't give it much thought until it fails.

Here are some simple ways to look after your battery which should be performed periodically to make sure you are getting the most out of it.

How to check the electrolyte level:

Most new batteries these days are what’s classed as ‘Maintenance Free.’ This style of battery is sealed, and doesn’t allow you to check the electrolyte level inside.

Instead, these batteries have a sight glass on top of them, allowing you to check the colour against the chart on the top of the battery, in order to see the state of charge.

If you have an older style of battery though, you can remove the caps off the top of the battery to check and top up the levels if required.

These batteries are separated into six ‘cells’ with one cap for each cell. To check and top up the battery levels, simply remove the six caps on top of the battery, and shine a light down the inspection holes.

You will see a level indicator and the fluid level needs to be up to that mark. DO NOT fill the battery over these lines as the battery does heat up as it is being charged, and may overflow battery acid if it is overfilled - this will cause costly damage to your vehicle.

If the fluid level is below the indicator marks, simply fill up to the marks with de-mineralised water.

This can be purchased from any Supercheap Auto store. Using normal water can cause excessive corrosion inside the battery, significantly reducing the service life.

Fill each one of the cells to the full mark, refit the caps to the battery, and you’re done!

How to check the battery 'State of Charge'

Checking the battery state of charge is a relatively simple process, and will give you a basic idea of the health of the battery and how much charge it is holding.

You will need a basic electronic ‘Multi-meter’ to carry out this check. Make sure the vehicle is switched off, and let it sit for 30 minutes or so, to allow the surface charge to dissipate, as this will give you a false reading.

Switch your multi-meter to its ‘Voltage’ setting and place the corresponding probes to the positive and negative posts on top of the battery.

In most cases, red indicates positive and black indicates the negative side of the battery.

Once both probes are positioned correctly, you should get a reading on the screen of the multi-meter.

For a good battery, you should be seeing around 12.5 volts. Anything under 11 volts indicates that the battery requires a recharge or possibly replacement, as the starting system requires around 12 volts to start the car safely.

How to safely charge a car battery

If your vehicle battery is low on charge, a simple fluid top up and recharge may be all that's required to get your car starting perfectly again.

To carry out a proper recharge on the battery, it will need to be removed from the vehicle.

Most cars have the battery located under the bonnet, with two 10mm bolts holding it in place. Remove the two bolts, and undo both battery terminals, starting with the positive side.

Wrap a rag or similar around the terminals, to prevent them shorting out on the body work.

Some European cars have their batteries located under the passenger seat or in the boot of the vehicle. These can be rather difficult to get to, and may be best left to the professionals.

Once you have the battery removed from the vehicle, place it on a shelf or table.

DO NOT place the battery on the ground, as concrete can cause damage to the battery and will not allow it to charge.

Plug your battery charger into a power source, making sure the power point is switched off. Place the positive and negative connections from the battery charger onto the corresponding battery posts.

If your battery has cell inspection caps, loosen these slightly to allow the battery to breathe.

Once you’re happy with the connections, turn the battery charger on at the wall, and select the correct charging mode.

Most batteries will take up to 12 hours to completely charge - depending on the charger you’re using.

A trickle charger works best for complete recharge, and these can be purchased from Supercheap Auto.

Once the battery is charged, check the voltage level as described above, to make sure that the voltage level is correct. If it is still down, it may be time to purchase a new battery.

How to buy the correct battery for your car

There are many different types of batteries available for modern vehicles, so how can you make sure you get the right one for your needs?

On top of most batteries there will be a part number, which will help narrow down the battery that is suited to your vehicle.

There will also be number followed by the letters CCA. This indicates the ‘Cold Cranking Amperage’ of the battery.

This determines how well the battery performs in colder conditions. Depending on your vehicle type, and accessories fitted, you may require a Heavy Duty battery, to keep up with the additional load on the electrical system.

Many battery manufacturers have both standard and heavy duty versions of their batteries. Armed with this knowledge, an auto parts store like Supercheap Auto will be able to provide you with the correct battery for your application.

To make it super simple, Century Batteries has an easy to use tool that allows you to find the right battery for your car. 

How to change your car battery

Changing your vehicle's battery can be a simple process, one that you can do yourself to save both time and money, if you have the correct tools available.

The first step is to locate the battery in your vehicle. Most cars have the battery located in the engine bay, although some newer models and European vehicles place the battery in the boot, or in some cases, under the passenger seat!

These batteries are best left to the professionals to fit, as they can be extremely difficult to get to. Be sure to have the radio code handy, so you can program it back into the radio when you’re done.

Once you have located the battery, it's time to remove the bracket holding it down. This is usually held down by one or two 10mm bolts. Once these are removed, put them in a safe place, so they don’t get lost.

The next step is to remove the battery terminals. These are also 10mm nuts, which need to be undone just enough so you can remove the terminals from the battery posts.

Start with the positive side and once you’ve removed the terminal, wrap a rag or similar around it to prevent it from arcing out on the bodywork and causing damage to the sensitive electrical systems.

Carry out the same steps for the negative terminal, and then lift the battery out of the engine bay.

Place the old battery out of the way and grab the new battery that you have purchased. Remove the protective terminal covers and place them on the old battery and slide the battery into the car.

Refit the battery terminals, starting with the positive and then the negative, and refit the battery bracket.

Double-check all the connections to make sure everything is tight, pop your radio code in and you’re done! If you don’t feel confident changing your battery, AutoGuru can help you book a local mechanic to fit a new battery for you.

How to dispose of your old battery

Disposing of your old car battery is an easy process. Most automotive stores will take your old batteries free of charge, and recycle them.

Most local council tips also take used car and truck batteries free of charge for recycling.

Under no circumstances are car and truck batteries to be placed in your household rubbish bins, as they cannot be processed and can leak, or in extreme cases, explode.

How to clean battery connections

Have you noticed your battery terminals covered in a strange white powdery substance?

This is a slight byproduct of the sulfuric acid reaction in the battery. If not cleaned properly, it can cause damage to your battery terminals, so it’s best to treat it as soon as you notice it.

The easiest way to clean the powder off is to mix some bi-carb soda and warm water, and pour it over the terminals.

The bi-carb soda will neutralize the acid and stop corrosion. Once it’s clean, simply rinse it off with some water and wait for it to dry.

There are plenty of products you can purchase from places such as Supercheap Auto, that protect your battery terminals from the harmful corrosion.

These usually come in the form of an aerosol can, which you simply spray onto the terminals to protect them from further damage.

Image credit: Battery on the ground Michael Coghlan

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Written By

Joel Ilton

Finding a passion for cars from a young age, Joel carried out work experience as a mechanic whilst at school before starting an apprenticeship after finishing year 12.

After almost 10 years on the tools and in customer service, he moved into the IT realm as a Data Analyst and In-House mechanic at AutoGuru.