Car batteries rarely get much thought … until they die and your car won’t start. That might be why roughly 25% of roadside assistance calls AAA Northeast receives are for battery issues. But most of these issues can be avoided by being proactive about car battery maintenance. To learn how to do this, we asked our AAA car battery experts the important questions. Here are their answers.
How do you properly maintain your car battery?
Car batteries require regular maintenance to provide the longest life. This includes driving the vehicle several times per week in order to maintain a full state of charge. These should be longer trips with steady cruise speeds. “Short local trips are not optimal for longest battery life,” said Jason Carrara, AAA Northeast Technical Program Manager. “They don’t provide the complete recharging a battery needs after giving energy to start your car.”
What about battery terminals?
Battery terminals should be periodically removed and cleaned. This will ensure proper performance every time you turn the key or push the button to start your car. Electricity cannot flow properly, and your engine will not start, if terminals are corroded.
To clean battery terminals, use a memory saving device and the proper personal protective equipment and disconnect the car battery terminals from the battery posts with baking soda and water. (This valuable service can also be performed by AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities, your regular repair/maintenance shop, or AAA Mobile Battery Service.)
What happens if I accidentally drain my battery?
If you drain the battery, it needs to be recharged on a battery charger likely for several hours, sometimes even a whole day. Simply running the car for 30-60 minutes – as was a common remedy years ago – or going for a ride will usually not completely recover your battery and will shorten the life and performance ability of your battery.
“It is the cycling of a battery that causes a shortened life,” said AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul said. “If you let your vehicle battery die, such as by leaving the lights on, even after a full recharge the battery may not recover to 100 percent of its original capability.” When you get out of your vehicle lock the doors and make sure the lights are off.
How long do car batteries last?
The average battery life in the Northeast is between three to five years. As they age, batteries should be checked each year.
How do you test a car battery?
You can test the voltage with a tool called a voltmeter (buy here) to get an idea about the condition of your battery, although a voltmeter won’t give you the full picture of the overall battery condition.
You can also visit the nearest AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility for battery testing. It’s a simple check and you can even ask to have it done when you’re getting an oil change or other repair work.
How do you jump start a car battery?
If your battery dies and you need a jump start, you can always request roadside assistance. But should you need to do it yourself, here’s how:
- Make sure that other vehicles are at a safe distance and that you’re in a spot that’s out of danger’s way.
- Move both cars to face each other head-on about 18 inches apart (or as close to this as possible). Set the parking brakes, turn off the ignition and remove the keys.
- Open the hoods of both cars and find the battery terminals. Usually, the terminals are red or black and you will see a + (red) and – (black) sign on the top.
- Tightly attach the red, positive cable clamp to the red, positive terminal of the dead battery. Next, attach the opposite end of the red, positive cable to the working vehicle’s positive battery terminal.
- Attach the black, negative clamp to the working car’s black, negative battery terminal but do not attach the negative clamp to the negative battery terminal of the dead battery. Instead, attach it to an unpainted metal part of the car like a bolt or the engine block. Dead batteries can produce hydrogen gas and if there’s a spark you want it away from the battery.
- Start the engine of the working car and let it run a minute or two before trying to start the dead car. If the car won’t turn over at first, wait a few more minutes and give it another try.
- Once the dead car is working again, remove the black, negative clamps and do not let them touch while the other cables are attached to the car. Then remove the red, positive clamps. Do not let the red and black cables touch. Close the hoods and stow your jumper cables. Take the car to a local repair shop and to have the battery fully charged and tested.
AAA Car Battery Services
AAA is your one-stop-shop for all your car battery needs. Members can use roadside assistance to have their battery tested. A technician will come to you, wherever you are, and test your battery and charging system with the latest equipment. If you need a replacement, the technician can install a new battery on the spot. All AAA car batteries come with a 6-year limited warranty and members receive a $25 discount.
AAA recycles every old battery that is replaced so you can be ensured that yours is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.
Learn more about AAA’s car battery service or schedule a battery testing at AAA.com/BatteryService.
AAA members can save on automotive replacement parts and accessories at NAPA.
If you have a question about your battery or any car-care issue, ask our Car Doctor John Paul here.
16 Thoughts on “AAA Car Battery Experts Answer All Your Questions”
I have a 2011 Chevy traverse, just got a new AAA BATTERY installed by AAA tech. While installing I noticed a black tube and asked what was that used for and tech said to air vent battery but My battery was missing the elbow air unit to attach and advised I get one asap. Do I need one of these air kits and should I get a tech to install ?
Hi Carla, thanks for the question! Here’s some advice from our Car Doctor John Paul: All batteries give off fumes and when they are under the hood it is not a problem. In your Traverse, the battery is located in the car so there is a vent tube to allow gases to escape and prevent corrosion. You should get the vent installed, and any mechanic or DIY-er should be able install it. These vent kits are available at most auto parts stores.
Purchased new 20 Corolla. About a few months later car wouldn’t start and dealer accused me of not knowing how to drive my car (how ridiculous). Bottom line is I let it sit idle and drove my other older vehicle around with no problem whatsoever. Then when i called AAA they came and gave the Corolla a fast quick charge. Car started beautifully. I drove it around for around an hour with no problems. Then I parked it and when I tried to restart it it was dead again. My plan is to have this virtually brand new Corolla towed to my mechanic to see if they can isolate the problem which has plagued my car from virtually day one. Dealer and Toyota have been no help.
When I brought up subject of my warranty dealer had a ready answer. He told me if I tried to fix problem I risked voiding the new car warranty. So much for buying a new car.
After getting a boost, then disconnecting the cables. How long should one maintain the car on before attempting to drive away?
Hi Jules, thanks for the question! Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor, John Paul: The alternator that keeps the battery charged is designed to maintain the battery not fully charge it. Generally, a 20-minute drive (not just idling in place) could bring the battery up to a reasonable level, it may not fully recharge the battery. The best advice is to have the battery recharged using a battery charger and then retesting the battery to evaluate its condition. Also, the boost or jump start did get the engine started, there may be an underlying problem. The battery could be nearing the end of its useful life, the charging system is not fully charging the battery, or an electrical system or component could be draining the battery. If you have any more questions, just ask.
In 2015 mini cooper, you need to register the battery into the computer to turn off the battery warning light. Do you provide this service when replacing the battery?
Bert, thanks for the question. Here’s what our Car Doctor, John Paul has to say: Each fleet location does have a battery registration tool, but it sounds like you have a charging system issue. My suggestion would be bring it to a full service AAR shop for diagnosing and repair.
For a dead battery replacement , I’m told that in addition to a new battery purchase a memory card is needed to store a code. As the car is several years old, where do I get a code number. Are separate numbers needed for ignition, radio air, etc? (06-17-2021)
Hi Michael, thanks for the question. Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: When replacing a battery it is best to use a memory saving device. These are attached to the battery cables or sometimes plugged into the OBD connector under the dash. Using these devices saves all of the codes for things like the radio. On certain cars if you don’t do this the radio will go to antitheft mode and a code is need to reactivate the radio. The code comes from the manufacturer or sometimes the dealer. The other system will learn on their own, even if a memory saver is not used.
Will AAA put a battery maintenance c-tech on my car when I leave it here for the summer?
Hi Patty, thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, this is not a service AAA roadside provides. We recommend getting it done at a local repair shop. You can find your nearest AAA Approved Auto Repair facility here: aaa.com/autorepair
You write “Battery terminals should be periodically removed and cleaned.” How does one remove a battery terminal without destroying the battery? What you could have written was the battery cables should be disconnected from the battery and the connections at the end of the battery cables, along with the battery terminals, should be cleaned.
What do you think of the portable car battery chargers, like Halo, that retail for about $150 ?
Hi Vickie, thanks for reading and for your question! Here is an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: I haven’t used that brand but have used others. In fact I keep a portable jump pack and 12-volt compressor in our family cars. The units I use are from Noco. Here is the one I use.
I also have one from WORX
They both have worked fine when needed.
Your article made no mention of checking liquid levels in batteries and how to follow up with this issue; otherwise, very informative.
I was ever so pleased as an aaa member of 45 years,to be able to use the car battery service in my area, where a representative of a service operator for aaa brings a new batter to your home for your vehicle, and installs it..i had a smallish (the man told me too small) battery for about 5 years,which actually was a 2 year battery! I had purchased it at a local auto parts store and they put in in..i drove with it for almost 5 years, and one evening(,luckily I was at home,)my car failed to start..i thought,rather than jumpstart with a neighbors cables,i would call aaa battery service and i am so glad i did..prompt,(within one hour)courteous and a bigger battery!!thank you aaa for this service…