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.