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How to Keep Your Car Battery Running Smoothly

Most AAA service calls are battery-related. Follow these guidelines to ensure your car battery never fails.

car battery running smoothly

Car batteries can often be an overlooked component of automobile maintenance. However, most of the roadside assistance calls AAA Northeast receives are for battery and electrical issues. Additionally, many of these issues can be avoided with precautionary tests and replacements of damaged batteries. Here are a few tips to keep your car battery in top shape and ensure you’re not stuck in your tracks.

Maintenance

Car batteries all require regular maintenance to provide the longest life. This includes regular driving of the vehicle several times per week in order to maintain a full state of charge. These drives should be longer trips with steady cruise speeds. “Short local trips are not optimal for longest battery life and performance,” said Jason Carrara, manager of technical program training at AAA Northeast. “They don’t provide the complete recharging a battery needs after giving energy to start your car.”

Testing your battery

Batteries become damaged in hot weather and are stressed during cold weather. In other words, battery damage commonly occurs during hot summer months, but does not reveal itself until the winter, when more power is needed to start the vehicle. “If your car needed a jump during the cold weather, you fixed the symptom but not the underlying problem,” said AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul.

All car batteries will eventually die. The average battery life in the Northeast is between three to five years. As they age, batteries should be checked yearly not just in winter.

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Battery terminals

As noted in most owner’s manuals, battery terminals require regular removal and cleaning in many environments. 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 covered in corrosion.

Periodically disconnecting the car battery to clean its terminals with water and baking soda can help extend its life. This valuable service can also be performed by AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities, your regular repair/maintenance shop, or AAA Mobile Battery Service.

Draining a battery

If you accidentally drain the battery and need a jump-start, your battery needs to be recharged properly 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,” Paul said. “If you let your vehicle battery die, such as by leaving the lights on, even after a full recharge the battery will never make it come back 100 percent.” When you get out of your vehicle lock the doors and make sure the lights are off.

AAA members receive a complimentary battery testing and terminal cleaning. AAA also offers mobile battery testing, battery replacement, and disposal and recycling of your old car battery. Learn more at AAA.com/BatteryService.

If you have questions about your car battery, or any automotive issue, ask John Paul at AAA.com/CarDoctor.

Comments
  • A few more things to add life to your battery:
    Be safe, use eye protection when working around a battery. No flames or sparks as hydrogen gas may be present. Wash hands and tools if electrolyte gets on them. Remove the negative cable when working on electrical parts on the vehicle. Keep it clean. Use a damp rag to clean the battery top. Dirt and sulfuric acid can drain current if not removed. A baking soda/water solution can be used but be careful not to get any inside the battery fill holes. If the battery has removable caps, check level and if not above the plates or bottom of fill tubes, add distilled water. Do not overfill or let the electrolyte go below the top of the plates. After cleaning, use grease or battery terminal protector spray to keep corrosion off of terminals. An automatic battery charger, or even better, a battery maintainer will keep the battery fully charged, especially on vehicles that are not driven often or long enough. Lead acid batteries will last longer if kept fully charged. If battery is discharged, recharge with a battery charger as soon as possible. The alternator will not bring it back to full charge and battery life will be reduced..

  • Stanley S.

    I do clean the battery terminal at least every 3 months. If I’m traveling a long distance I bring my battery cables, A bottle of distiller water, and my GPS if I get lost, and my cell phone to call for assistance.

  • Robert C.

    to clean the battery terminals, what ratio of warm water and baking soda should be used? And how long should you leave the water / baking soda on?

    • Andrew S.

      Hi Robert, here’s what our car expert recommends: About 1.5 tablespoons baking soda to one cup of water. Pour on, let sit for a couple of minutes until the mixture stops bubbling, scrub with a soft brush (old toothbrush works good) and rinse with fresh water. Wear gloves and eye protection. If the cables are really dirty they should be removed from the battery and cleaned with special battery cleaning tools (best left for a professional).

      If you have any other car questions, you can ask him directly here: Car Doctor

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