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When to Replace a Car Battery

when to replace a car battery

A dead battery can put a serious crimp in your plans for the day. You either need a jump-start from a friendly passerby or a call to AAA Roadside Assistance to get you back on the road. But there is a way to avoid that situation entirely. Rather than being surprised when your battery fails, practice good car battery maintenance.

When to Replace a Car Battery

The typical life of a battery in the Northeast is just under five years. If your car’s battery is more than 3 years old, have it professionally tested, and if it is 5 years old consider having it replaced.

Signs You Need a New Battery

Knowing when to replace a car battery begins with recognizing these signs.

  • Your car has trouble starting or slow engine cranking.
  • Your car can’t get going in cold weather or extreme heat. Cold weather especially can take a toll your battery.
  • You need frequent jump-starts.
  • Dashboard lights are flickering.
  • Dim headlights.
  • You notice a rotten egg smell.
  • The battery case is disfigured.

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Basic Car Battery Maintenance

Just like changing your oil and staying on top of tire care, you should check your battery as part of regular car maintenance. Add it to your checklist today and save yourself the headache of a dead battery later.

While some like to DIY certain car tasks, others are more comfortable leaving it to the pros. We recommend having AAA mobile Car Battery Service check the condition of your battery. A technician will come to you, wherever you are, and will even replace your battery if needed. AAA members get a minimum of $25 off every car battery purchase. You can’t beat that kind of convenience.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to know about what’s going on with your car’s battery. Here are some car battery basics to be aware of.

Safety First

Ever had a battery leak inside of a plastic flashlight and had to toss the whole thing? It’s not pretty. Battery acid is caustic, so it’s not something you want to get in your eyes or on your hands. Before you do any kind of car battery maintenance, put on protective eyewear and a sturdy pair of gloves.

Clean the Cables

Open the hood and take a look at your battery to see if there is any visible corrosion. It’s a sort of crusty, white coating that you’ll find around the battery terminals. This can be easily cleaned with a simple mix of 1 cup water with 1 tablespoon baking soda, along with a small wire brush.

Start by disconnecting the battery cables – negative first, then the positive cable. Once the cables are disconnected, use the water and baking soda solution to clean off any corrosion. You should also clean off the battery terminals to remove any signs of corrosion there, too. You can purchase a battery terminal cleaning tool to make the job easier.

Once the terminals are clean, there’s one more step you should complete to keep them in good condition. Coat them with a dedicated battery terminal spray, to prevent corrosion. Using grease can attract dirt, and that combination can cause the battery to discharge over time.

If you notice a buildup on the terminals, that’s your cue that it’s time to give them a good cleaning.

when to replace a car battery

Check the Electrolytes

Once your battery is clean, remove the covers from the battery cells to expose the fill holes. The covers are different depending on the battery. Sometimes it’s a single piece of plastic you simply pry off. Other times each hole has its own cover that you twist off individually. Some low-maintenance batteries may not have filler caps at all, which means that this step is one you need to skip for your battery.

If your battery does have removable fill caps, you should be able to see down inside of your battery once you’ve taken them off. The fluid in there is an acid and water mixture, and it should come up just to the bottom edge of the holes. If it’s any lower, then you need to add clean, distilled water to the mix.

Be careful not to overfill. The mixture inside your battery is caustic. If it spills out it will burn your hands and can damage the paint on your car. Fill only to the bottom edge of the holes. If you overfill the battery, wash everything off with plenty of fresh water.

Check the Voltage

You can test the voltage with a tool called a voltmeter to get an idea about the condition of your battery, although a voltmeter won’t give you the full picture. AAA battery service technicians and AAA Approved Auto Repair Facilities have dedicated battery testing tools that are more thorough and show the overall condition of your battery. 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.

AAA Battery Replacement Service

AAA battery service professionals will test, clean or replace your battery on the spot. As part of AAA battery replacement, they will also make sure that your old battery is properly recycled.

Is battery maintenance on your car care checklist? Let us know in the comments.

Car Battery Maintenance Tools
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This article has been updated and republished from a previous version.

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One Thought on “When to Replace a Car Battery

  1. It’s helpful advice when you mentioned that you should put on eyewear and a pair of gloves as battery acid is caustic. A friend of mine called me last night that she couldn’t start her car and she does not know how to check each part of the car. She is hoping to find a trusted mechanic or automotive services to resolve or repair the damage.

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