Car Maintenance: When to Change Your Battery
There’s nothing quite like the sinking feeling you get when you try to start your car and instead of the sound of the ignition, you get only the dull click of your key. The usual culprit? A dead battery. But before you decide to install a new battery (see this page for the step-by-step-process), make sure you’ve tried these options first:
1. Lights Out
Often your battery is drained because you’ve left your lights (interior lights or headlights) on for an extended period of time. Be sure to turn them off before starting your car anew.
2. Jumper Cables
Try recharging the battery using jumper cables and another car (most roadside service vehicles have this capability). This will help you in the short run, but if you find yourself constantly needing a jump, it’s a sign the battery needs to be replaced.
3. Damage to Battery Casing
If your battery is damaged following an accident, it should be replaced immediately, as any damage to the casing could lead to dangerous chemical leaks.
4. Give It a Good Cleaning
Battery performance can be affected by sulfate (cakey white substance that sometimes builds up on your battery terminals)—to get rid of sulfate, clean your battery terminals using a water-baking soda solution (be sure the car isn’t running when you do this).
5. Measuring Up
You can measure the strength of your battery using a voltmeter (available in most hardware and auto stores). First, remove the ground (negative) wire from the battery using a wrench, and then remove the live (positive) wire—be sure to remove them in that order to avoid a short-circuit. Then touch the red wire leading out from your voltmeter to the positive end of the battery, followed by the black wire from your voltmeter to the negative end of the battery. If your voltmeter indicates that your battery is putting out less than 12 volts, you will need to replace your battery.
If you’ve determined that your battery needs replacing, see our step-by-step guide for how to do it. In general, car batteries should be replaced every three to four years.
Car Maintenance: Replacing Your Car Battery
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