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Answers to 2 Commonly Asked Questions About Caring for Your Car Battery

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Having a flat car battery can leave you stranded at the worst of times. Most times, however, proper maintenance can ensure that you seldom end up in this situation. Proper handling and maintenance will not only extend your battery's lifespan, but it also keeps it working optimally. This article offers valuable insights that you can easily implement on your own to achieve this goal. 

1. What are some seasonal maintenance checks I can do myself?

In between car service trips, you should ensure that your battery is clean and that it has enough water. Because of the chemical reaction between electrodes (terminals) and the electrolyte (solution inside the battery), cables and terminals can get corroded over time.

All you need is a little clean water and some baking soda to make a paste. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and some goggles to protect yourself. Use a soft, non-metal brush to clean the top of the battery and then the cables. Wipe off with a damp cloth until all the baking soda is gone. When disconnecting cables to clean, always start with the negative terminal and do not force if stuck; use a cable puller instead.

To check the electrolyte levels, gently remove battery cell covers. The top of the battery should be very clean to prevent dirt from getting into the electrolyte. The electrolyte should be at about 0.5in about the top of the plates. All cells should have the same amount of electrolyte. Fill up to the right level using distilled water, not tap water. If any of the cells has significantly lower electrolyte than the others, this might indicate a leak that should be fixed professionally.

2. How can I tell my battery is failing?

There are many ways to know whether you're low on charge or your battery is failing. Common causes of low battery charge include:

  • Taking short trips, as this doesn't allow proper charging

  • Adding too many accessories or using them when the engine is off, e.g. listening to the radio when cleaning the car

  • Running the battery close to its expiry

You can tell whether your battery is failing by trying to turn on the headlights when the engine is running idle. Try to rev the engine and see whether the headlights brighten and dim back when you stop revving. Also if you notice that the car starter turns slowly, schedule a service appointment as it may be battery may be failing or your alternator wiring malfunctioning.

Finally inspect your fan belt to see whether it is cracked, glazed, loose or frayed. You may simply need to service it, or it may require replacement.