Get in it and ride! That’s all you do when you have a maintenance-free battery under the hood. At least that's they told you when you bought your new battery.
Don’t rev up your engines just yet! You might want to take a minute and read up on your car battery before you take anything for granted.
But the label says maintenance-free and I know what that means. Says the car owner who takes everything literally – except the fuel light when it comes on. It’s just a dummy light anyway, right?
Well, sort of—the petrol light is a dummy light but not so dumb you should ignore it. And the label on your battery doesn't give you permission to take endless rides without checking in on it here and there.
Don't stress over a battery!
We’ve put together a few helpful tips so that you know the rules. Follow our tips and you can ride carefree.
Get Ready For Your First Inspection
It’s true. Even maintenance-free batteries need routine care. And unless you have time for a service appointment, you’re the caregiver.
Grab a wrench, a hammer, and a pair of pliers.
Don’t run out to the garage, grab the battery and yank it out of its compartment. Car batteries contain toxic acid. Acid that burns through clothing and can send you to the emergency room if it gets in your eyes or touches your skin.
You've got to gear up for this!
Are you imagining the mad scientist? A hazard suit isn’t required but you should put on a pair of gloves and some safety glasses.
If this isn’t your first tête-à-tête with your car battery, stick around. We’ll get to the more challenging aspects of battery care in a minute.
For now, use your skills and disconnect the battery from the battery cables. Disconnect your negative cable first—it’s the black one. Then disconnect the red positive cable.
And battery care is as basic as it gets unless you count topping of your windshield washer fluid. But if you had no clue about positive and negative battery connections before today, you're not alone.
Now you’ve disconnected the cables and removed the battery (hopefully, you didn’t set it down on the hood of the car), what's next?
Take a Look Around
Even though the battery stays tucked away under the hood, it does still take a beating. As part of your routine maintenance, give the battery a good look-over.
You’ve already removed the cables but inspect them and make sure they’re not frayed or broken. Battery cables generally last about 50,000 to 100,000 miles. But once they’re broken or damaged they generally can’t be repaired.
Now for the battery itself, you’re looking for dirt and corrosion. Corrosion is a crusty, ashy substance that builds up around the battery terminals and the ends of the cables. You’ll probably also find a little dirt on the battery case.
Look for cracks in the battery case and on the cell covers. If the case is cracked don’t waste your time looking for anything else. You’ll need to replace the battery.
Finally, check the hold-downs. There’s one on each side and they anchor the battery in its compartment or tray.
See how easy that was? You're probably wondering about water level since you watched your dad checking it in his car when you were a kid.
Don't Worry About Water Level
Here’s where things get interesting! One of the selling points for maintenance-free batteries is you no longer need to check water levels.
Batteries manufactured before 1971 suffered water loss because of outgassing. Outgassing is caused by:
Back in the day when your battery ran low on water, you might have filled it with tap water or water from the garden hose. Tap water contains minerals and other impurities that can damage battery cells.
Fortunately, modern batteries don’t require filling. In fact, they come with sealed vent caps, which prevent you from even checking water levels. In some cases, you may void your warranty if it’s obvious you’ve pried up the vent caps.
Typically water loss isn’t a big issue with these batteries unless you live in an extremely hot climate. Or the engine compartment of your car gets extremely hot. Extreme heat in the engine compartment usually happens when you run your car in constant stop-and-go conditions.
Even then, you can drive with peace of mind your father and grandfather didn’t have as long as you keep the battery clean.
Battery Cleaning Routine
About the only care your maintenance-free battery needs is a thorough cleaning of the outside components.
That corrosion you noticed when you took the battery out of the car? You only need a few things to get rid of it and of one of those you can find in the kitchen cabinet.
Baking soda, cool water, and a wire brush are all you need for removing crusty corrosion from the outside of the battery. You can also purchase battery terminal cleaner spray if you aren’t into the homemade cleaning solutions.
These are the basic cleaning tools but you can put together a battery maintenance kit, which includes a few more items.
The Right Tools
These tools aren’t necessary for keeping your car battery in top shape. But they can help you get the job done faster and with less mess.
We already mentioned terminal cleaner spray but you can also purchase a battery terminal brush. Most people are surprised when they hear dirty battery cables are the leading cause of starting and charging performance issues. The battery terminal brush cleans both the terminal posts and the inside of your cable clamps.
After you clean with the wire brush and cleaning solution, use a battery terminal protectant on all the connections. You’ve just removed corrosion now keep it from coming back with protectant.
Finally, you should have checked the hold-down brackets earlier. If one or both were loose or corroded, now is the time for a replacement.
Maintenance-Free Battery Tips Wrap-Up
You probably thought there’d be pages and pages of information about caring for your maintenance-free battery.
As you can see, if you schedule routine checks of the battery case and keep the cables and other outside components clean and free of corrosion, there’s not much to do. Keeping a few simple tools, gloves, safety glasses, and cleaning products on hand makes the job safe and simple.
We appreciate you reading this post and hope we've removed some of the intimidation people often feel about basic car care.
If you're curious about the types of batteries available for your car visit us here for more information about the batteries we carry.