Battery maintenance is a commonly overlooked topic, especially when it comes to car batteries.
More often than not, if you pop your car hood, the battery you will see is what’s called a wet cell battery. This means that it has water, or electrolyte, that is used as a connector between the battery’s electrodes.
This water reacts to the environment in the same ways that water anywhere else does: it evaporates.
To prolong the life of your wet cell battery it’s important to check the electrolyte levels and replenish them as they get low. Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it may sound. Fortunately, these six steps will help make it easier.
Step 1: Safety first
You’ve heard it a million times, and it’s not because we like to say it. It’s because safety is always the first thing you should consider when working with a battery.
Whenever you are working with a battery you’ll want to take some safety precautions. Not only can the battery give you quite a jolt, it can also become dangerous if not handled properly.
Make sure you have gloves and safety goggles. You’ll also want to disconnect the battery and remove it from the car before you start messing around with it. Taking this step is a much better option than creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Step 2: Clean it up
There are many reasons why you should keep the top of your battery clean at all times. Aside from not wanting to contaminate the inside of the battery once you open it up, you’ll also decrease the risk of unintended discharge.
The best way to clean the battery is with an old toothbrush or wire brush and a mixture of baking soda and water. Dip the brush into the mixture and use it to scrub away any dirt or corrosion build up. Use a clean, lint free rag to wipe the battery clean.
Step 3: Check The Electrolyte Levels
Before you just start filling the battery with distilled water, you’ll want to check the electrolyte levels to see if the battery even needs to be topped off.
You can do this by:
- First remove the plastic tops covering the cell ports. This may require some prying with a screwdriver.
- Once the covers have been removed, carefully clean away any dirt that may have built up underneath.
- Now that the cells are open you will want to check the level of the electrolyte. The best way to tell if the battery needs more electrolyte is if the plates are exposed or coming close to exposure. Another way to tell is if the electrolyte levels are not equal in each cell.
Step 4: Adding Electrolyte
In this case, electrolyte simply means distilled water. You do not want to add another form of water and definitely not acid. Knowing how much to add is also an important distinction. A common rule of thumb is to add enough water to cover the electrodes or plates.
For newer batteries that are fully charged, you can safely add enough electrolyte that the level meets the bottom of the filler tube.
Step 5: Recover The Cells, Replace The Battery
Now that the electrolyte levels have been replenished, replace the covers to the cell ports. Make sure that there is no dirt or dust has landed on the bottom of the covers to prevent possible contamination.
Once the covers are secure it is safe to replace the battery and reconnect the cables.
Step 6: Use The Battery
Now that the battery has been cleaned and the electrolytes replenished, try starting the car and even drive it around for a bit.
Pay attention to the overall performance of the battery. Was it easy to start? Can you turn off the car and restart it with no issues? If there is no improvement or the battery will not hold a charge, it’s possible that you will need to replace the battery completely.
Proper battery maintenance can help keep your battery at peak performance levels longer. You can even save money by not having to replace your battery as often. Try adding battery care to your maintenance routine. This will help you keep track of how often you will need to replenish the electrolyte levels and can clue you in when something is just starting to go wrong.