A Guide To Caring For Your Auto Battery in West Michigan
While this year’s winter (so far) has been milder than most, that doesn’t mean some of us won’t have issues with our car batteries in the West Michigan cold. This cold weather can slow down the chemical reaction that makes batteries work, but unless we’re in sub-zero temperatures, having trouble probably mean it’s time to visit Borgman for a new one. However, there are things you can do to prolong the life of your battery, and knowing the different parts might be the difference between getting some extra time out of one or needing a replacement.
In this Borgman How-To, we’ll get you comfortable with the parts and terminology of batteries, as well as a couple of owner tips to get you (or someone else) out of a battery-related jam.
Why Does a Vehicle Have a Battery?
Hopefully, we’re all familiar with what an electrical battery is and what it does. Just like the tv remote control or your smartphone, your vehicle needs electricity from a battery to operate, but unlike these two things, it can generate its own once it’s running. Auto batteries serve two main functions within a vehicle:
- Store and deliver enough power for the starter motor and spark plugs to start the engine.
- Manage “keep alive” functions like clocks, security, and memory.
The most common battery you’ll find in a vehicle is a Maintenance-Free battery. The maintenance-free part is mostly true; it often distinguishes them from wet-cell batteries that need to be checked for water levels and refilled if necessary. We’ll describe the difference between the two later in this article.
You might hear auto batteries referred to as SLI Batteries (Start, Light, and Ignite.) This is more of a class of batteries and refers to three main uses for them. They’re designed to deliver short bursts of power.
When you start your car, the battery discharges about 400 amps of stored current to the starter motor, giving it more than enough juice to start turning the engine. As the engine gets moving, it goes through its various stages until combustion starts. While an engine is running, the rotation is used to power accessories via a serpentine belt. One of these is an Alternator and generates electricity while the vehicle is running. This power is used primarily by the spark plugs, but also every other device in the vehicle that needs electricity. The alternator also recharges the battery for next time.
Other Functions of Batteries
Batteries perform other smaller functions too, such as supplying extra power when the alternator is operating at full capacity, protecting the electrical system from voltage spikes, and keeping various systems alive when the engine is off. These “keep alive” functions include the clock, control modules for the engine and transmission, diagnostics, the security system, and more.
How Do I Take Care of My Vehicle’s Battery?
Maintaining a battery is pretty easy these days, as it’s more about good habits. It used to be that some batteries, often referred to as “wet-cell” would lose their electrolytes after a while and need to be topped up with water. Almost all modern batteries are sealed, so this isn’t necessary. Under normal use, a modern battery should last about 5 years with minimal maintenance.
While SLI batteries are designed to deliver a lot of power at once, they do not like to be drained all the way. This is referred to as a deep discharge, and each time it happens it shortens the life of the battery. While we can guard against this by ensuring accessories and lights are turned off after use, a dead battery can happen to the best of us and once or twice usually isn’t a big deal.
How To Clean Corroded Battery Terminals in Your Vehicle
After a few years of use, you might notice what looks like salt growing on the posts of the battery. It is the battery leaking acid and corroding, but it doesn’t always mean the battery needs replacing just yet. If you’re having trouble starting the vehicle and there’s corrosion on the battery, this is something you can clean up in about 20 minutes. All you’ll need a wrench, baking soda, an old toothbrush, a tub with hot water, and safety gear.
- Put on safety gear: Wear goggles and thick rubber gloves to protect yourself. Battery acid and skin are not friends. Also, you should be aware that the battery could be leaching flammable gas, so handle it gently and keep it away from direct heat sources or open flame. Safety always comes first. Turn off any accessories in the vehicle including the climate control, headlights, dome lights, and so on.
- Remove the battery: First, remove any covers or straps holding the battery in place. Next, determine which wrench you’ll need (it’s usually a 3/8″ or 10mm) and begin loosening the clamps on the terminals, starting with the negative post. Gently lift and twist the terminal clamp until it comes free. Tuck it away so that it does not accidentally complete a circuit while you’re working on the next one. Once the battery is free, gently lift it out. Be careful – it’s heavy!
- Start scrubbing: Mix roughly a tablespoon of baking soda with every cup of hot water in a large bowl. Dip an old toothbrush into the mixture and use it to start scrubbing the acid and corrosion from the battery posts and terminals. Note: If you see any cracks or active leaks in the battery, stop immediately. Bag it up and bring it to Borgman to be recycled, and to buy a Motorcraft replacement. The benefit of having us inspect or clean the terminals of your battery in the service center is that your vehicle is already here if we find further issues like this one.
- Thoroughly dry the battery and terminal clamps: An old towel should do the trick, but you could also use that blue paper towel in the automotive section of the supermarket. You might also want to put a little bit of petroleum jelly (or better yet, dielectric grease) on the posts to protect the metal.
- Replace the battery: Reconnect the positive post first and tighten the nut with a wrench. Now reconnect the negative post and tighten the nut. Replace all strapping, cladding, or covers that were on the battery. After everything is buttoned back up, turn the key to make sure the vehicle has power, and then start the vehicle.
Road Survival Tip: In a pinch, you could replace the baking soda and scrubbing with a cola soft drink. Popular name-brand colas have sodium bicarbonate in them. If allowed to sit on the posts and terminal clips for a few minutes, it might dissolve enough of the corrosion to get you back up and running. Simply disconnect the terminals, pour a little on them (enough to coat the corrosion, no more) and let it sit for a few minutes. Rinse the area with water and thoroughly dry. Hook everything up and try to start the vehicle. If it runs, you can get it home for proper cleaning.
How To Use Jumper Cables
If your battery is discharged to the point it cannot start the vehicle, you’ll need a jump. To do this, you’ll need a set of jumper cables and a donor vehicle. Check with the owner of the donor vehicle to make sure they don’t have electronic ignition or any other features that would become damaged during a jump. Whatever we tell you here is superseded by whatever it says in your owner’s manuals.
Park both vehicles with their engine compartments facing each other and make sure both are turned off. The easiest way to remember how to connect them is to work your way around in a circle, beginning and ending with your vehicle. Also, try not to let the ends of the jumper cables touch each other.
- Connect the red clip to the positive post of your battery.
- Connect the other red clip to the positive post of the donor battery.
- Connect the black clip to the negative post of the donor battery.
- Connect the other black clip to an unpainted metal bolt on the engine or the metal Alternator mount.
Have the donor start their car and wait for a while as your battery charges off their alternator. While this used to be true, there’s no need for the donor to lightly rev their engine during this time. After 5 minutes or so, attempt to start your vehicle. If it starts, remove the clips in the reverse order of how you put them on. If not, check your connections and wait a while longer.
Make sure both vehicles run for about 30 minutes after the jump. This gives the alternator time to recharge the battery. If your vehicle stalls at some point after a jump, it could mean your alternator needs to be replaced, or point toward different ignition issues. Have the experts at Borgman take a look and make the necessary repairs.
Having Battery or Electrical Issues? Trust The Experts at the Borgman Service Center
If your vehicle is having trouble starting, running, or you’re having any other issues, the highly-dedicated and expertly-trained staff at the Borgman Service Center are here to help. Use our easy Online Scheduler to make your appointment online or feel free to Contact Us by email or phone to discuss your vehicle.
Our customer service is what sets us apart. Come see why we’re the Best in the West!