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Car Battery Facts


f you’re like me, you might think that your car runs on gasoline, but without electricity your car isn’t going anywhere.  Electricity provides the power to crank the engine and the spark to fire the cylinders.  From the computer controls to the light that comes on when you open the door, it’s all run by electricity.  

The battery is the initial source for all of the electricity in your car. In most cars, it's a 12-volt, wet-cell battery that creates electricity through an electrochemical reaction caused by immersing a series of dissimilar metal plates in an acid solution. The result is a transfer of electrons, which is another way of describing electrical current flow. 

Some manufacturers have begun experimenting with dry-cell battery configurations. Over the next few years, auto manufacturers will introduce 42-volt electrical systems. In general, the processes and procedures for maintaining those systems will be similar to the 12-volt, wet-cell battery. 

To keep your car firing on all cylinders, it's important to have a good working electrical system, and that begins with maintaining the battery. In general, a good working system involves three things: keeping the battery filled, charged and clean. 

Maintaining the battery is easier today than ever before, because in most cases, today's batteries do not need water added under normal driv­ing conditions or the batteries are sealed. They still have acid in them, but you can't add to it even if you wanted to. If your car's battery does have removable caps, you should check the level about once every three weeks or so to make sure it's full.  Here's how: 

o       Make sure the engine's off.

o       Open the hood.                                          

o       Remove the battery caps. (Do not force the cap off; it may appear to be  removable but is not.)


Look inside each battery cell. See the little ring, near the bottom of the opening? That's the "Full" line. The battery should be filled to one-quarter of an inch below the bottom of the opening. If the water level is low, add a little distilled water to bring it up to the proper level. Then replace the caps. (Be sure to wear eye protection and be careful when you do this.) If you're adding water to a battery when the outside temperature is below freezing, ensure that the battery is charged immediately after the water is added. 

Remember: Most of the time you won't have removable caps to fill the battery. Some batteries have a small "eye" that indicates whether the battery is full or not. In most cases, the eye should be green when the battery is full and charged. Some imports use yellow to indicate that it's full. If the battery eye turns black, it means the battery either is too low or it has become discharged. Take your car into the shop to have the battery charged and tested.                                

Next, check the battery itself. Is it clean or covered in grease and dirt?  Believe it or not, grease on the battery case actually can discharge the bat­tery. If the battery is dirty or greasy, clean it with a mild detergent and a damp cloth. Be careful: Batteries contain sulfuric acid. If you get any on your skin, always flush it off immediately with a solution of cold water and baking soda to prevent acid burns. And always wash your hands with soap and water after handling the battery.                                

Finally, look at the battery terminal ends. Those are the cable ends that connect the battery cables to the battery terminals. The terminal ends should be clean and free of any signs of corrosion.                  

Buying a New Battery

   Automotive batteries come in different types, sizes and price ranges.  Whether you buy it yourself or get it through your repair shop, it's impor­tant to know how to identify the differences and how to choose the one that's right for your car.


Warranty — Most decent batteries last three to four years, regardless of war­ranty length. Very often manufacturers offer longer warranties at higher prices just to hook you on their batteries. If you get rid of the car before the war­ranty expires, they win. If the battery fails while still in warranty, you take it back and they prorate your refund from the cost of a new battery.


Size — Don't be fooled by the size of today's batteries. New technology has enabled battery manufacturers to develop much smaller batteries that provide | just as much power as the older, larger ones did. When choosing a battery, there should be only three size considerations:

1. Does it fit properly in the battery tray?

2. Is the battery short enough for the hood to close without causing a problem?

3. Are the terminals on the proper sides, so the cables will reach?

As long as the answer to these three questions is "yes," the battery fit just fine in your car.


Capacities — This is the real difference between batteries: how much they provide and for how long. All battery manufacturers must declare this information using three standard measurements: 

Cranking Amps — Cranking amps (CA) is the amount of power the battery provides for cranking your car's starter for 30 seconds at a temperature of 32 degrees F (zero degrees C), while maintaining at least 1.2 volts per cell (7.2 vol total). As you might expect, the higher the number, the more power the battery provides for starting your car .

Cold Cranking Amps — CCA is virtually the same as cranking amps, but with one difference: The measurement is taken at zero degrees F (-17.8 degree C). So, cold cranking amps indicates how well the battery will crank the starter in really cold weather — when the engine is hardest to crank. 

Reserve Capacity — This measurement indicates how long your battery would keep the engine running if the alternator stopped charging. It's a measurement of how many minutes the battery will deliver 25 amps at 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) while maintaining at least 1.75 volts per cell, or 10.5 volts total. In other words, this is about how long your car will continue to run with the headlights, wipers and defroster on, if the alternator quits.            

So what capacities would be adequate for your car? Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better when it comes to batteries. The climate where you live plays a factor. In a cold climate, bigger is better, but if you live in a hot climate, the lighter CCA may offer an increased life expectancy for the battery. 

Not sure what the specifications were in the original battery? Check the owner s manual. If it doesn't provide the battery specs there, check the applica­tion guide from the battery manufacturer. They'll usually list a minimum rec­ommendation for your car. Choosing a battery with higher specs won't hurt, but choosing a battery with lower capacities could leave you stranded one day.



Also see

Your Car's Mechanical Condition

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission:Which is Better? -tips for deciding on the type of transmission

7 Easy Steps to Make Your Clutch Last Longer -some of these may surprise you.

What is a Differential? -During a turn, the outer wheels drive farther than the inner wheels, and this is an important function of the differential.

Dealing with Transmission Problems -learn about some common transmission problems for manual and automatic transmissions.


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