Nearly every driver is familiar with automotive batteries and the all-too-common occurrence of needing a jumpstart. Much like the batteries in a flashlight or any other household device, a car battery has a limited service life.
That’s why the battery, cables, and terminals should be checked on a regular basis to ensure your engine starts every time.
Understanding the Battery, Cables, and Terminals
The battery provides electrical energy to the starter motor, which, in turn, cranks the engine to get it running. Also, the battery provides electricity to the car’s onboard electronics when the engine is turned off.
Needless to say, the battery is pretty important. What many people don’t recognize though, is that the battery cables are equally as important.
There are two battery cables: the positive and the negative. The positive battery cable connects the battery to the starter motor and other points of the car’s electrical system. Meanwhile, the negative car battery cable connects the battery to a common ground.
At the end of each battery cable, there’s a terminal that attaches the cable to the battery.
Although nearly all modern batteries are maintenance-free, the terminals occasionally require cleaning. As for the cables, they’re designed to last the life of the vehicle (but that doesn’t always happen).
How to Perform a Routine Inspection of the Car Battery & Associated Components
Every few months, you should perform a routine inspection of the battery, cables, and terminals. Here’s what to check:
- Make sure the battery, cables, and terminals are clean and free from corrosion
- Ensure that the terminals are securely attached to the battery (wiggle them to check)
- Make sure that the battery hold-down bracket is secure
- If possible, check the age of the battery by inspecting the battery date code
Many professional repair shops will also perform a battery load test as part of a routine inspection—but this process requires equipment that most DIYers do not have.
Also, keep in mind that batteries contain acid and release explosive gases during normal operation. Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment and follow the necessary safety procedures whenever you’re inspecting the battery and associated components.
What to Do if You Find Issues with Your Car Battery
Over time, corrosion builds up on the battery terminals. The issue can cause a range of problems, including a vehicle that won’t start.
A quick cleaning with a mixture of baking soda and water usually cures the problem. You can also choose to purchase a dedicated battery cleaning product.
Just remember—the corrosion built up around the battery is acidic. When cleaning the terminals, you must wear the proper personal protective equipment, including gloves and safety glasses.
Loose terminals can also result in a variety of problems, including an engine that won’t start. If you find the terminals to be loose, simply snug them down with the appropriate size wrench.
Also, make sure the battery hold-down bracket is secure; tighten it down if needed.
How Long Do Car Batteries Last?
There’s usually a date code somewhere on the case that gives you an idea of the battery’s age. Sometimes the code is written in standard date format (e.g., 11/20). In other cases, the code contains a letter and a number; the letter indicates the month of production, while the numbers indicate the year of production.
Consult the battery manufacturer’s chart if the code is difficult to decipher.
Typically, a battery will last between three and seven years before requiring replacement. If the date code indicates your battery is past its prime, you might want to have it tested by a professional to avoid being stranded.