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28 July 2015

Car Batteries: Everything You'll Ever Need to Know

The battery is one of the components that is most likely to cause issues with your car. Fortunately, they are relatively cheap and easy to replace and shouldn’t cause too much difficulty or keep you off the road for too long. So it’s good to know a bit about your battery. The tips in this article will let you know how to maintain and look after your battery, how to know when you need a new one, and what the symptoms are of a dying battery. The simplest way to replace a battery is to call Taskforce on 13TASK. They will arrange to have your old battery removed and a new one supplied.

Battery life

Most car batteries will last about 3 years before they start to break down and perform poorly. This doesn’t mean that they need to be immediately replaced, but you should look for warning signs that the battery is not performing correctly. If your battery has a warranty, it’s worthwhile trying to detect an issue before the warrant lapses (battery warranties usually last about 3 years). The easiest way to keep track of your battery performance is to ask your mechanic to run a simple battery test when they change the oil or service your car. A lot of mechanics will not charge for a battery check.

How does a car battery work?

A car battery has 6 cells that are submerged in water and sulfuric acid. These chemicals make use of the metal plates that are submerged in them to trigger reversible chemical reactions that generate electricity. This means batteries can output electricity, but also accumulate and store it.

The life of your battery is influenced by a number of things. Repeated short trips can shorten the life of your battery. The amount of gadgets and instruments in your car can also have an impact, as can your style of driving. Largely, these things are beyond the control of the driver and are not significant concerns.

Symptoms of a faulty battery.

Often, a battery will stop working completely and you will be unable to start your car at all. Sometimes a battery will show signs of fault before breaking down entirely. There are a few things to keep an eye out for that will alert you that your battery is about to break down.

  1. The ‘check engine’ light can be triggered by low input into the car’s electrical system, indicating a problem with the battery.
  2. The battery’s fluid level drops below the line. Many modern batteries have a transparent window through which you can see the level of battery fluid. If the level is low, the battery may be leaking.
  3. The battery can swell when the chemicals inside it are reacting incorrectly. If your battery is a strange shape, this is a very strong sign that your battery needs to be tested and replaced.
  4. The smell of rotten eggs indicates that your battery is leaking acid. Your battery will need to be replaced. However, this smell also signals that your battery has become dangerous and could do you harm.
  5. If your car makes a rasping noise when trying to start up, your battery may need replacement. You are probably familiar with the noise after having left your headlights on and drained the battery. If you hear this noise often, it means the battery is straining to send enough electricity to the motor’s starter.  

Battery safety

Batteries produce hydrogen gas, which is flammable. If a spark occurs after enough hydrogen has leaked, it’s possible for the hydrogen to be ignited and the car battery to explode. If the battery has not been correctly fitted to the car, it’s also possible for the battery terminal to touch the metal bonnet of a car, forming and electrical circuit that can cause an explosion.

Car batteries can also develop leaks. If the battery breaks open, the sulfuric acid inside can leak out. This makes the battery a volatile and dangerous thing to have in your car, but also poses an immediate threat. Sulfuric acid is highly corrosive and can do serious harm if it comes into contact with skin. Sulfuric acid can even eat through fabrics and cause burns. If you can smell rotten eggs when inspecting your engine, it’s possible that your battery is leaking dangerous chemicals. You need to call a professional to inspect your car.

How old is your battery?

You should replace your battery every 3-4 years. There is a date code on the casing of all car batteries that will help you work out the age of your battery. A string of numbers and letters are pressed into the plastic of the battery, usually near the top. One section of this will be a number and letter combination. The letter represents the month (eg. A = January, B = February) and the number represents the year (eg. 1 = 2011, 5 = 2005). A battery with the time code C4 would have been made in March, 2014. If you find that your battery is over 3 years old, it’s worth contacting somebody to test or replace it.

Keeping an eye on your battery, knowing the signs, and getting your battery regularly tested is an important part of maintaining your car. If your battery is old or damaged, call 13TASK to contact a Taskforce battery expert and ensure that your car is safe and healthy.