3 Steps to Replacing a Car Battery

When you least expect it, your car battery fails to turn over, leaving you stranded.

If you’re fortunate enough, you’re near a shop, a phone or other public place where help can be quickly summoned and a replacement battery installed. If you’re far from home, on the road or otherwise remotely located, then you have a potential crisis on your hands.

Car batteries typically last 2 to 6 years, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. A nonworking battery doesn’t always signal that the battery is dead, something that an electronic battery tester can determine.

If you rule out other potential problems such as a worn-out alternator, a loose or frayed battery cable or headlights that were left on and drained the battery, then you can assume that your battery is dead.

How to Replace a Car Battery

When replacing a car battery, proper safety precautions should be taken. Ideally, you’ll want to wear protective gloves and goggles when handling the battery to avoid potential injury. Also make sure the work area is well-ventilated, as batteries release harmful fumes.

Avoid causing sparks near the battery and never smoke or have open flames present. Battery acid can cause burns if it contacts skin or eyes, so flush with water immediately if this occurs.

Corrosion is a potential killer of a car battery.

1. Remove the Dead Battery

Lift the hood of your car and locate the battery.  In most cars, the battery is located in the front right or left side of the engine compartment. In some cars, it may be pushed all the way back against the firewall separating the engine compartment and the cabin.

In a few instances, the battery will be located behind or underneath the second-row seat. The 2011 Chevrolet Impala is one such example of an oddly placed car battery.

Clean off the top of the old battery, using a mixture of baking soda and water to remove residue. Wipe dry. Using a crescent wrench, disconnect the battery bolt holding the negative clamp, sliding the cable away from the battery.

Do this step for the positive clamp. Disconnect the battery from the battery tray if so connected — there may be a supporting bar or clamp on the bottom of the tray. Once fully disconnected, remove the old battery and place it to the side.

2. Install a New Battery

By now, you probably realize that car batteries have varying life spans. Driven under normal conditions, your new battery should last for the 24-, 36-, 48- or 60-months or more it was designed for. Choose a longer life battery especially if you plan to keep your car for several more years. The battery should be the same size as the one being replaced.

Place the new battery on the battery tray and connect the positive battery cable with the positive terminal and the negative battery cable with the negative terminal. Secure the frame.

Apply battery lithium grease to prevent corrosion. Tighten the clamps using the crescent wrench. Close the hood, get in the car and start the engine. Reset electronic devices including the clock as needed.

3. Dispose of the Battery

Most retailers will gladly take your old battery off of your hands for a nominal recycling fee. Or, if your town has a recycling center, you may be able to drop it off there for free. In any case, old batteries are an environmental hazard and should be disposed of properly.

Not everyone is keen on handing a simple job as replacing a battery. Some retailers offer free installation too with a battery purchase, a good way to have someone else do the work as well as take the old battery off of your hands.

When to Replace

There are several common signs indicating a car battery needs replacement. These include difficulty starting the vehicle, dim headlights, red corrosion buildup around the terminals, and simply reaching its age or service life limit.

Battery testers, available at most auto parts stores, can provide confirmation if you suspect yours needs to be changed. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a battery is advertised as a 48-month or 60-month battery, it may not necessarily last that long.

After Installation

After installing the new battery, check that the voltage level has not drained low while sitting on the shelf. If it has, use a battery charger to restore charge before installing.

Also allow the vehicle’s computer system to reset and reconnect to the new battery after install. Consider retesting battery operation after a short break-in period to confirm all connections are secure and it is charging properly while the vehicle is driven.

Some vehicles, such as newer Audis, require “reprogramming” to let the car know the battery has been replaced. A dealership can do this for you (at a cost) or certain OBD2 scan tools allow you to do so on your own.

Long-term Care

Proper long-term care can extend the lifespan of a new battery. Routinely clean any corrosion buildup from terminals using a wire brush and baking soda/water solution. Verify cable connections remain tightened securely over time as vibrations can loosen them.

Avoid unnecessary strain on the charging system by turning off lights and other accessories when the vehicle is off. Follow the recommended maintenance in your owner’s manual.

Matthew Keegan

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