Basic Auto Battery Maintenance and the Tools to Make It Happen

Caring for and replacing your vehicle battery is one of the easiest tasks a DIYer can perform under the hood. It's also one of the most important. A little maintenance, which includes cleaning car battery terminals, will extend battery life while preventing the frustration and added costs that come with being stranded unexpectedly by a dead car battery. 

Mechanics testing Battery

Test your battery

As car batteries age, they build up high internal electrical resistance that makes recharging more difficult. The vehicle's alternator is then forced to run longer and work harder, which in turn reduces vehicle performance and gas mileage. When your old battery finally fails, it probably won’t happen in a convenient place or at just the right time. Instead, the unplanned failure will result in the additional expenses of an emergency roadside assistance for a jump or tow and labor costs to replace the car battery. In the end, trying to squeeze the last trickle of life out of your old car battery won't save you money; it'll cost you. The best way to know whether your battery needs to be replaced? Get it tested at Advance Auto Parts — it's free and quick. 

Replace your battery

Contrary to popular belief, the number one killer of batteries isn't cold but heat. Under-hood temperatures can approach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Over time, that excessive heat takes a toll on a battery. Meanwhile, today's vehicles are jam-packed with accessories that draw power and cause a deep discharge. Combine the long-term effects of repeated deep discharging, longer charging times, and higher under-hood temperatures, and it’s no surprise that you end up with a dead battery. Car batteries are replaced about every three to five years. So, if you're approaching the high end of that range, it's time to consider replacing your battery.  

How To Disconnect A Car Battery

Battery maintenance tools and products

In addition to testing and replacing your battery on a regular schedule, the right tools will help maintain a car battery and prolong its life. Here are the tools and products we'd recommend you buy or borrow to keep your battery in good working condition. 

Battery Cleaner Spray

If you're wondering why car battery terminals corrode, it's because batteries leak acid as they age, and that acid can corrode your battery cables and terminals, appearing as a white powder. To clean the corrosion from a car battery, use a battery cleaner spray. To get started cleaning car battery terminals, spray the top of your battery with the cleaner spray. The yellow foam will turn pink when it encounters battery acid. Wait for it to neutralize the acid and wipe it off with paper towels. 

Battery Cleaning Brush

Keeping your battery cables and terminals clean is the key to maintaining the best starting and charging performance. Once you’ve cleaned the top of your battery, remove each battery cable (disconnect the negative cable first and install it last). Then use a wire brush to clean the terminal posts and the inside of the battery cable clamps.  

Battery Terminal Protector Kit

Now that you know how to clean the corrosion from your car battery by neutralizing the battery acid and wire-brushing the terminals and cables, for just a few dollars, you can use a battery terminal protector kit to ensure the best electrical connection. 

Battery Hold-Down Brackets

A loose battery is a dead battery because vibration contributes to early battery failure. To prevent your car battery from shaking itself to death, replace broken and corroded battery base clamps and hold-down brackets. They’re inexpensive, easy to install and provide some added peace of mind. 

Pro Tip

When installing a new battery, be sure to note in your vehicle maintenance records the month and year the new battery was installed so you'll know when it's due to be replaced. 

Battery Cables, Terminal Clamps and a Side Terminal Wrench

Corroded battery cables and terminal clamps can reduce the voltage going to the starter, and that can cause premature starter failure. So, replace your battery terminal clamps at the first sign of corrosion. If you see green corrosion working its way into the copper cable, replace the entire cable. 

If your battery has side terminals, you may not have enough clearance to use an ordinary ratchet and socket. Pick up this special, side terminal ratcheting wrench and remove the battery cables in a flash. 

Car Battery Maintainer

Batteries lose their charge when they sit. And that long-term discharge can permanently damage the internal plates. Don’t connect a car battery charger and leave it on full time. It’ll overcharge the battery. Instead, buy a different type of car battery charger called a battery maintainer. The maintainer tests the battery at regular intervals, charges it when needed and sits idle the rest of the time. That’s better for the battery than a traditional car battery trickle charger that never shuts down. 

Staying on top of your car battery replacement can be quick and painless, and in the long run, it will save you time and money. Advance Auto Parts will test your car battery free of charge. If you do need a new car battery, we'll install it for free with the purchase of a new one and recycle your old battery.* 

*Car battery installation available on most automotive vehicles, at most locations, unless prohibited by law. Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.

Do you have tips for how to keep your battery going strong? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated February 13, 2023