If anyone has ever had the unpleasant experience of turning the key to their vehicle and hearing only a series of rapid clicks, the indication of a low battery, or nothing at all, which means a dead battery, they know the feeling of dread and vulnerability that it brings.
That's why it's so important to perform regular checks and maintenance on your battery and charging system. Most of these services require only a little bit of your time and a minimal amount of skill.
Checking your charging system with a voltage meter
You don't need an expensive meter that an auto service facility would use. You can buy a simple meter that plugs into a power outlet on your vehicle for less than ten dollars. Create a regular schedule of checking the meter at least once per month, and even more frequently in extremely cold or hot weather.
To check the battery's charge, turn the key of your vehicle to the accessory (acc) setting. You should have a reading of at least 12.0 (for 12 volts), but preferably a few tenths higher. You will then start the car and check the meter once again. This will indicate whether your battery is being sufficiently charged, and should present a reading of at least 14.0 but preferably slightly higher.
If either reading is lower, there are maintenance tasks that you can perform to see if you can get the readings higher. These tasks should also be incorporated into a regular schedule, even when all of your meter readings are good.
Cleaning your battery terminals
It may seem rather simplistic, but dirty battery terminals can not only limit the battery's ability to recharge, but also its efficacy in running accessories or even starting your vehicle and keeping it running,
You will need a small wrench or adjustable wrench to loosen the terminal clamps that connect the battery cables to your battery. Even when you loosen the nuts on the clamps, you will need to wiggle the clamps back and forth as you are lifting them off the battery terminals.
Both the terminals and the insides of the clamps should have a smooth metallic sheen. If either or both are covered with a white powdery material, it is corrosion and must be removed. You can use a piece of fine sandpaper to remove the corrosion. Just be certain to remove it all before restoring the cable clamps and tightening the nuts to secure them.
If corrosion is an ongoing problem because of climate or other factors, you can purchase a corrosion inhibitor spray that can be applied directly onto the battery clamps and the exposed tops of the terminals.
Checking the battery cables
Your cables should be free of any bare spots where the insulation cover is torn or cut. A bare cable wire can make contact against the steel body of the vehicle and create an electrical ground that will drain your battery. A small bare spot can be covered with electrical tape, but worn looking cables with many faded spots should be replaced.
Check your alternator belt
If the belt that powers your alternator is not tight enough, the alternator.s internal mechanism won't spin sufficiently. The belt should not be able to be lifted more than 1/2 inch if you place a finger under it (while it is not running, of course).
If the belt needs to be tightened, you may want to take it to an auto service center. Both the adjustable tension pulley and the spring loaded tensioner type belt adjusters can be tricky and may require special tools depending on the model.
In addition, if you've ever caught your finger between a belt and a pulley, it is a transcendent experience of pain.
If you ever see that your battery is not charging or holding a charge properly, and every other component in the charging system looks good, you can always take your battery to the nearest auto parts store. They will check it for free on the assumption that you will buy a new battery there if (or when) yours is defective.
For more information, talk to a professional like GSBP Automotive.
As the son and grandson of mechanics, I spent much of my child hood under the hood of many cars. I have listened and learned about so many different problems and how to repair them effectively. I created this blog to cover as many car problems as possible without overwhelming readers. You will find tips for troubleshooting, advice for when to take it to a professional and suggestions for when to stop driving the car or truck immediately to prevent further and more costly damage. We hope that you find all of this information helpful and useful, allowing you to have a great running car.