How to Maintain or Replace a Battery

By Mark Elias 03/01/2021 8:00am

car battery replacement and repair

Car, truck and SUV batteries are more stressed than ever before. Whether it’s extreme temperatures, or the need for a constant power supply from increasingly complicated on-board electronics, battery maintenance is just as important as a regular tune-up, to get the most out of your vehicle.

Regardless of whether it’s a tablet, smartphone, MP3 player, or GPS Receiver that draws power from your vehicle battery, or even human error, where you may have made the simple mistake of keeping your headlights on after shutting the vehicle off, or by even forgetting to close a door, or trunk lid, it is important to remember that your battery does have a limited lifespan.

That lifespan can be lessened by constant charging of your smartphone from your car battery, especially if your car battery is not new.

How Long Does a Battery Last?

A battery, whether for truck, car or SUV should ideally have a lifespan of approximately six years. But depending extreme temperatures, humidity, heavy accessory loads and other factors that are detrimental to battery life, expect three or four good years from your factory or aftermarket battery.

How Does a Car Battery Work?

The battery in your vehicle is there to provide a jolt of electrical energy to start the engine and to provide engine-off accessory power for a limited amount of time. Once the engine is running, the alternator takes over to power the accessories and charge the battery.

Car batteries typically feature six connected cells in a lead-acid formulation, or up to 12 cells in a 24-volt system found in heavy trucks or other large vehicles.

What’s Involved in Maintaining or Replacing a Battery?

Batteries are not “one size fits all.” There are several things to consider:

  • Size: Typically based on your vehicle’s make, model and engine type, it is literally the footprint of the battery, along with placement of the battery terminals. Every battery has a slightly different terminal placement. Care should be taken to make sure the new battery you are putting into your Car, Truck or SUV is the same size as the one you are replacing. This is an “apple to apple” equation. In other words, don’t try to fit a pineapple into the space reserved for a cantaloupe.
  • Age: Like a loaf of fresh-baked bread, batteries are best when “fresh,” within six months of manufacture. Most batteries, like the one in your current vehicle, will have a date code to tell you this information. When in doubt, call the battery maker to decipher the date code.
  • Cold Cranking Amps: Can this battery start your frozen SUV at 0-degrees Fahrenheit in the dead of winter, when the oil is as thick as molasses? The higher the Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) rating, the better the battery’s starting power. The rating refers to the number of amps a 12-volt battery can deliver at 0-degrees F for 30 seconds, while maintaining at least 7.2 volts.
  • Reserve Capacity: In the case of an alternator failure, the Reserve Capacity will give you an estimate of how long your car’s battery will be able to run on battery power alone, without the help of the alternator.

Speaking of the alternator, a faulty alternator can cause your battery to not recharge properly. Your dealer’s service department or your local auto repair center has the equipment to check the health of your vehicle’s alternator. We recommend having it checked every time you change your oil.

How to Jump Start Your Battery

See our full guide and video here.

Replacing a Car, Truck or SUV Battery

Replacing a vehicle battery is a good project for do-it-yourselfers. Start by consulting your vehicle owner’s manual for the proper size and location of the battery. Identify the positive and negative posts and the proper cables that are to be attached to each. The positive post will have a red plastic cover over it. There may also be a + sign stamped onto the battery casing or printed on a nearby label. Start by loosening the negative (-) terminal bolt and removing the cable, taking care not to touch the positive post at the same time. Once you loosen the bolt, use a terminal puller, if available, to remove the cable from the negative battery post. Follow by repeating the procedure with the positive post.

Next, remove the clamp or retaining system holding the battery in place. Carefully lift the old battery to remove it from your vehicle. If a terminal cleaning tool or a wire brush is available, use it to clean any corrosion that may exist on the cables.

Position the new battery so that the red, positive post will match up to the location of the red cable. Secure it with the battery retaining clamp, removed earlier. If the battery includes anti-corrosion washers, place them over the posts now, followed by a thin layer of anti-corrosion grease to prevent buildup on the posts, which could prevent battery charging. Finally tighten the positive cable, and repeat the process with the negative cable.

Check to make sure the battery is secured to its mounting platform. Close the hood and be on your way.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Battery?

Typically, prices range from $45 to $250, depending on power, size, and quality. In many cases, no appointments are necessary. You can see how much battery replacement costs for the make and model of your vehicle.

Regardless of the type of vehicle you drive, your local dealership service department, auto parts store or local automotive specialists offer check-ups to quickly replace your battery, so you can be on your way.