How to Install a Car Battery

Vehicles on the market today offer the widest variety of engines to choose from than in any other era, as advancements in technology have created many new options and innovations. The car battery, which supplies the electricity needed to turn the engine over and start the car, was first used in 1918 by The Hudson Motor Car Company. More sophisticated electrical systems, the kind that featured advanced electrical components, required a larger, more robust, and reliable battery power in the decades that followed. In the ’70s, the car battery started changing - from a positive ground 6-volt battery to a more substantial, encased, and negatively ground 12-volt option.

Generally speaking, batteries are made to last between 3 to 5 years. Battery life varies depending on factors such as your individual driving habits, weather conditions, and human error. There is a high likelihood of experiencing a battery issue at some point during the life of your vehicle, so it is helpful to educate yourself about your particular car battery. Prepping yourself in regards to your battery needs is a simple initiative to undertake when it comes to avoiding future issues. There’s nothing worse than being stranded and possibly alone relying on a stranger’s kindness when your battery decides to go out at the most inopportune time. 

Warning Signs of a Weak Battery

A weak battery will typically have several red flags indicating a loss in performance before it completely gives out. These indications include:

  • The engine is slow to start.
  • The headlights dim or other electrical component issues.
  • Low Battery light on the dash illuminates.

When a low battery warning occurs, there are a few visual checks you can perform that may resolve the issue before having to escalate to the next course of action:

  • Warped or Swollen Battery Case - Depending on where you live, extreme temperatures can damage the battery case. Chemicals in the battery subjected to extreme temperatures, whether high or low, can cause swelling and freezing. A battery in this condition can be dangerous. Please do not attempt to replace it yourself or drive the car until the battery is replaced.
  • Corroded Connections - Battery posts can become dirty, loose, and corroded over time, leading to a poor connection that hinders the amount of power output needed to turn the engine over. You can tighten the loose connections or clean the dirt and corrosion away from the battery terminals, but be careful not to get the chemicals on your skin.
  • Old Battery - Every battery has a 4-5 digit date code located on the case cover. If you are not sure of your battery’s age, check this number to determine the manufacture date of the unit. The first number is the month (1 for January, 2 for February, etc.), and the second number is the year (so 9 is 2009 or 11 would be 2011, etc.). A simple glance at this number can give you a strong indication of whether or not the battery is past its prime. If the battery is more than three years old and you are having warning signs of a low battery, you can have it tested to see if a replacement is needed.

How To Install a Car Battery

You may have exhausted all of the tricks available to get your battery working again, and found no success. In this instance, it is time for a replacement. To replace the battery, first, consult the owner manual to determine the correct battery type for your vehicle. If your particular vehicle’s manufacturer does not specify to only to have the battery replaced at the dealership, grab a pair of gloves a socket wrench set, and follow these steps to install your new battery:

1. Turn the vehicle off, locate the battery, and put on the gloves. Using a wrench or socket set, loosen the bolt holding the negative cable, and pull the cable up and off of the battery. 

2. Disconnect the positive cable in the same manner. If there is any white residue left behind on the cable connection, clean it off, so the new battery has a clean and proper connection to the cable. You can mix baking soda and water to form a mixture to remove any stubborn corrosion left behind in the battery tray.

3. After removing the corrosion left behind, dry all the connections thoroughly with a clean cloth. 

4. Place the new battery in the clean tray, and confirm the positive and negative cable terminals are in the correct position. Then, reattach any of the available restraints that hold the battery in place.

5. Connect the battery cables to the battery, starting with the positive cable first, and negative cable second. Double-check your work, ensuring that the battery is secure and the cables are tight. 

6. Attempt to start the vehicle. When you hear that familiar starting sound, you have successfully completed the installation of your new battery!

What To Do if You Have a Dead Car Battery

If you are like most people, the day you find out your battery is dead is usually the same day you are running late, or really need to use your vehicle for an important task. The dreaded clicking noise that ensues when a dead battery is in play can be maddening. So what do you do if you find yourself with a dead car battery?

Locate Another Power Source

If your battery is dead, you will need to get the power required to turn over the engine from another power source. First, check your owner's manual to find the location of your car’s battery, if you aren’t sure where it’s located. Most car batteries are under the car hood, but they can also sometimes be in the trunk, under the car's back seat, or other interior locations. Once you locate another power source (usually another person’s car battery), there are several ways to jump-start your vehicle’s dead battery. 

Use Jumper Cables To Get Your Car Up and Running

Jumper cables are likely the most familiar car accessory to the general public, and most everyone knows what they are generally used for. 

Start the process with both cars turned off. Then, clamp the red (or positive) cable to the dead battery, followed by attaching the positive cable's opposing end to the helper battery. Next, connect the cable's negative end to the helper's negative battery post, and secure the other end of the negative cable to the engine block (or another non-moving, metal surface of the car) with the dead battery. This acts to ground the cable. 

Start the helper car first, and then start the vehicle with the dead battery. Leave the car running while taking the cables off in the reverse order of attachment, ensuring none of the cable ends come into contact with each other.

Jumper cables are also available in a portable battery operated form, or a box that you can plug in at home to provide a power source - in the case that a secondary car battery is not available. These options are an excellent alternative to the traditional jumper cable set, which relies on a friendly pedestrian to provide a working power source.