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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Choosing a Car Battery - Guide

A Do-It-Yourself Guide on How to Choose Your Car’s Battery

A do-it-yourself battery replacement is a real money-saver but you also have to be responsible with the proper disposal of your old battery.
The car battery is the power underneath the hood of your car. It provides electricity needed for door locks, sliding windows, lights, and other car accessories. Your car is dead, the moment your battery dies.
You must discard the old battery properly:
  1. recycling stations (look out for the orange outposts with covered containers); and,
  2. automotive supply stores (some shops pay cash or offer discounts in exchange to old batteries).

    5 important factors in choosing a car battery:

    1. Size
    2. Brand
    3. Reserve capacity
    4. Age
    5. Cold-cranking amps
    Different Group Sizes for Different Car Models:
    1. Size 75 - General Motors cars;
    2. Size 65 - big-bodied Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury cars;
    3. Size 35 - latest Honda, Nissan, and Toyota cars;
    4. Size 34 - Chrysler cars; and
    5. Size 34/78 - with 2 sets of terminals to fit some Chrysler and some General Motor models.

    Size

    Size or Group Size refers to the height, width and length of the battery. They come in different group sizes to fit most car's battery tray. It is important that the battery should fit snugly and securely. Always refer to your car manufacturer's manual to know your car's specific battery group size. You may also consult the reference guides, which battery retailers provide, find out the appropriate battery size for your car.
    Buying a wrong-sized battery will just be a waste of money and might just set off more damage to your car.
    Original Battery for BMW (Photo from Flickr)
    In the United States, a new car battery might cost up to $200, or more. To save money more efficiently: it is best to do a research for battery prices first before buying. Also learn to remove and to install your own car battery, to save on the installation fee.

    Brand

    Brand refers to the trademark given to a certain product. Sometimes it is the same with the manufacturer's name (i.e. Exide company produces batteries with same name).
    Buying the battery brand specified in your owner's manual is the best way. But if that particular brand is too expensive and you want to do some cost-cutting, follow the specification requirement also found in the owner's manual.
    Do not be tempted to buy the cheapest brand because it could turn as the most expensive battery you've ever bought. Cheap batteries may also be loaded with defects and can also be poor performers. A frequent battery change, which also entails repeated installation, will just definitely sucks up the money you've initially saved when you chose a cheap car battery.
    Battery Service Centers that Install and Sell Reasonably-Priced Car Batteries:
    1. Firestone
    2. Goodyear
    3. Pep Boys
    4. Sears
    3 Battery Manufacturers and their Battery Brands:
    1. Delphi - AC Delco and some EverStart;
    2. Exide - Champion, Exide, Napa, and some EverStart; and
    3. Johnson Controls Industries - Diehard (Sears), Duralast (AutoZone), Interstate, Kirkland (Costco), Motorcraft (Ford), and some EverStart.
    You can also buy car batteries from local service stations and tune-up shops; however, the selection is limited and the stocks may not be fresh.
    Battery Stores that Sell Very Low-Priced Car Batteries but sometimes No-Install:
    1. Kmart
    2. Target
    3. Trak Auto
    4. Wal-Mart
    5. Sam's Club

    Car with Dead Battery Getting Towed (Photo from Flickr)
    RC rating on Battery Label (Photo courtesy of diynetwork)

    Reserve Capacity

    Reserve capacity rating (RC) refers to the battery's ‘standing power'. This is the amount of minutes the battery can continuously supply minimum voltage needed to run a car should the car's alternator or fan belt fail. With an excellent reserve capacity rating, your car can run on the battery alone when the alternator stops working.
    The RC rating of a battery is listed in minutes. You may not find the RC rating on the battery because it is not usually printed on the label. Check the product literature or ask the store assistant to find out the true RC rating of a particular battery.
    The longer the operating time of the battery' reserve capacity, the better; because this is the one quality of the battery that could save you from getting stranded. Consider the RC rating as your car's emergency kit. In times of unexpected trouble, you can still run to safety instead of getting stuck somewhere.
    IMPORTANT: You cannot just pick and buy a battery with the longest reserve capacity you can find. Consult your owner's manual to learn the recommended reserve capacity rating for your particular car model. It is best practice to choose the exact RC rating that your vehicle can handle.
    Fresh Car Battery (Photo from Flickr)
    If you see this date code on a battery ‘L7', which means December 2007, grab this battery because it is really fresh. (It's only 4 months old, if you're buying this April 2008.)

    Age

    The age of the battery gives you an idea on how long it should be able to perform. A battery is considered ‘fresh' if it is less than 6 months old.
    Look for the manufacturing date. Most date codes are stamped on the battery case or label. Important battery information usually starts with 2 characters:
    1. Letter - indicates the month (Example: A is January; B is February; C is March...), and
    2. Digit - indicates the year (Example: 9 for 1999, 0 for 2000, 1 for 2001...)
    A Snow-Covered Car (Photo from Flickr)
    Cables of New Battery (Photo from Flickr)

    Cold-Cranking Amps

    Cold-cranking amps (CCA) measure the battery's ability to start your car even on an extremely cold weather. During freezing condition, your car will be hard to start (or to ignite) because the car's engine oil thickens and chemical reactions, in turn, slow down.
    The cold-cranking amps also refer to the number of amps a battery will be able to support for 30 seconds at 0 degree temperature (until battery voltage reaches below minimum level).
    Choosing a battery with a high number of CCA is better; particularly to those vehicles being driven in a cold climate. A higher cold- cramping amps assure that your car's engine will start obediently even on snowy mornings.
    CCA and CA ratings on Battery Label (Photo Courtesy of diynetwork)
    Car Battery - is a type of battery that can be recharged. Its main purpose is to supply electricity to a vehicle. Car battery is also referred as an SLI battery. Starting-Lighting-Ignition: to give power to the starter motor, the lights, and the ignition system of a car engine.
    A Dirty Battery is Weak (Photo from Flickr)
    Cranking (starting) - also known as shallow cycle type, intended to release rapid surges of energy to start a vehicle's engine.
    Obviously, you won't have to bother with much CCA if you're living in a tropical or warm climate. Since the sole purpose of your car battery is to spurt electricity to crank your car's engine and also to supply power other car's accessories.
    Difference between CCA and CA
    CCA (cold-cranking amps) - indicate how much electrical power the car battery can deliver to the car's starter engine, at zero degree Fahrenheit.
    CA (cranking amps) - This is another measure of electric current in the battery, taken at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or at freezing point. When seen on battery case or label, the CA rating is usually higher than the CCA rating.
    Tips on Choosing the Suitable Cold-Cranking Amps Rating for your Car Battery:
    1. Check your owner's manual and follow the CCA rating specified for your car battery.
    2. Do not choose batteries with CCA rating which is much lower or much higher to the rating recommended by your car's manufacturer, as well as those CCA rating of 200 amps or more.
    3. If both your car's battery brand and exact CCA rating level are not available, you may choose a bit higher (not much and not lower) your car's CCA requirements.
    A Vintage Car Battery (Photo from Flickr)

    More Tips on Car Batteries:

  3. Warranty-covered cars and trucks - If your battery is covered by your vehicle warranty, go to your car dealer to claim some discounts. You must check thoroughly that everything is in order before buying though. Otherwise, the discount you got will be paid for purchase and re-installation fee of replacement battery.
  4. Older models of cars and vehicles which should be beyond their warranties must go to any service centers which could cater to all your battery needs at reasonable prices. If you have no choice but go to your car dealer, prepare a higher budget for your new automotive battery because these services tend to be more expensive.
  5. Do not install used batteries. It will be extremely dangerous.
  6. When your car coughed during start-up, pull over to a garage and ask a mechanic to ‘load' your battery. It should be able to hold a charge properly.
  7. At first sign of battery trouble, start scouting around for a new car battery. You won't get a good buy when you're stranded with a dead car battery.
  8. A new car will normally need a battery change after more than 3 years.
  9. If your battery's the unsealed type, you must add water to avoid drying up. Here's how to put water in the battery: twist open the cap and top up with distilled water. This will give your battery a longer life.
  10. Put back the battery hold properly to secure the car battery on its tray, if your car has one.
  11. Car batteries are NOT ‘maintenance free'. You must check the battery regularly. Keep the terminals, cables, and connectors clean and free from corrosion. Here's how to clean the battery: use a wire brush and baking soda/water mixture to scrub away the growth of whitish, greenish, and bluish stuff on the battery terminals.
  12. Check the battery connections. Make sure that the cables and posts are well connected. To keep off corrosion much longer, rub a bit of petroleum jelly to each battery posts. This will help the cable slip back easily.
  13. Carry a portable battery charger inside your car for emergency use, but be sure to know how to use the gadget.
  14. ‘Jump starting' a dying battery is known to save a car battery-and some money, too; but do not attempt this without complete knowledge on the correct procedure. Wrong wiring connections will cause damage to engine control and other electronic parts of your car.

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