Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Car Won't Turn Over?

One Of Your Car's Most Important Components - The Battery...

Here it comes, dangling on a hook!
The shiny SUV, equipped with automatic climate control, an onboard navigation system, antilock brakes with traction control, backup cameras, parking assist, and satellite radio is being carried by the same flatbed that is used to haul the junkers to the scrap yard.
It is unbelievable that something as simple as a battery has caused $50,000 worth of some of the most sophisticated technology available to the public to be reduced to a worthless heap of metal, plastic, rubber and glass. NOTHING on your vehicle works without the battery. The engine won't start or run, the radio won't play, the wipers won't wipe, the lights won't light up, the heater won't heat and if you think you have it covered because your car is equipped with OnStar*, think again. What makes this worse is that this whole scenario is 100% preventable.

If your battery is more than 4 years old you should probably replace it. Some may argue that their battery has a five or seven year warranty. What most people don't realize is that the warranty is pro-rated, which means that you will be charged a percentage of the cost of a new battery based on how many months you have used your original battery. It works like this: If the cost of a new 5-year battery for your car is $120 and you have used your original battery for 48 months (4 years), then you will be charged for 48 months worth of use of the original battery. ($120 replacement cost / 56 month warranty X the 48 months that you used the battery) $120 / 56 = $2.14 per month X 48 months = $102.72. The $17.28 that you save getting your battery replaced under warranty ($120 - $102.72 = $17.28) won't even scratch the surface of what it is going to cost you for towing and labor when that battery leaves you stranded 20 miles from home.

The difference between a 5-year battery and a 7-year battery is the price. They are constructed from the same materials by the same manufacturers. The extra money you pay only affects the amount of pro-rate credit you will get when the battery fails. Almost all automotive batteries have run out of useable life just after 4 years. There may be battery manufacturers that will argue this point, but I can only tell you what I have seen based on my 35+ years in the automotive repair business. It is my personal belief that you are money ahead buying the 5-year battery and planning on replacing it shortly after 4 years rather than push the envelope with a 7-year battery just to have it leave you stranded in about 4-1/2 years.

Give your battery a visual inspection about once a month. Look at the terminal area where the cables hook up to the battery. If it has a bunch of white or green fluffy-looking stuff on the terminal ends, it is usually a good sign that the battery is beginning to leak. (Start saving your money for a new one.) This corrosion can be cleaned off using some baking soda mixed with water (about 1 heaping teaspoon for 2 cups of water) and an old tooth-brush. Once all the fluffy stuff is dissolved, rinse the battery real good with plain water. Be careful not to get this stuff on your skin or clothing, as it can cause severe skin burns and eat holes in your clothes. Baking soda is real cheap and works a lot better than most of the battery-cleaning agents sold at your local parts store. If the corrosion is really thick and hard and doesn't come off easily with the baking soda, it is probably time to replace your battery cable ends. (A subject I will talk about in a future article)

Finally, check the internal condition of your battery. This should be done every 6 months or so, in the spring, before it gets really hot, and in the fall, before the extreme cold weather sets in. most of the big parts chains (AutoZone, O Reilly's, Carquest, etc.) will load-test your battery for free. A load test works by applying a measured amount of load to your battery and measuring the amount of voltage your battery has left with the load applied. A battery in perfect condition will usually test at a little over 100% of its rated capacity. If your battery is fully charged, and it tests at 85% of its rated capacity or less, it is time to get a new one.


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