The Easiest, Safest Way to Change a Car Battery

The Easiest, Safest Way to Change a Car Battery

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The battery in your vehicle may seem like an insignificant component that takes up a small amount of space under the hood.

But in addition to providing the necessary energy to start your car, the battery powers many electrical components essential to comfort and performance.

Although continually charged by the alternator, your vehicle's battery has a finite lifespan, and at some point, you'll probably need to change it. And because your car insurance likely won't pay a repair facility to do this, replacing the battery yourself can save you money. 

What's the easiest way to replace a car battery? What are some safety precautions when you need to change a car battery?

Let's look at the subject of DIY car battery replacement and ways to make it safe and straightforward.

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The importance of your vehicle's battery

The battery in your car plays a role in many components functioning correctly. 

If it's cold outside and you need to crank up the heat, the battery provides the necessary power.

Or, if you've just set out on a long trip and plan to use the navigation system, the battery keeps the screen illuminated and turn instructions updated. 

Then there are the turn signals, sound system, headlights and tail lights, and more, all requiring the battery's voltage to keep going. 

Because the battery is such a crucial part of your vehicle, knowing when to replace it ensures optimum performance in all sorts of weather. And that's especially important when you're in the market for a used vehicle. You want one in excellent condition, with fully inspected components, including the battery. Thankfully, Shift's certified mechanics perform extensive 150-point inspections on every car and have complete vehicle history reports, so you know your used car feels as good as new. Shift's website has a large selection of fully inspected vehicles located across the country that are ready to go. The website is user-friendly, and you'll be able to find various makes and models to suit your needs and budget. Whether you're on the hunt for an electric car or something economical and reliable like a Toyota Prius, Shift has what you need.

The different types of car batteries

Different automotive batteries may seem mostly the same when you look at them. Typically shielded by an outer plastic cover, batteries don't differ too much in terms of appearance. 

However, most passenger vehicle batteries have one thing in common: manufacturers design them for 12-volt electrical systems. 

The standard type of car battery is a lead-acid design. In the past, this type of battery required monitoring water levels to maintain performance and topping them off as needed. But today, sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries are maintenance-free. 

Although not as high-tech as other types of batteries, lead-acid batteries provide dependable power and can be easier on your wallet. But if you're after the latest technology or enhanced reliability, you may want to try another option. 

Absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries offer a more sturdy option than lead-acid versions, with the ability to withstand many recharge and discharge cycles, and could prove more reliable. If you live in a particularly harsh climate or want a battery that lasts longer, an AGM battery may be for you. 

However, AGM batteries typically cost 40-100 percent more than lead-acid versions. So before deciding between AGM and lead-acid, you'll have to consider cost versus performance and find the right balance between the two.

How to disconnect a car battery

Whether your vehicle won't start or you simply want to install a fresh battery, you'll first need to disconnect the old one.

You can usually find the battery under the hood, securely bolted down in the engine bay. If you haven't raised the hood on your car before, your owner's manual can guide you on how to do so.

However, some vehicles have their battery underneath carpeting in the trunk, so that's the next place to look if it isn't under the hood. If you're still unable to find the battery, checking the owner's manual can show you its location. 

After locating the battery, you'll want to find the negative battery terminal and positive terminal. Usually, the battery has a plus and minus symbol signifying each one. Or there may be a plastic cover over them with a positive or negative sign showing which is which. 

Now, you'll need one or two wrenches — most likely 10 millimeters in size — to undo the clamps connected to the terminals. Though a simple open-end wrench works just fine, having an additional socket wrench can make the job smoother. Or, if you can't find a 10-millimeter wrench, an adjustable one may also work. 

When you begin to disconnect the battery, be sure to use caution. Make sure to turn off your car's ignition, and for an additional safeguard, wear safety glasses. The first step is undoing the negative battery cable connector and wiggling it off the terminal. After removing the negative terminal, turn your attention to the positive battery post. Be careful not to let the wrench touch both the negative and positive terminals simultaneously, as it could create a spark, cause the battery to short out, or even damage the engine's computer or the vehicle's electrical system. 

With the negative cable set to the side, repeat the process with the positive cable.

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How to change a car battery

With the cables disconnected, it's time to remove your old battery and replace it with a new one that fits your vehicle's make and model. You can purchase a replacement battery at an auto parts store, online, or at most big-box stores.

Typically, a clamp holds the battery in place, requiring the unscrewing of a bolt before lifting it out. Using a socket wrench, undo the bolt, remove the clamp, grasp the old battery, hoist it up, and set it aside. 

After you set the new battery in place, bolt down the clamp so secure it and coat the terminals with lithium grease to prevent corrosion. 

Connect the positive terminal first, making sure to tighten it with a wrench. With that completed, secure the negative terminal using the same method. As you do this, again, be careful the wrench doesn't touch both terminals simultaneously

After that, if the battery has plastic caps for covering for each terminal, set them in place for increased protection against dust and dirt. 

With those steps finished, you've now installed your new battery yourself and can look forward to reliable starts and well-powered components for many miles. 

With so many parts of a vehicle critical to performance and reliability, including the battery, you'll want a used car that stands the test of time. Shift offers best-in-class service contracts at a fair price without sales pressure. You get the great price and value of a used car with the bumper-to-bumper protection of a new car. With a Shift Vehicle Protection plan, not only are essential components covered, but you also receive roadside assistance if you run into trouble. Wherever you happen to be in the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, or Canada, help is just a toll-free phone call away, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Author
Shift Editorial Team