Comment: In my last article I covered information on common automotive electrical problems. This week I'd like to continue that train of thought by offering you some information on preventative maintenance for your electrical system. A properly maintained car should get you through the winter without any inconvenient surprises. Again, I'd like to thank my colleague and friend Kevin Schappell for allowing me to reuse much of this information directly from his Everything Automotive E-book.
Preventing problems with your electrical system:
Replace your battery every three years as a safety measure. This practice will save a lot of headaches down the road. My recommendation is to replace the battery with the same size, amperage and battery cable hook-up connections as the original replacement battery or the battery the manufacture is currently recommending. If the manufacture's battery is not easily available, ask your mechanic which brands would be comparable to it.
A weak battery will cause the alternator to work harder, thus premature alternator failure can occur. This is another great reason to periodically replace the battery.
If your battery is not a sealed unit, check the fluid levels in each cell. Only fill the battery with distilled water, and be careful around the acid which is in the battery.
Check your alternator belt frequently for cracks and tension. Replace per your car's manufacturer's recommendations.
Clean your battery connections at least twice a year. I recommend you have your mechanic inspect the cable connections during each oil change interval. More vehicles get towed into my shop due to a no start condition, and the cause is often dirty or loose battery connections. Corrosion buildup at the cable connections can also cause all sorts of electrical and computer problems throughout the car.
Parts stores sell a handy terminal cleaner, which is basically a round wire brush that works wonders. Once you've cleaned and reattached the terminals, coat them with a layer of heavy grease or special purpose grease sold at parts stores. This grease will block the air from reacting with the connectors and creating corrosion.
How to jump start your car:
A good set of jumper cables is a necessity. The cheaper sets will have thinner cables which cannot carry enough amperage to start some stalled cars. Look for cables with 4, 6, or 8 gauge wire. Eye protection should be worn during this operation or anytime you work around the battery.
- Lay out the cables on the ground between the two cars. Make sure that the cables are not tangled and that none of the end clamps are touching each other.
- Start the car with the good battery, it should be running.
- Take the positive (red) clamp closest to the car with the good battery, and hook it to the positive terminal of that car. The positive terminal will have a (+) sign on it, and usually a red wire running to it.
- Repeat Step 3 on the car with the bad battery, hooking up the positive clamp to the positive terminal on the battery. Make sure the clamps are contacting well and cannot fall off.
- Take the negative (black) clamp closest to the car with the good battery, and hook it to the negative terminal of the battery. The negative terminal will have a (-) sign on it, and usually a black wire running to it.
- Take the negative clamp closest to the car with the bad battery, and attach it to the bare metal part of the engine. Usually a giant shiny nut on the engine block will do. A painted, dirty, or oily nut will not work. Do NOT hook it to the battery's negative terminal, as there may be hydrogen gas present from the battery, and a spark from the connection could cause an explosion. If you cannot find a suitable connection, hook the cable to the negative battery connection but be extremely careful.
- Turn the key on the stalled car, and the car should start. If it does not start, try revving the engine on the good car to boost the charge coming from its alternator.
Jump starting your car does not have to be a hard task, but it can be a dangerous one if not performed properly. Make sure to remove any rings or necklaces from your body before you work around a car battery. I lost a chunk off my wedding ring and my finger when I forgot to remove my ring during a friendly roadside jump start-ouch!
A spark or open flame around a battery can cause an explosion too, so take extreme caution when attempting a jump start. If you are one bit leery of your abilities, call for a tow truck and have them either do it for you or tow your car to your mechanic. A tow charge is much cheaper than a hospital visit and probably more enjoyable too.
Austin C Davis
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