Aggravated battery

In the almighty age of the automobile, it’s a cultural ritual to, on occasion, sit under a shade tree, wipe our hands on a greasy rag, and talk about cars.

Today is one such day. I want to talk about batteries.

They can be really problematic these days, but, since they are one of the only remaining elements the average car owner can maintain and replace on their own, we might as well embrace the opportunity.

Saipan’s tropical setting imposes an extra burden on batteries, since hot climates are hard on them.

Modern cars, laden with all sorts of electronics, impose burdens, too. These electronics can suck juice even when a car isn’t running. I’ve seen a few cars that can’t even sit for two weeks without being run down by the “parasitic” or “vampire” draw of the electronics.

Furthermore, I have read about (but have not personally dealt with) cars that can develop problems if battery power is lost. A website that seems to have good information on this topic in specific, and car stuff in general, is “aa1car.com.” If you poke around the site you’ll see several sections dedicated to battery matters, including mention of a few makes and models of vehicles that are said to have problems if battery power is lost.

One common work-around for such problems when you’re replacing the car battery is to plug a “battery saver” (typically powered by a 9-volt battery) into the cigarette lighter or power port before disconnecting the old battery. I tried this once, just to keep my pickup truck’s radio from losing its settings. I must have done something wrong because it didn’t work. I didn’t care. But if I did care, I’d do a little research so I could be more deliberate about things.

I’ve been going through car batteries at a pretty high clip lately, probably because I let some cars sit for a long time, while others get shaken up from off-road forays. But, whatever the reason, I know that doing curbside battery changes is, for me, a permanent chore in life.

Although I had stashed 1/4-inch drive socket sets in each of my cars, they gave me a false sense of security on the battery-changing front. I ran across this earlier this month when I realized a combination wrench was what I needed. Fortunately, I was at home and I just grabbed the wrench out of my normal toolbox. Had I been on the road, though, I would have been out of luck.

Just to make sure I’ve got the right tool at hand, I bought an assortment of combination wrenches for all the rolling museum pieces that comprise my “motor transport” fleet. Each vehicle now has a dedicated combination wrench in the glove box in case I have to do a curbside battery replacement. It’s not a consistent size across vehicles; life could never be that simple. I had to buy 10mm, 5/16-inch, 7/16-inch, and 1/2-inch wrenches.

The lack of a uniform size turned out to be a good thing, since I could buy the all the inch-based wrenches in the same little kit. As for the 10mm, though, I needed two of those, and I had to do those purchases in single-unit increments.

Outside of changing the battery when necessary, another easy do-it-yourself task is to keep the battery and associated hardware clean of contamination and corrosion. As lazy as I can be sometimes, this is one chore that’s always worth doing. It takes an investment of maybe five minutes every two months or so. Car batteries have sulphuric acid in them. When it seeps out of the top, it can ride along the surface and start to bridge the gap between the terminals.

This stuff is easily cleaned off with a mixture of baking soda and water. The battery terminals can be cleaned this way, too, and sometimes a bit of scrubbing with an old toothbrush helps. Even a small splash of sulphuric acid will eat a hole through clothes, and it probably won’t do wonders for anyone’s eyeballs, either, so a bit of caution is in order.

This is a mere matter of opinion, of course, but I think it’s important to keep some sort of under-the-hood relationship with a car, even if it’s very basic relationship.

I will eventually belly up to a new car. I like reading the dealer ads so I can start thinking about what to get, where to get it, and how much to budget. When that day comes, I’ll also be buying one more combination wrench so I can put it in the new car’s glove box. After all, as much as I like cars, I’ve learned to keep a wary eye on their batteries.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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