The automotive battery, also known as a lead-acid
storage battery, is an
electrochemical device that produces voltage and delivers current.
In an automotive battery we can reverse the electrochemical action,
thereby recharging the battery, which will then give us many years
of service. The purpose of the battery is to supply current to the
starter motor, provide current to the ignition system while
cranking, to supply additional current when the demand is higher
than the alternator can supply and to act as an electrical
The automotive battery requires special handling. The electrolyte
(water) inside the battery is a mixture of sulfuric acid and water.
Sulfuric acid is very corrosive; if it gets on your skin it should
be flushed with water immediately; if it gets in your eyes, you
should immediately flush them thoroughly with water and see a doctor
right away. In this situation, time is critical. If you work
with batteries often, you should have a mild solution of baking soda
and water on hand and flush with that. The baking soda will
neutralize the acid and minimize the damage. Remember: it
is more important to flush immediately. Do not take the time to make
up a solution first.
Sulfuric acid will eat through clothing, so it is
advisable to wear old clothing when handling batteries. It is also
advisable to wear goggles and gloves while servicing the battery.
When charging, the battery will emit hydrogen gas; it is therefore
extremely important to keep flames and sparks away from the battery.
Because batteries emit hydrogen gas while
charging, the battery case cannot be completely sealed. Years ago
there was a vent cap for each cell and we had to replenish the cells
when the electrolyte evaporated. Today's batteries (maintenance
free) have small vents on the side of the battery; the gases emitted
have to go through baffles to escape. During this process the liquid
condenses and drops back to the bottom of the battery. There's no
need to replenish or add water to this type of battery.
Today's batteries are rated in cold cranking
amps. This represents the current that the battery can produce for
30 seconds at 0 degrees before the battery voltage drops below 7.2
volts. An average battery today will have a CCA (Cold Cranking Amps)
of 500. With the many different makes and models of cars available
today, batteries will come in many different sizes, but all sizes
come in many CCAs. Make sure you get a battery strong enough to
operate properly in your car. The length of the warranty is not
indicative of the strength of the battery.
Battery cables are large diameter, multistranded
wire which carry the high current (250+ amps) necessary to operate
the starter motor. Some battery cables will have a smaller wire,
soldered to the terminal, which is used to either operate a smaller
device or to provide an additional ground. When the smaller cable
burns it indicates a high resistance in the heavy cable.
Even maintenance free batteries need periodic
inspection and cleaning to insure they stay in good working order.
Inspect the battery to see that it is clean and that it is held
securely in its carrier. Some corrosion naturally collects around
the battery. Electrolyte condensation contains corrosive sulfuric
acid, which eats away the metal of battery terminals, cable ends and
battery holddown parts. To clean away the corrosion, use a mixture
of baking soda and water, and wash all the metal parts around the
battery, being careful not to allow any of the mixture to get into
the battery (batteries with top cell caps and vents). Rinse with
water. Remove the battery cables from the battery (negative cable
first), wire brush the inside of the cable end and the battery post.
Reinstall the cables (negative end last). Coat all exposed metal
parts( paint or grease can be used) so that the sulfuric acid cannot
get on the metal.