Last updated: February 2023
Does this sound familiar? You’re running late, so you rush out the door, hop in your car, and turn the key. Then, you hear that weak cranking sound and click-click-click that could only mean one thing: a dead car battery.
If getting a tow or jumping your battery is out of the question, you could consider changing your own car battery. We’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about how to change a car battery and walk you through the process step-by-step (with a little help from the folks at Pep Boys and AutoZone).
When should I change my car battery?
Firestone lists some of the top warning signs of a battery that needs to be replaced. Warning signs include:
- Residue buildup around the battery posts
- A car that’s slow to start
- A swollen or bloated battery case
Even if you don’t notice any signs of battery issues, keep in mind that there are other factors that may affect your car’s electrical system, such as extreme temperatures and the make and model of your car.
A good rule of thumb is to get a free battery check annually after your battery hits its third year or as soon as it starts giving you trouble.
How to check a car battery
To see if there are any problems with your car battery, you can check for some key signs to determine if your battery needs to be replaced.
- If you see signs of corrosion and dirt, clean off the battery.
- Are the battery cables frayed or corroded?
- Are the clamps of the battery badly corroded?
- Is the battery case cracked or broken?
- Is there standing water on your battery?
What will I need to change my car battery?
Gather the following materials before you try to remove your old battery and replace it with a new one.
- Your owner's manual! If it's not in your glove box, search for a digital version online.
- Protective clothing that covers your extremities, including gloves, closed-toe shoes, and eyewear
- A wrench, socket, or pliers
- Baking soda, water, and an old toothbrush or wire brush (for corrosion-cleaning solution)
- A few rags to help keep wiping down your work area
- A well-ventilated area, far from flammable items
Buying a new car battery
You’ll likely replace your car’s battery numerous times during the life of your vehicle. When it’s time to replace your car battery, there are some simple steps you can take to buy the right battery.
- Look for a maintenance-free or sealed battery. You don’t have to check or refill the battery’s electrolyte levels.
- Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the size and kind of battery you will need to purchase for your car.
- Choose a battery that fits your driving and environmental conditions. If you live in a climate with frequent high temperatures, conditions are harder on a car battery than in milder climates.
- All batteries lose strength even when idle. Choose a battery no more than six months old by checking the shipping code on the case.
How do I change my car battery?
Before you start the battery installation process, make sure your car engine is off, completely cool, and that all car accessories are powered down. Engage the parking brake for safe measure.
- Pop the hood and find your battery. This is the perfect time to consult your owner's manual. It will tell you where to find the battery and if there's other important information to know about your specific make/model.
- Loosen the nut with a combination wrench, battery pliers, or a battery wrench.
- Disconnect the negative (or ground) black cable first, then the positive (red) cable. Important: Note their positions, and make sure the battery terminals don’t touch any metal mounting, body parts, or the engine.
- Remove the battery hold-downs, bars, or fasteners with a socket and ratchet or a wrench.
- Lift the battery out from the bottom using both hands (it’s heavy!) or using the handle if it has one.
- Clean the battery cables if they are corroded. If they are damaged, be sure to replace them before installing the new battery.
- To scour corrosion away, mix a battery-cleaning solution using two tablespoons of baking soda and two tablespoons of water. Then, apply the solution to the battery terminals and let it sit (or fizzle) for a few minutes before wiping it off with an old toothbrush or wire brush.
- Insert the new battery in the hold-down tray, and secure the battery with its appropriate fasteners.
- Replace and tighten the clamps on their posts—connect the positive (red) cable first, then the negative (black) one. This will help you avoid sparks. Positive and negative. Positive ad negative. Repeat that mantra in your head.
- Shift the battery back and forth in its tray to make sure it is secure. The terminals should be completely stationary.
(Adapted from Pep Boys, Replacing Your Battery)
I’m nervous about changing my own battery.
If you’re not comfortable installing a car battery, that’s okay, too! Head to your nearest auto shop and leave it to the professionals. Plus, there’s actually an advantage to this decision: some places will do the labor for free if you purchase the battery at the shop.
Think you know a place that replaces car batteries for free near you? Make sure to call them ahead of time. Since many chains are independently operated, they’ll apply different restrictions and conditions to “free” offerings.
What do I do with my old car battery?
If you’ve had your battery replaced at a shop, they’ll usually dispose of the old battery for you. If you did it yourself, bring your battery to your nearest auto shop. A quick online search for “how to recycle batteries in (your city),” will help you find a spot—keeping you safe and free from fines relating to improper waste disposal.
According to the EPA, 96% of all lead-acid batteries are recycled, and almost all retailers that sell lead-acid batteries collect them for disposal as well. In fact, it’s required by law in most states!
Any other battery safety tips to know?
Jumpstart Correctly and with Caution
If you’re going to try and buzz your vehicle back to life one last time, make sure you’re jumpstarting your car battery correctly. Not only will this produce the best result, but it will also help keep you safe from electrocution and other safety hazards.
Avoid Heat, Flames, and Sparks
Any ignition sources can either burn you, start a fire, or even cause an explosion if they come in contact with the battery or other flammable car parts. So, whether you’re changing or jumpstarting your battery, don't do it by candlelight. Make sure to put out cigarettes and any other spark-able items.
Steer Clear of Battery Acid
Car battery acid is toxic and corrosive! When handling your battery, make sure to wear clothing that covers your extremities, including goggles, gloves, and closed-toe shoes. If you do come in contact with battery fluid, make sure to flush the area with water and call a doctor ASAP!
Clean your battery
Keep your car battery dry and clean to avoid corrosion and discharge. Use a toothbrush and baking soda mixed with water to clear off any corrosion and dirt that could cause problems with your battery. Remember to dry the battery with a clean rag after scrubbing.
Connect With Direct Auto
From how to change a car battery to information on car insurance, Direct Auto has all of your car-related information and savings tips covered. Give us a call or stop by one of our nearby locations for a free quote.