How To Recycle Your Old, Dead Car Battery
Stop stubbing your toe on that 40-pound hunk of lead in your garage.
Estimated Time Needed: 20 minutes, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: Battery
The automobile is a hungry beast. It chews through fuel, air, fluids, tires, brakes, and yes, even batteries. It’s likely that you’ve had to replace a dead car battery at least once in your lifetime of owning and driving cars. Unlike some automotive consumables, the car battery is one of the easiest to recycle. There’s no need to leave it collecting dust in a corner of your shed or leaking toxic chemicals in your yard.
In fact, car batteries are the single most frequently recycled car part; about 96 percent of the material in a battery is recyclable. If you’re staring at a dead or dying battery, and you’ve tried charging it or even attempted to recondition it without success, it may be time to bite the bullet and get a new one. How do you dispose of the old battery in a way that’s safe and environmentally responsible?
Let’s get the lead out.
The Safety Brief
Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to keep you safe. There are three major threats to your bodily well-being when it comes to dealing with car batteries.
- We want you to continue reading our blogs, so the first order of business is to protect your eyes with a solid pair of safety glasses. Batteries are filled to the brim with extremely caustic sulfuric acid; a splash of this stuff will ruin your week if it finds its way into your eyes. Long sleeves and sturdy work gloves are a must for the same reason.
- Second, work with care anytime you are dealing with a car’s electrical system. Besides a potential shock to the reckless mechanic, the computers and electronics in modern vehicles are particularly vulnerable to damage due to voltage fluctuations and shorts.
- Lastly, have you been skipping your bicep curls? That battery is heavier than it looks. The average battery weighs around 45 pounds. Be prepared for the heft and don’t drop it. To save your toes, this is strictly a no flip-flop zone.
Everything You’ll Need To Dispose of Car Batteries
In order to get rid of your battery, you’ll first need to remove it. Here are the tools you need for the job.
- Metric socket set with a ratchet and extensions, or
- A handful of crescent wrenches, or
- Standard adjustable wrench
Here’s How To Dispose of Car Batteries
Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to recycling that old, lifeless battery.
1. Locate the battery and remove any protective covering.
Many newer vehicles store their batteries in a protective plastic box. In the vast majority of cars, the battery will be found under the hood. But some manufacturers sneakily put them elsewhere. My old MINI Cooper and my neighbor’s Toyota Prius both have their batteries under a panel in the floor of the rear luggage area. Your owner’s manual will be your friend here.
2. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
It’s standard practice when removing a car battery to disconnect the cable from the negative terminal first. Use the appropriate size socket or wrench to loosen the cable clamp. Which one is negative? The black wire connected to the “-” pole on the battery will be the one.
3. Disconnect the positive battery cable.
Follow the same steps for removing the positive (red, “+”) cable, carefully tucking the cables out of the way of the battery terminals to avoid any accidental connections.
4. Remove any battery tie-downs.
Most car batteries are strapped in tightly to prevent their considerable mass from sliding around the engine bay. These clamps are usually held in place with nuts or bolts, and a socket extension may be helpful here to reach fasteners in tight places.
5. Inspect and remove the battery.
Quickly look over the condition of the battery. Old car batteries can often be leaky or corroded, or have wonky or broken handles. Make sure it’s safe to lift out of the car before giving it a mighty heave. When you do, ensure you’ve got a good grip and can lift from an angle that gives you plenty of leverage. A step stool is handy for taller rides like pickups and SUVs.
6. Store your old battery.
Don’t have the time to recycle your old battery today? Store it out of the way where you’re not likely to trip on it, far from moisture and loose metal objects, and preferably not on high shelving where it could fall. Never store a battery on its side—it’s likely to leak acid.
7. Replacing the battery.
If you have a new battery already, now is the time to install it. Give your battery cables a thorough clean, place the battery in its tray, and re-secure the battery tie downs. Remember to connect the negative cable first, and then the positive cable to complete the circuit safely. Return the protective cover to its place. Spend the next 40 minutes trying to remember how to reset the clock on your car stereo.
8. Recycling Your Old Battery: How Does It Work?
As we mentioned before, recycling your old car battery is just about as easy as throwing out your back trying to lift the darn thing. The real kicker? It’s free, and someone might even give you money for it.
Just bring the battery to your local parts store or any big box store with an automotive service department. They’ll gladly take it, and they may even give you a small gift card in return. If you buy a new battery from these establishments, they’ll credit your purchase with the value of your old battery.
In addition, communities or trash removal services with hazardous waste collection capabilities will also accept used car batteries. Some municipalities will even collect the battery if you leave it on the curb with your trash. However, check your local regulations before doing this. Most metal recycling facilities will also accept car batteries.
9. Give a Hoot
Never, ever ditch your dead battery in a ditch or dump it in a dumpster. Battery acids are highly toxic, corrosive, and potentially flammable. They’re a threat to your fellow human beings, animals, and the environment, so treat them as such. You can find local battery recycling locations in your area using this search tool.
FAQs About How to Dispose of Car Batteries
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions.
Q. Why should I disconnect the negative side of the battery first?
A. The negative side of the battery circuit is already grounded, just like you are, standing there… on the ground. Removing the negative cable first breaks the circuit safely. Removing the positive cable first increases the risk that a slip of the wrench might contact the positive terminal on the battery, sending all that electricity straight into your arm. In short, you become the negative terminal. Not pleasant (ask me how I know this).
Q. What happens to my old car battery when it’s recycled?
A. Put simply, it gets melted down into a giant pool of molten plastic and lead with hundreds of its compatriots. Pretty metal, huh? The plastics are then separated from the metals, and the recycled lead is used to make new batteries.
Q. What should I do if my old battery spilled some acid?
A. Battery acid is sulfuric acid, and it can be safely neutralized by diluting the spill with some water, and then covering it with baking soda. Keep adding baking soda until the spill stops bubbling. Once this chemical reaction has finished, mop up the remaining solution with some more water and paper towels.
Learn More From This Helpful Tutorial
Are you an internet film buff? Lucky for you, there are hundreds of free videos out there that can walk you through how to remove your car battery. Grab the popcorn and take a look at this comprehensive tutorial from O’Reilly Auto Parts if you’d rather watch than read:
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