Click, click, click. That’s a sound nobody wants to hear when trying to start their car in the morning––the sound of a dead battery or a bad alternator. But even if you’re able to crank up normally and head out, there could still be a need to give your battery a good checking over. As time goes by, the terminals can become corroded and the battery itself may hold less and less of a charge.
Checking your battery’s general health isn’t hard and doesn’t even require any tools to get a good baseline reading. Car Bibles’ editors have been through it all with dead and failing batteries, and we’re here to help you avoid the same headaches. Let’s dive in.
The Safety Brief
Car batteries aren’t like household batteries. They can hurt you. Don’t go grabbing or touching the terminals unless you’re sure of what you’re doing.
- Batteries contain all sorts of chemicals and things that can burn or blind you. Wear gloves and eye protection.
- If you notice corrosion or damage to the battery or cables, have a pro take a look. You might need to repair or replace the battery and surrounding components.
The Tools & Parts You Need
We’re pitching this as a how-to check your battery without tools. As a result, you don’t need tools. You will, however, need safety gear:
The Job: How To Check Your Battery At Home Without Tools
1. Visually Inspect The Battery
Take a look at your battery. Do the terminals show signs of corrosion? Are the cables in good shape? Is there a false ground? Are the cables loose? Is the battery damaged? If you suspect there’s a problem with the battery, a good first step is to give it a thorough visual inspection.
2. Load Test
Your battery should be able to support the vehicle’s electronics for short periods of time while the ignition is off. To test this, make sure the vehicle is parked in front of a wall or other surface that will allow you to clearly see the headlight brightness. Turn off the vehicle. Turn on the headlights and leave them on while the car is not running for 15 minutes. With the headlights still burning, turn the vehicle on. If the headlights dim or if the car doesn’t start, your battery failed the load test and needs to be replaced.
3. Listen To Your Battery During Attempted Ignition
We don’t want to give you dead-battery PTSD, but you’ll need to listen for the telltale clicking sounds as part of this process. Obviously, if you hear them instead of the vehicle cranking to life, it’s a good sign that your battery’s in need of charge or replacement. If your car turns over slowly but still starts, you might be dealing with a battery with a low charge.
What If I Want To Use Equipment?
Using equipment to test your battery will be even more precise. Use a multimeter or a battery load tester for the job. If you don’t have either of those, places like Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts will test your battery for free at their stores.
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions.
Q. My Battery Has Needed a Jump Quite a Few Times. Do I Need a Replacement?
A. If your battery is going dead often, you might have other issues, such as a failing alternator. That said, completely discharging and jumping your battery isn’t good. Perform the tests above or take the vehicle to have a professional test the battery.
Q. Can I Replace My Own Car Battery?
A. You sure can. Be sure to safely handle both the old and replacement batteries, especially if there’s a leak or corrosion on the old one. Make sure that you have a safe and legal way of disposing of the old battery as well. Most major auto parts stores offer battery disposal for free or a small charge, especially if you bought the new one there.
Q. My Aftermarket Stereo Makes My Headlights Dim. What’s Wrong?
A. If you’re running subwoofers and stronger speakers than the ones that came with your car, there’s a great chance that you’re drawing more power than your battery and surrounding electronics can support. You may need to upgrade your wiring, alternator, battery, or all three to increase the capacity of your car’s electrical system.
The Car Battery Testing Video Tutorial
Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Test A Car Battery
Even though you don’t need tools to perform the battery tests we outlined here, there are still a few products that can make the process much safer and easier. They include Mechanix Work Gloves, NoCry Safety Glasses, and the Innova CarScan Pro OBD2 Code Reader.
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