How do I Change my Car Battery?

R. Kayne

Even a well-maintained car battery will become depleted over time and eventually lead to hard starting. To save wear on your starter and to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape, changing the battery will be required every three to five years under normal circumstances. In regions of extreme weather, a battery might need replacement more often. Following these easy steps, you can safely remove the old battery and install the new one.

A car battery weighs about 32 pounds.
A car battery weighs about 32 pounds.

Remove the Old Battery

Many automotive chains that sell car batteries will give a customer credit for an old battery because the core is recyclable. Moreover, it is illegal to throw a car battery in the trash in most places, making it convenient to trade in the old battery when you get a new one. If your automotive retailer does not recycle old batteries, see if there are regional or national organizations, like the Automobile Association of America (AAA), that can do so.

A car battery should be replaced every 3-5 years under normal use.
A car battery should be replaced every 3-5 years under normal use.

This type of battery is filled with corrosive acid that is potentially explosive and can cause serious injury, easily burning through clothes and skin. Do not expose the battery to flame, sparks, or incendiary devices, including cigarettes. Wear protective eyewear, such as clear workman’s goggles and/or a face shield with protective clothing. Do not lean over the battery when performing these steps.

Clean existing corrosion with baking soda and water before putting in a new car battery.
Clean existing corrosion with baking soda and water before putting in a new car battery.

The battery terminals are labeled + (red/positive) and – (black/negative). Disconnect the negative terminal first and flex the cable away from the battery. Next disconnect the positive terminal. Finally, disconnect the top clamp that holds the battery down. Do not lay tools across the top of the battery because a conductive metal might touch both terminals simultaneously causing a short, sparks, or a potential explosion.

A car battery weighs 32 pounds (14.5 kg) or more and should be lifted out of the automobile with extreme care. Do not tip or drop the battery. Many newer batteries are made with a handy strap handle, and straps are also available at automotive shops. Alternately, you can lift the battery straight up and out by holding it at opposite corners.

Clean the cables, pan, and clamp. If there is corrosion present — it often looks like a white powder — neutralize it with a mixture of baking soda and water using an old toothbrush.

Installing the New Battery

When purchasing a new car battery, confirm that the negative and positive terminal posts are on the same side of the battery as your old one. Connecting the battery reversed can cause serious damage to your car. For your own safety, purchase a battery that has had the electrolyte premixed and added by the retailer, and is already partially charged.

Carefully lower the new battery into place. Make sure it is sitting flat in the battery pan, and not on the lip. Swing the top clamp into place and secure the battery by tightening down the clamp.

Many new batteries come with a protective plastic cap on each terminal post. Remove the positive plastic cap if its present, and smear some petroleum jelly on the terminal post to help prevent corrosion. Connect the positive cable and tighten it. Repeat this process for the negative cable. (This is the reverse order of disconnecting the battery.) Be sure to remove all tools before closing the hood.

It’s a good idea to drive the car for 30 minutes or more once the new battery is installed. Highway driving is more helpful than stop and go driving. It will charge faster if drains, such as air conditioning, stereos, and unnecessary lights, are kept at a minimum.

Check the water in your battery periodically, more often during hot weather. Use only distilled water to keep the electrolyte fluid at its proper mark. If the vehicle sits unused for long periods of time, purchasing a device like a Battery Minder™ or Battery Tender™ is a good idea. Either product will keep the battery fully charged between uses, extending its life.

Smear petroleum jelly on the terminal post to help prevent corrosion.
Smear petroleum jelly on the terminal post to help prevent corrosion.

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Discussion Comments


Leave the strap alone for ease of removal in future.


I have a dead car battery right now but I have never changed one before and have no idea what I am doing. Is there someone I can call that will deliver a battery to my house and change it for me?


There are a lot of auto parts stores that will change your battery for free or for a small charge if you buy the replacement battery from them. I have changed a few batteries in my life and know what I am doing, but if I can get someone else to do the work why not?


why do I have to remove the plastic caps on a new battery?


My old battery was dead. I had it jump started to move it, then the next time I attempted to start it it wouldn't.

I installed a new one, looks like everything is attached properly, but the car won't do anything when I try to turn the ignition over?


No; leave it so that you can use it when you have to remove the battery later. Just push it aside.


What about the strap on the battery? Do I cut it off once the new battery is in the vehicle?

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