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Take charge of replacing battery

The sound is unmistakable: “RRRR, RRRR, rrrrr, rrrrr… click.” Then: nothing.

That’s the sound of a battery dying.

Like tires and drive belts, batteries must be replaced eventually. And doing so can get a little confusing.

• Diagnose the problem.

Make sure you need a new battery, if it loses power. A battery that died because you left an interior light on overnight can be recharged. A loose connection at either end of the battery cables also can mimic a dead battery; all you need is for the connections to be cleaned and tightened.

• Do your homework.

If your battery actually needs to be replaced, check your owner’s manual for the proper size and power requirements. Sizes often are listed as “groups” — Group 75, for instance, covers many General Motors vehicles. Group 35 covers many Japanese-branded vehicles. Some batteries have the terminals on top, others on the side. On most vehicles, the battery is right under the hood, but more manufacturers are relocating the batteries such as inside the fender, or even to the rear of the vehicle.

• Find the proper battery.

For popular vehicles, finding a replacement battery is a piece of cake. For rare vehicles, or some premium brands, you might need to visit the dealer for a factory-branded battery. You also can buy a battery from your dealership — and with the emphasis on the need to increase service volume to make up for slow new-vehicle sales, many dealerships are offering competitive prices.

If you decide to buy a battery from an independent store, there are other factors besides size.

One, of course, is price. The cheaper the battery, typically the shorter the warranty. Twenty-four months seems to be the minimum, with 72 months near the high end. Read the warranty carefully, though, to see if the battery would be replaced outright if the battery would fail within the warranty period, or if the cost would be pro-rated as the battery ages. Either way, be sure to keep the sales receipt for the battery in case you need it later for warranty purposes.

• Consider the costs.

How much should you spend on a battery• The answer depends on how much you use the vehicle. Another cost factor is how long you plan to keep the vehicle. Even an inexpensive battery should last three years in Florida, so if you are planning on trading the vehicle or selling it in the next six months, you may not need the top-of-the-line model.

• Factor in installation.

With many batteries, installation is free — but it is a slightly messy job. And batteries are heavy. If you replace the battery yourself, you must return the battery to the store to obtain the state-mandated battery disposal fee. If you have a store or dealership install it, you can get the credit for the old battery on the spot.

• Look over brands.

The brand is less important today. Only a handful of companies manufacture the vast majority of the batteries sold in the United States. You probably never even heard of one of the largest — Johnson Controls, which makes batteries for more than a dozen major outlets.

• Think long-term.

Batteries have not gone up much in price in recent years, but that may not be the case forever. Environmental concerns have closed a lot of lead mines, and lead is used in manufacturing the plates in batteries. Only one very expensive brand still uses virgin lead, and the others use mostly recycled lead — another reason to return used batteries.

Almost all batteries for cars and trucks are now listed as “maintenance free” — the battery is sealed, and you can’t add water to it, which was required in the olden days. But you still need to keep the top of the battery and the terminals clean, however.

Corrosion can drain a battery quickly. Auto-parts stores and auto departments in “big-box” retailers sell brushes made especially for cleaning battery terminals and cable ends. Many also sell a spray-on liquid that will protect the battery terminal and discourage corrosion. A mix of baking soda and a little water will help clean terminals, and a thin coating a petroleum jelly can help prevent corrosion, too.


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