Dear Wrench Wrench,
I have a problem with my old rusty truck. It has always worked well and has never had a problem. The other day, I opened the hood and noticed something yellowish-white fuzzy on top of the battery. It wasn’t much, but it was enough that I realized. I refilled the washing machine liquid and closed it. I also plugged it in because it was supposed to be cold that night.
The next day, while I was away from home, I tried to start my truck. The dash lights came on (not sure about the headlights etc) but nothing else happened. I did not hear anything. There was no fighting or clicking sound. Tried it a couple of times and eventually it got going as it normally would. What are your thoughts? I need my whisk but I’m nervous about getting stranded.
Battery corrosion and calcium build-up
First, thank you very much for asking your question. Second, thank you for owning a rusty old truck! Those are some of the most fun cars to own, drive, and work with, especially if you’re mechanically minded.
That said, old, rusty trucks don’t deliver all that pleasure without a lot of pain. It’s usually a pain in the gas tank, but occasionally you’ll run into little maintenance issues like these, which can cause big problems.
In this case, that yellowish-white thing you found on your old battery is corrosion. Fortunately, corrosion is easily fixed with a few simple steps and regular maintenance. However, let’s talk more about that corrosion first.
If you find that your vehicle battery has a buildup of blue, bluish-white, white, yellow, or yellow-white dust around the terminals, posts, or cell tops, you have corrosion from the reaction of the sulfate on the battery with the lead on the terminal posts. This is usually due to an imperfect seal on the battery and is often the result of purchasing a poor quality battery, but it can also be due to an overcharged battery or an extremely old battery. As discussed in previous articles, car batteries are generally expected to last only 2-5 years with reasonable care. If your battery is still within this time, it is generally quite easy to adopt grandpa’s favorite method and brush the battery terminals regularly to keep the battery working.
Cleaning the battery can mean touching a frozen form of battery acid, which can be extremely harmful to your skin. Everyone reacts differently, so it is important to avoid the risk and USE GLOVES whenever you clean the battery terminals.
3 ways to clean battery terminals
If you’re looking to extend the life of your aging battery, it’s best to keep those terminals as clean as possible, as often as possible. There are many ways to do this, but the three most popular methods are:
- Simply scrub the terminals with a specifically designed terminal brush until all corrosion has been removed.
- Mix some baking soda and water to apply on a toothbrush that you can use to clean the terminals.
- Pour diet glue on the terminals for a few minutes and then wipe off the corrosion.
My preferred method is to mix baking soda and water with a terminal brush, as that ensures that the battery terminals are as clean as possible.
- Be careful when using glue to clean your posts. You want to make sure it’s sugar-free and then you need to make sure to use it sparingly as the glue is so corrosive that it can actually wear down the battery posts faster than sulfation will.
Tips for battery maintenance
Once you’ve cleaned and beautified the battery terminals, it’s important to think about your battery maintenance needs going forward. A battery that is developing corrosion is a battery that is slowly losing life. That means if you want to extend that life, you will need to bring an additional car to prevent corrosion from building up.
Regular cleaning once a month will work wonders, but you can also improve battery life by purchasing some extremely affordable anti-corrosion terminal washers or by replacing your old terminal clamps with new ones that are more resistant to corrosion.
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