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How a Battery Works

Find out how batteries work, charge and more.

Checking your battery.
Batteries are probably the biggest single cause for non starting, especially in colder weather. Batteries are less efficient the colder they get so the start of cold weather usually shows up any inefficiencies with the battery. Some of the time the problem seems to point to other things, i.e. the engine still turns over but doesn't fire up. Sometimes this can be due to the engine management system which only turns on the power to the coils if there is enough ampage left in the battery. If the power is too low then the ignition system is not powered up which leaves any power left in the battery to turning over the engine. Without the drain of having to power an ignition the engine turns over quite quickly and you could be forgiven for thinking that the fault lies elsewhere. Check you battery first. It's the most likely cause of non-starting faults and it is free and easy to check.

Most common faults:

Low fluid level. Most batteries these days are sealed 'maintenance free' batteries but if your battery has removable covers then you can inspect the level of the electrolyte fluid inside the cells. The inside of the battery is divided up into several cavities and you will need to inspect each one. When you look down into a cell you will see metal plates (Side on from the top). The level of electrolyte fluid should be higher than the plate for that cell to work. It will only take one cell to be low on fluid for your battery to show a fault. This fluid is dangerous and consists mainly of Sulphuric acid which is highly corrosive and should be treated with care. Luckily you do not need to add sulphuric acid to top up. Simply use distilled water (de-ionised) and top up the cell until the fluid is a couple of millimetres above the plate. Repeat for all cells.

Poor charging from alternator. This is really up to a trained mechanic to diagnose and cure but you can test this yourself. A simple way to test if your alternator is charging is to start your car and put all your lights on full beam. When you rev your engine you should just be able to see the lights going brighter and then dimmer when you stop revving. If the car stalls when you put your lights on then the problem is probably with the alternator. Alternately if you have a test meter you can test the voltage to the battery. This voltage should be higher than 12V. Usually around 13-15V. Don't forget that alternators can overcharge aswell as undercharge which can produce the same type of non-starting faults by damaging the battery. This is usually accompanied with the smell of rotten eggs as the fluid in your battery begins to boil. Most of the time your alternator can be reconditioned rather then replaced.

Incorrect battery fitted. Some mechanics will tell you that you need the exact battery for you car right down to the model, type etc. This is not true. You need the same size battery with the same amp/hour ratings. Of course the easiest way to make sure that you meet these criteria is to buy the exact battery for your car as quoted by the manufacturer (Replacing like with like) However if for some reason the battery has been replaced with a sub standard battery for your car then the above symptoms can arise and obviously replacing like with like will only perpetuate the problem. You can find out the required rating for your car's battery be contacting the manufacturer or dealer.


Jump-starting: The best way to start your car if the battery is flat is with Jumper cables. These are heavy duty cables which carry the current being produced from a healthy car to your battery so that it can start your car. Connect the jumper cables one at a time being careful not to touch any metal parts of your car (or the other lead). Connect positive to positive and negative to negative. The healthy car should then rev the engine and allow about 10 seconds before your first attempt. Usually you should be able to start the engine within a short time but if the turning of the engine seems slow then wait longer before tries. As you try to turn the engine over the healthy car should be revving the engine (Not excessively, just around 2,000-3,000 rpm). I there is nobody to help or no-one has jump leads then you can phone a Taxi and request for one with jump leads.

Jump-starting: The best way to start your car if the battery is flat is with Jumper cables. These are heavy duty cables which carry the current being produced from a healthy car to your battery so that it can start your car. Connect the jumper cables one at a time being careful not to touch any metal parts of your car (or the other lead). Connect positive to positive and negative to negative. The healthy car should then rev the engine and allow about 10 seconds before your first attempt. Usually you should be able to start the engine within a short time but if the turning of the engine seems slow then wait longer before tries. As you try to turn the engine over the healthy car should be revving the engine (Not excessively, just around 2,000-3,000 rpm). I there is nobody to help or no-one has jump leads then you can phone a Taxi and request for one with jump leads.

Bump starting: This can only be done with manual transmission and not an automatic.

Step 1. Get a few healthy lads to give you a push.
Step 2. Turn on the cars ignition and put the car into second gear.
Step 3. Make sure your handbrake is off and remove your foot off the foot brake.
Step 4. Making sure that your foot is on the clutch ask you helpers to start pushing.
Step 5. As the car reaches the fastest speed that you expect it to reach quickly lift your clutch pedal and press the accelerator slightly.
Step 6. If the car does not start then repeat these steps until exhausted. Then call a mechanic.


Jump Start a Battery

How do I jump start my vehicle?

To save your eyes, please wear glasses or safety goggles in the event of a car or deep cycle battery explosion. If done incorrectly, jumping a dead battery can be dangerous and financially risky. These procedures are ONLY for vehicles are that are both negatively grounded and the electrical system voltages are the SAME. In other words, 12-volt to 12-volt and NOT 12-volt to six volt systems. These procedures would also apply to using fully charged jump starters. Jump starters need to be periodically recharged. Please follow the jump stater manufacturer's recommendations or recharge every three months. NEVER jump a frozen battery and ALWAYS connect POSITIVE to POSITIVE and NEGATIVE (-) to the ENGINE BLOCK or FRAME away from the dead starting battery. Reverse this rule to disconnect. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that of the 275 million vehicles that will traveling in the U.S. during the Summer of 2003, 7.4 million (or 2.7%) will break down. Of that number, 1.3 million (or 17.7%) will require a battery jump to start their engine. The German automobile association (ADAC) estimates that their battery related service calls has increased from 21.7% per year in 1999 to 29.9% in 2004.

In cold weather, good quality jumper cables (or booster cables) with at least eight-gauge wire are necessary to provide enough current to the disabled vehicle to start the engine. Larger diameter, smaller gauge number wire is better because there is less voltage loss. Please check the owner's manual for BOTH vehicles or jump starter BEFORE attempting to jump-start. Please follow the manufacturers' procedures, for example, some vehicles should not be running during a jump-start of a disabled one. However, starting the disabled vehicle with the good vehicle running can prevent having both vehicles disabled and provides a higher voltage to the starting motor of the disabled vehicle. Avoid the booster cable clamps touching each other or the POSITIVE clamp touching anything but the POSITIVE (+) post of the battery, because momentarily touching the block or frame can short the battery and cause extensive and costly damage.

Bateriku.com - Jump start steps

Jumpstarting:


1. If below freezing, insure that the electrolyte is NOT frozen in the dead battery. If frozen, do NOT jump or boost the battery if the case is cracked or until the battery has been full thawed out, recharged, tested. When electrolyte freezes, it expands and damage the plates or plate separators, which can cause the plates to warp and short out or the case to crack. When the battery is frozen, the best solution is to substitute a fully charged battery for frozen one or tow the vehicle to a heated garage. With any completely dead (or flat) battery, cell reversal can occur. The electrolyte in a dead battery will freeze at approximately 20°F (-6.7°C). The freezing point of a battery is determined by the State of Charge and the higher it is, the lower the freezing temperature. If the battery has been sitting for several months and frozen, then the battery has probably sulfated as well. If the battery has been sitting for several hours and frozen, then the problem is either an excessive parasitic load like leaving the headlights on or a faulty charging system.

2. Without the vehicles touching, turn off all accessories, heaters and lights on both vehicles, especially electronic appliances, such as a radio or audio system and insure there is plenty of battery ventilation. This is to reduce the electrical load on the good battery and the charging system.

3. Start the vehicle with the good battery and let it run for at least two or three minutes at medium RPM to recharge it. Check the POSITIVE (+) and NEGATIVE (-) terminal markings on both batteries before proceeding.


4. Connect the POSITIVE booster cable (or jump starter) clamp (usually RED) to the POSITIVE (+) terminal post on the dead battery [Step 1 in the diagram above]. Connect the POSITIVE clamp on the other end of the booster cable to the POSITIVE (+) terminal post on the good starting battery [Step 2]. If the POSITIVE (+) battery terminal post is not accessible, the POSITIVE connection on the starter motor solenoid from the POSITIVE (+) terminal post of the battery could be used.

5. Connect the NEGATIVE booster cable clamp (usually BLACK) to the NEGATIVE (-) terminal on the good battery [Step 3]. Connect the NEGATIVE booster cable (or jump starter) clamp on the other end of the jumper cable to a clean, unpainted area on the engine block or frame on the disabled vehicle [Step 4] and at least 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) away from the battery. This arrangement is used because some sparking will occur and you want to keep sparks as far away from the battery as practical in order to prevent a battery explosion.

6. If using jumper cables, let the good vehicle continue to run at medium RPM for five minutes or more to allow the dead battery to receive some recharge and warm its electrolyte. If there is a bad cable connection, do not wiggle the cable clamps connected to the battery terminals because sparks will occur and a battery explosion might occur. To check connections, first disconnect the NEGATIVE clamp from the engine block or frame on the disabled vehicle, check the other connections, and then reconnect the engine block or frame connection last.

7. If using jumper cables, some vehicle manufacturers recommend that you turn off the engine of the good vehicle to protect its charging system prior to starting the disabled vehicle. Check the owner's manual; otherwise, leave the engine running so you can avoid being stranded should you not be able to restart the good vehicle and increase the voltage to the disabled vehicle's starter motor.

8. If using jumper cables, start the disabled vehicle and allow it to run at high idle. If the vehicle does not start the first time within 30 seconds, recheck the connections, wait a few minutes to allow the starter motor to cool, and try again.

9. Disconnect the jumper (or jump starter) cables in the REVERSE order, starting with the NEGATIVE clamp on the engine block or frame of the disabled vehicle to minimize the possibility of an explosion. Allow the engine on the disabled car to run until the engine come to full operating temperature before driving and continue to run until you reach your final destination, because stopping the engine might require another jump start. Also, keep all unnecessary electrical accessories off to relieve the load on the charging system and allow it to add charge to the battery.

10. As soon as possible and at room temperature, fully recharge the dead battery with an external "smart" or "automatic" battery charger matched to the battery type, remove the surface charge and load test the battery and charging system to determine if any latent or permanent damage has occurred as a result of the deep discharge. This is especially important if you had a frozen battery or jump started a sealed wet Maintenance Free (Ca/Ca) battery. A vehicle's charging system is not designed to recharge a dead battery and could overheat and be damaged (bad diodes or burned stator) doing so or the battery could be undercharged and loose CCA performance or amp hour capacity.

In the event that the jumper (or jump starter) cables were REVERSED and there is no power to all or part of the vehicle, test the fusible links, fuses, circuit breakers, battery, charging system and emissions computer and, if bad, reset or replace. Their locations and values should be shown in the vehicle's Owner's Manual. If replacing the faulty parts do not repair the electrical system, having it repaired by a good auto electric repair shop is highly recommended.


Definitions

Common battery elements definitions.

All you have to know about battery.

Active Material - Chemically active compounds in a cell or battery that convert from one composition to another while producing current (electrical energy) or accepting current from an external circuit.

Battery Polarity - A battery has two poles or posts. The positive battery post is usually marked POS, P, or + and is larger than the negative post which is usually marked NEG, N, or -. The polarity of the charger and the battery must always match to avoid damage to the battery and charger.

Cell - The basic electrochemical current-producing unit in a battery consisting of a set of positive plates, negative plates, electrolyte, separators and casing. There are six cells in a 12-volt lead-acid battery.

Cold Cranking Amps - Cold Cranking Amps is a rating used in the battery industry to define a battery's ability to start an engine in cold temperatures. The rating is the number of amps a new, fully charged battery can deliver at 0° Farenheit for 30 seconds, while maintaining a voltage of at least 7.2 volts, for a 12 volt battery. The higher the CCA rating, the greater the starting power of the battery.

Container - The polypropylene or hard rubber case which holds the plates, straps and electrolyte.

Cover - The lid for the case/container.

Electrolyte - A solution of sulfuric acid and water which conducts current through the movement of ions (charged particles in the electrolyte solution) between positive and negative plates. It supplies sulfate ions for reaction with the active material of both positive and negative plates.

Grids - A lead alloy framework that supports the active material of a battery plate and conducts current.

Ground - The reference potential of a circuit. In automotive use, the result of attaching one battery cable to the body or frame which is used as a path for completing a circuit in lieu of a direct wire from a component. Today, over 99% of autos use the negative terminal of the battery as the ground.

Intercell Connections - Connections between the straps of two cells, positive of one cell to the negative of the next.

Open Circuit Voltage (O.C.V.) - The voltage of a battery when it is not delivering or receiving power. It is 2.11 volts for a fully charged battery cell.

Container - The polypropylene or hard rubber case which holds the plates, straps and electrolyte.

Plates - Flat, typically rectangular components that contain the active material and a mechanical support structure called a grid, which also has an electrical function, carrying electrons to and from the active material. Plates are either positive or negative, depending on the active material they hold.

Reserve Capacity (RC) - Reserve Capacity, (RC) is a battery industry rating, defining a battery's ability to power a vehicle with an inoperative alternator or fan belt. The rating is the number of minutes a battery at 80 degrees F can be discharged at 25 amps and maintain a voltage of 10.5 volts for a 12 volt battery. The higher the reserve rating, the longer your vehicle can operate should your alternator or fan belt fail.

Separators - Porous plastic, electrically insulating sheets which allow transfer of ions between plates, but prevent physical contact between plates and resulting electronic conduction.

State of Charge - Use this chart to determine the State of Charge for a Deep Cycle Battery.

State of Charges State of Gravity Voltage - 12 Volts Battery
100 1.265 12.7
75 1.225 12.4
50 1.190 12.2
25 1.155 12.1

Straps - Lead alloy castings that connect a number of same polarity plates together in a cell and carry current.

Terminals - The electrical connection from the battery to the external circuit. Each terminal is connected to either the first (positive) or last strap (negative) in the series connection of cells in a battery. .

Vents - Components that allow gasses to exit the battery while retaining the electrolyte within the case. Can be permanently fixed to the cover or removable, depending on battery design.


Safety & Handling

Safety and handling aspect of car battery

Never lay tools or other metal parts on top of a battery.
Bateriku.com - Jump start steps

Lead Acid Batteries
• Typically Lead-Antimony.
• Made up of plates, lead, lead oxide with 35% sulfuric acid and 65% water solution.
• The solution is called electrolyte, which causes a chemical reaction that produces electrons.

Hazards associated with industrial batteries:
• Hydrogen gas
A by-product of the battery's charging process. Lighter than air. Flammable in nature. Explosive mixture at 4 – 74% by volume of air. Can not taste or see the gas vapors. You can smell the acid in the battery if it heats up.
• Sulfuric acid
Ph <2 (typically Sulfuric Acid). Corrosive material. Burns to skin. Burns to eyes. Never open