| Car Care
Mechanic changing car battery

It’s a scenario everyone wants to avoid. You’re running late, so you rush out the door, hop in your car, turn the key in the ignition… and hear that weak cranking sound that could only mean one thing: a dead battery.

If getting a tow or jumping your battery is out of the question, you could consider changing your own car battery. We’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about changing car batteries, and walk you through the process step-by-step (with a little help from the folks at Pep Boys and AutoZone).

When should I change my car battery?

Firestone lists some of the top warning signs of a battery that needs to be replaced, which include residue buildup around the battery posts and a slow-starting engine. There are also several factors that could affect your battery life, including extreme temperatures and the make and model of your car. A good rule of thumb is to check your battery annually after it hits the three-year mark, which many Pep Boys and Auto Zone locations will do for freeClick here for Firestone’s full list of signs you may need a new battery, and here for some of AutoZone’s battery basics.

How do I change my car battery?

Before you start, make sure your car engine is off, completely cool, and that all car accessories are turned off.

  1. Pop the hood and find your battery.
  2. Loosen the nut with a combination wrench, battery pliers, or a battery wrench.
  3. Disconnect the negative (or ground) black cable first, then the positive (red) cable. Note their positions, and make sure the battery terminals don’t touch any metal mounting, body parts, or the engine.
  4. Remove the battery hold-downs, bars, or other fasteners with a socket and ratchet or a wrench.
  5. Lift the battery out from the bottom using both hands (it’s heavy!) or using the handle if it has one.
  6. Clean the battery cables if they are corroded. If they are damaged, be sure to replace them before installing the new battery.
  7. If necessary, use a wire brush to clean any corrosion off the battery cable connectors, and implement a battery-cleaning solution on corroded connectors.
  8. Insert the new battery in the hold-down tray, and secure the battery with its appropriate fasteners.
  9. Replace and tighten the clamps on their posts—positive cable first, then the negative one (to avoid sparks).
  10. Shift the battery back and forth in its tray to make sure it is secure. The terminals should be completely stationary.

(Adapted from Pep Boys, Replacing Your Battery)

What if I’m nervous about changing my own battery?

If you’re not comfortable changing your own car battery, that’s okay too! Head in to your nearest auto shop and leave it to the professionals. Plus, there’s actually an advantage to this decision: some places will do the labor for free if you purchase the battery at the shop.

All done! Now, what do I do with my old car battery?

If you’ve gotten the service done at a shop, they’ll usually dispose of your battery for you. If you did it yourself, bring your battery to your nearest auto shop. Many shops are happy to get it off to a recycling center. According to the EPA, 96% of all lead-acid batteries are recycled, and almost all retailers that sell lead-acid batteries collect them for disposal as well. In fact, it’s required by law in most states!

Connect With Direct Auto

What are your tips for changing your own battery? Anything we missed? Let us know in comments below.

For information about auto insurance, check out our car insurance rates and other tips for everyday savings.

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