Are you going to have to put away your car in storage sometime in the upcoming months? If so, you definitely need to address what to do with your car’s battery while it is in storage. In this article I am going to explain how to store a car battery when not in use.
There are a lot of reasons why people may need to store their car for an extended period of time.
Maybe it’s a summer car, like a convertible or a classic ride, and the winter season is fast approaching. Or maybe you are going on a long vacation. What about getting temporarily transferred to another location, for work purposes?
No matter what the reason, you will have to put your car away for a while.
If you simply parked your car in the garage for this extended period of time, and left it sit as is, then you may get a surprise when you go back to use the car again. You may end up stuck with a dead battery.
I have seen it many times before. People park their car in the garage for an extended period of time (longer than 4 weeks), and then go back to fire up the car. Only to be left disappointed (and frustrated) when the turn of the key in the ignition does nothing.
They have a dead battery.
If they are lucky, the dead battery MAY be recoverable by simply giving it a good charge. However, if the battery is more than a year old, there’s a good chance that it will have to be replaced. A newer battery (purchased in the last year), when maintained, will have the ability to recover from fully losing its charge.
But when batteries reach years 2-3 of their lifespan, losing their charge can be a ‘battery killer’. Some may recover and be able to be used again (although at a diminished capacity). But many will not be able to perform well enough to be reliable going forward.
Now that I have explained why maintaining your battery when in storage is so important, I will explain how to store a car battery when not in use.
To ensure your safety when doing this, it is recommended that you pick up a few things to help make this process go a lot smoother:
- A pair of protective gloves – they come in handy when handling the battery
- Some protective eye wear – goggles would be ideal, but any protective eye wear is better than nothing
- Some rags or cloths (that you don’t mind throwing out at the end)
- Ammonia based glass cleaner
- A battery terminal cleaner, and/or a small wire brush set, and
- A car battery charger (preferably with built in controls to prevent overcharging) – see my recommendations below
OK, now that I have listed the supplies you will need, lets get down to business with the list of steps to store a car battery when not in use.
Step 1 – Purchase a proper battery charger
Purchase a ‘proper’ battery charger that will maintain your battery’s charge during the time that it is in storage. You don’t need the most expensive battery charger out there, far from it actually. You just need a battery charger that has a ‘maintenance’ mode so that it turns on and off automatically during the storage period.
This helps keep the battery charged, without ever overcharging it (which can also shorten the battery life or even outright battery failure).
The most popular ones on the market right now are called ‘Battery Tender’. They have two different ones that are great for charging stored batteries, and also have the built-in protection that will prevent the batteries from ever being overcharged.
You can find the best prices on these sweet little units at Amazon.com .
The Battery Tenders also come with a tremendous warranty – far longer than most brands locally offered in the local auto Parts stores.
Step 2 – Open the hood that covers your car’s engine bay (make sure motor is not running)
- There is usually a hood ‘latch’ located inside the car (usually somewhere under the dash near the steering wheel). Find the latch and give it a good pull. The pulling of this latch usually unlocks the hood from its place, and you should hear the sound of it ‘unlocking’ as you do this.
- Once you have ‘unlocked it’, go outside and gently lift up the hood itself.
- Check to see if the hood will hold itself open – When holding the hood open, if it feels like it won’t hold itself open, then it most likely has a metal rod that is supposed to keep it held open when working in the engine bay.
- If the hood will not hold itself open, you must find the metal rod that helps keep it open – Look around the edges of the engine bay. The metal rod usually has some sort of ‘hook’ at the end of it.
- Once you find the hood support rod, set it in place to keep the hood open – Lift this rod up from the ‘hook’ end and stand it straight up. You should see a hole in the underside of the hood somewhere close to where the hood would meet this rod if the hood were to be shut while the rod was upright. The hook slides into that opening and should hold the hood open.
Above is an example of what the little bar that holds up the hood looks like (this is a random example, yours may look a little bit different)
Step 3 – Locate the battery inside your car’s engine bay
- Take a look around the engine bay – the battery is usually located somewhere around the edges of the engine bay. In most cases, it’s located in one of the four corners of your engine bay.
- Take a rag or two and wipe up/clean any excess dirt, grime, and corrosion from the battery and where the battery cables meet the battery – this makes it easier when removing the battery cables, and when moving the battery out of the car and into its storage location
Step 4 – Disconnect the battery cables from the battery
- Determine which battery cable is connected to the positive terminal on the battery, and which cable is connected to the negative terminal – Take a look on the battery near where the cables are connected to it. There should be a “ + ” on the battery near one of the cables, and a “ – “ near the other. The ‘plus’ indicates the POSITIVE terminal on the battery, while the ‘minus’ indicates the NEGATIVE terminal on the battery.
- Disconnect the NEGATIVE battery cable first – Remove the battery cable that is connected to the negative terminal on the battery. Just loosen up the nut and/or bolt that is holding the negative battery cable in place to the battery, and GENTLY pull away the cable.
- Fully wrap the end of the negative battery cable in a cloth/rag, and place off to the side of the battery (put the cloth around the end that was attached to the battery). This prevents the cable from ‘grounding’ to another metal piece in the engine bay, since the positive terminal is still connected to the battery.
- Now, go ahead and remove the battery cable that was attached to the positive terminal on the battery. Place that battery cable off to the side so it is well away from the positive terminal on the battery. NOTE: You may wrap it in a cloth/rag, like you did with the negative cable. I wouldn’t worry too much about this step here as the negative cable is safely tucked away and covered already.
NOTE: Some batteries have colored battery post covers (Red = positive, Black = negative). These are generally an easier way to tell which battery cable is positive/negative. But I still prefer to check the black casing of the battery for the little + and – symbols to be 100% sure.
Here is a great video showing you how to disconnect the battery cables and remove the battery holder (on this vehicle – the battery holder is a small little clamp that is down near the bottom of the battery).
You can see the long socket extension piece needed to remove the battery clampdown bolt (battery holder) at the 1:00 mark of the video.
Step 5 – Clean up the battery one more time now that the cables have been removed
- Check the battery terminals for any corrosion build up – If there appears to be some corrosion on the terminals, you can easily clean those off with a battery terminal cleaner
- Once any corrosion has been removed – give the battery a good cleaning with a rag and some ammonia based window cleaner. NOTE: DO NOT SPRAY THE CLEANER DIRECTLY ON THE BATTERY, SPRAY IT ON THE RAG AND THEN WIPE DOWN THE BATTERY
Below are two pictures of corroded battery terminals. The one on the left is slightly corroded, and the one on the right is heavily corroded. To prevent corrosion on your battery terminals and clamps you can put some dielectric grease on your battery terminals before you fasten the battery cables to them.
Step 6 – Remove the battery from the car
- If there is a battery ‘holder’ keeping the battery in place, go ahead and remove the holder. There is usually a bolt or two that have to be removed, to accomplish this task. It can usually be done with a socket wrench very easily. NOTE: If there is nothing holding your battery in place (after removing the battery cables) then just skip this step.
- Go ahead and remove the battery from the car. I would recommend wearing some sort of rubber gloves & eye protection while doing this. The gloves will help with ‘grip’ when removing it, and it also provides your hands with protection from any possible grease or battery acid that may have accumulated on the top of the battery. The eye protection will help in case of any battery acid splash (in case you accidentally tip or drop the battery when removing
- Place the battery safely on a shelf in a room that will not be exposed to extreme temperatures. It is best stored in a room that will not experience extreme heat, or temperatures below 32 degrees F.
Step 7 – Check the fluid levels of the battery
- If your battery has removable caps to check the fluid (acid) levels, go ahead and open them to check fluid levels. NOTE:MAKE SURE THE AREA AROUND THE CAPS ARE FREE OF DIRT/DEBRIS
- If the fluid level is low, you can go ahead and top it up with distilled or purified water – DO NOT USE TAP WATER FOR THIS! Tap water contains minerals that will contribute to build-up on the plates inside your battery (shortens the life of the battery). NOTE: Do not overfill the battery fluid levels.
- Once the fluid levels have been topped up to their proper levels, you can go ahead and re-install the fluid level caps/covers
- NOTE: SOME CAR BATTERIES ARE ‘SEALED UNITS’ WHICH MEANS IT CANNOT BE OPENED TO TOP OF THE FLUID LEVELS. IF YOU ARE NOT SURE WHETHER YOUR BATTERY IS A SEALED UNIT OR NOT, FEEL FREE TO COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE AND I WILL GLADLY TAKE A LOOK IF YOU SEND A PICTURE.
Here is a great video that shows how to top up the fluid levels in your car battery
Step 8 – Go ahead and connect the battery charger to the battery
- READ THE BATTERY CHARGER’S INSTRUCTIONS – It will explain the EXACT process on how to set it up to charge your battery. It will indicate whether you have to plug in the battery charger first, and THEN connect the clamps to the battery terminals. NOTE: THIS IS USUALLY THE CASE, BUT ALWAYS BEST TO READ THE INSTRUCTIONS, JUST IN CASE
- The instructions will also let you know if there are any settings to be chosen on the battery charging unit – Many battery chargers do have various settings on them. That’s one great thing about the Battery Tender units – they are fairly plug and play which means you plug it in, hook up the clamps, and you are done
Step 9 – Make sure the battery and charger cables are safely setup
- PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT THE BATTERY AND THE CHARGER (INCLUDING THE CABLES AND ANY EXTENSION CORDS) ARE WELL OUT OF REACH OF ANY SMALL CHILDREN.
- If this is all set up on a shelf or a bench, please make sure to move it as far away from the edges of the shelf/bench so that it will not fall off when ‘bumped’.
Step 10 – Clean up
- Be sure to clean up any messes that are leftover on the floor, or shelf, or much more importantly….your car’s painted surfaces.
- Put your safety equipment away, and make sure you wash your hands and any exposed skin on your arms with warm water and soap.
- Once your hands are clean, don’t forget to shut the hood of your car. DO NOT DO THIS WITH THE DIRTY GLOVES STILL ON – YOU DO NOT WANT TO CAUSE ANY DAMAGES TO YOUR CAR’S PAINTED SURFACES
Step 11 – SIT BACK AND RELAX
You can now sit back and relax knowing that your car’s battery is going to be well maintained during the time that it is in storage.
I hope you have enjoyed this article about how to store a car battery when not in use.
Please feel free to check out many other ‘how to’ articles on my website HERE.