The world of auto repair is full of all kinds of classic axioms and DIY quick fixes, some of which can be helpful, while others are little more than urban legends. Among the many pieces of auto repair advice that seem to hover in the “gray area” of truthfulness is the notion that you can revive an old car battery by adding some extra acid to it. Rumor has it that this can work for older batteries (the ones that you can add water to), but the opposite is actually true–in fact, adding acid to a battery will actually cause it to deteriorate at an even faster rate.
Older Batteries: Add Water or Acid?
Most new batteries are considered to be “maintenance free” because they have internal components that cannot be accessed, but certain older battery types may require the driver to add water to the electrolyte mixture (consisting of water and sulfuric acid) on a periodic basis. If you have this type of battery, be sure to check it at least two times a year, and add only distilled water when needed. An imbalance in the electrolyte (e.g., too much sulfuric acid in proportion to water) will cause the battery’s power to diminish at a quicker rate than usual; adding acid will only exacerbate this problem.
Understanding Wet-Cell Batteries
Wet-cell batteries can be found in many older vehicles of all kinds; they are actually one of the first types of rechargeable batteries to be introduced into the marketplace. The typical wet-cell battery has one lead oxide plate for the positive charge and one lead plate for the negative charge, both of which are submerged in the electrolyte mixture, with a separator in between them to keep them from touching each other and shorting the battery. These plates generate voltage for the battery, creating a chemical reaction with the electrolyte that produces lead sulfate. This entire process produces water, which generates current through the release of electrons. After a period of use, the water begins to accumulate, diluting the electrolyte and causing the battery to become ineffective. When the battery is charged, it will reverse this chemical reaction, which restores the chemistry for both plates. As you drive your car on a regular basis, this process is repeated over and over again, eventually producing a buildup of oxidized particles on the plates known as sulfation. If you were to add acid to the electrolyte mixture, it would actually promote further sulfation, diminishing the power of your battery even faster than normal.
The average car battery has a lifespan of about 5 years, and batteries with more advanced designs can have an extended lifespan of up to 10 years. Try to avoid rapidly charging your battery, and do your best to keep it fully charged in order to maintain and even extend its life as much as possible.
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*Always check your owner’s manual for your vehicle model’s specific instructions before attempting any type of vehicle repair.
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