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Q: How do I maintain a classic car or motorcycle battery?

A: Leave a battery (even an expensive one) standing idle for extended periods, and it will go flat on you. Probably at the most inconvenient moment possible.

Batteries like to be used (and recharged fully) fairly regularly. That doesn't mean plugging it into a trickle charger every night, but rather that regular use of your vehicle for more than just short trips, will help to keep the battery's charge at a healthy level. If you do have to stand the battery unused for long periods, perhaps investing in a battery charger that can trickle charge (not a high-output charge that can overheat the battery) may be worthwhile. If you're uncertain, talk to a reputable garage.

Q: How do I tell how old my battery is?

A: Many vehicle batteries these days will have a label on the top stating when it was manufactured.

Failing that, there should be a code engraved or heat-stamped onto the battery. The first two characters (a letter and a number) will tell you the month and year of manufacture. These can be formatted either month/year, or year/month. The letter gives you the month (A for January, etc.). The letter I usually isn't used as it can be confused with a 1. The number signifies the year. No code? The physical condition (grunge, corrosion on or around the terminals, etc) may help you guess at an age.

Q: How long do car or motorbike batteries last?

A: Wow! You do like to ask the difficult questions. How long is a piece of string?

There are so many variables - type of battery, conditions of use, whether it's regularly used for only short trips, how it's stored... Typically, though, three to five years is about average for for the lifespan of a car or motorcycle battery. If yours is showing signs of fatigue, and you're not neglecting it too badly, try trickle charging it overnight or jump-starting it and then letting it charge fully from the engine before you bin it. If you do need to replace it, all that valuable lead in the battery might make it worth dropping it off at a metal recycler who'll pay you scrap weight for it.


Keep batteries being charged in a well-ventilated area. When charging, they give off hydrogen and acid gases which are definitely not healthy in an enclosed space.

Don't let your battery stand in the cold for extended periods without being used and/or periodically trickle-charged.

Keep your battery terminals clean - dirty or corroded terminals can interrupt battery charging.

Make sure the earth strap from the battery to the chassis is in good order - poor earthing can encourage battery misbehaviour.

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The battery and its welfare explained by analogy with human traits
by Geo. R. Archdeacon

Every motorist travels with a wonderful giant. He dwells in that black mystery box known as the accumulator.

Although this giant only weighs about 50lb., he is so powerful that he can release sufficient energy to raise himself straight up in the air for a distance of three miles

Fortunately, he is susceptible to kindly treatment and is tractable.

A humorous, vintage take on the subjects of caring for and maintaining the health of your car's battery

He has a rather delicate constitution and is liable to disease and is rapidly brought to a state of impotence by improper housing or incorrect diet.

His physiology is somewhat similar to that of us humans.

His body consists of a soft, smooth, pasty substance, termed "active material". This is supported by a skeleton called the grid, which is made of lead and antimony.

The limbs are the positive and negative plates.

His blood is the electrolyte, and unless his circulation is good he rapidly declines in health.

His complexion is the colour of the plates and indicates the state of his health. When he is in good health and full of energy, the positive plate is a rich chocolate colour and the negative plate is a delicate silver-grey.

Signs of Ill-health

When overworked and run down, he develops pimples which appear as small white specks upon the surface of the plates.

When this giant is well-fed with the necessary amperes of electricity his blood will be at full strength; a hydrometer is used to measure this and it will then show a specific gravity of 1.280. in this condition he can be cajoled into doing a tremendous amount of work.

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When his labours are continuous, his blood weakens and the specific gravity drops to 1.150. In this state he needs to be relieved from duty, given a light diet of amperes for twenty-four hours and he will be fully restored.

The blood corpuscles are anions and cations. The anions carry the negative charge of electricity and the cations carry the positive charge between the two plates.

The blood pressure is the voltage. After his regular meal, when he is resting, it should be 2.00 volts per cell. This is gradually reduced whilst he works. When it has fallen to 1.70 volts he must be relieved from all labout or irreprable damage will be done to his constitution.

Feed him with some nice fresh amperes until his "blood pressure" is restore and he will be fit to carry on.

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His favourite tipple is pure distilled water. Nothing else will suffice. This must never be stored in old vinegar bottles, as there may be traces of acetic acid remaining; this would cause his limbs to swell until they burst and fell apart.

Don't keep his water in an iron receptacle as it is very probable that particles of iron, in the form of rust, may be decanted into the accumulator.

Charge Well in Winter

Iron is an oxygen carrier and soon gets transferring oxygen from one plate to the other, thereby discharging the cell whilst it is resting. One half of one per cent. of iron will completely discharge it in twenty-one days.

This giant is very susceptible to the cold when he is run down; therefore keep him well fed during the Winter. Should the specific gravity of his blood fall to 1.060 it will freeze when the temperature is 26°F (-3.3°C).

His main item of diet is electricity. This must be served to him in small portions and at regular intervals. It is remarkable how he will brighten up after a meal of a few nice juicy amperes.

His reaction to a meal is almost human

It's a dull life for him in that black box. So please be kind to the giant.

Good night, children, good night.

This article was first printed in February, 1938, and reflects the technology and maintenance practices of that period. Opening up a battery to check its specific gravity is definitely no longer recommended!