A dead battery, an abominable snowman and I'm late for work. The yellow top rescue.
It's November and I live in Idaho, that means it's getting cold. Anyone who's had an Idaho drivers license for more than 5 years can tell you that when winter starts knocking on our door it's time to check your cars' battery! If you don't heed this advice your car battery absolutely will leave your ass on the side of the road in the middle of a snowy wilderness needing a jump. Not a good look when there's 2 feet of snow on the ground, it's 30 below zero and you're sure that there's an abominable snowman watching you from the trees!
The photo above is the battery in my 05 Ford F350 Super Duty (The one in the "Cars" section of the site) taken Friday morning around 6:45am (this will be important later). Take note of the corrosion around the terminals, this was AFTER I'd sprayed them with a corrosion cleaning solution earlier in the week.
It was 6:45 Thursday morning and it was time for me to head to work, I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door to my truck, as soon as I stepped outside I was greeted by that first breath of COLD "winter is coming, here's your warning" air. I zipped my coat up as high as it would go and set my targets on getting into my truck ASAP to enjoy the seat heaters and eventually the warm comfort of the trucks heating system. I hopped into the truck, set my coffee in the cup holder, stuck my key in the ignition (insert inappropriate joke here) and gave it a crank. Rhhaaaa......rwwwhhhaaaaaa.......rwhh.VROOM! "Uh oh" I thought to myself, "this battery isn't liking this cold weather, maybe this weekend I'll look into a new one". After work I hopped back in my truck excited to head for home, again I inserted the key in the ignition and again the engine SLOWLY turned rhhhhhaaaaa rwwwhaaaa rwh VROOM! "Thank the lord" I thought to myself, "maybe I'll swing by the parts store today instead just to be safe".
I arrived at the parts store with one mission, to purchase a new battery for my truck. This seems like an easy undertaking until you're put into that position. What you find is that there are a LOT of options for car batteries and a HUGE range of prices. If you don't know what you're doing and you just follow the advice of the moron behind the parts counter odds are you'll be replacing that battery again this time next year (if it even makes it that long). I've been a "car guy" for the better part of 30 years, I currently own 7 cars/trucks (not including the ones I've sold over the years) and I've bought just about every brand of battery under the sun. Needless to say I have some experience when it comes to automotive batteries and I can make it very simple for you: if you buy a high end "store brand" battery it will almost certainly last one or two months beyond whatever it says it will last. i.e. If you buy a 60 month battery it will probably die in 5 years and 2 months just after the warranty has expired. If you buy the cheap 24 month battery it will die in 26 months, etc. This seems logical enough but for those of us on a budget who don't plan to trade our vehicle in every 3 years it becomes an issue, how do we get a good battery that doesn't need replaced every time we turn around? I have 2 answers for you: Optima and Interstate Batteries (I've also heard that Odyssey batteries are good but I've not had any personal experience with them so I won't recommend them here). Yes they are a little more money but you absolutely are getting what you pay for and in my personal experience these 2 brands of batteries are heads and shoulders above ANY other brand of automotive battery. If I were on a tight budget I'd choose the Interstate Battery otherwise I will choose an Optima over any other battery on the market, ask ANYONE who's owned one, they are the SHIT! I watched one get put into a paint shaker for an entire week (at the SEMA show in 2005) and not only did it not crack or leak but it never lost a single volt of juice!
I decided on the Yellow Top Optima (Yellow top is a deep cycle battery, Red top is a standard automotive battery and Blue top is a marine battery) because I have future plans of a large stereo system as well as auxiliary lighting and maybe a winch. It's also nice to know that if someone leaves a dome light on in the truck the battery has a 120 minute reserve capacity and can be drained dead and recharged over 300 times without damage to the battery. So I paid my $230 and skipped my happy ass back to the truck with plans of changing the battery over the weekend with my kids (they like helping dad with his cars).
The next morning (Friday) at 6:45am I again grabbed my coffee and headed out to the truck, again I was met by the cold November air and again I zipped up my coat and headed for the truck. The windows had a thin film of frost on them and would need to be scraped so I needed to get the truck running and get my ass scraping windows or I'd be late for work. I hopped in the truck and turned the key wwwwhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaah...............whhhh hh hh aaaaa tick tick tick tick tick. Shit. The old battery was dead, one more night of cold weather had proven to be more than it cold take. "Looks like I'm going to be late for work today".
With no time to waste I got to work removing the old Autolite Platinum that had been installed by the previous owner of the truck.
Car batteries are heavy, if you're changing one for the first time be prepared to catch it when it comes out.
I think we have a clear favorite!
OOOOH! Don't worry, the yellow lid on the Optima comes off and acts as a battery base on some applications or can just be pulled off and used as a tray for your collection of rare imported wing nuts.
The Autolite Platinum battery that I removed was a 96 month premium battery, it lasted (as expected) 98 months. My new Optima will likely double that.
Don't be fooled by the "Platinum" and "Extreme" and the other silly names battery manufacturers come up with, it's all marketing. The only things you need to concern yourself with are: Does it fit? How long is it guaranteed to last? Does it supply adequate cold cranking amps for my application, and can I afford to upgrade to a superior technology?
While I always prefer to upgrade over using a stock replacement there are 2 areas where I absolutely refuse to accept mediocrity: The first is batteries and the second is tires. These are two automotive areas where you absolutely do not want a failure while you're alone in the middle of nowhere.
Earlier in the week I had cleaned the outside of my battery connections with a spray on battery cleaner (there was a LOT of corrosive buildup) but I hadn't taken the time to disconnect the terminals, look at how much buildup is inside of that connector!
Before connecting a new battery it's important that you take the time to clean these terminal connections, the best method I've found is to start with a spray cleaner (with indicator) to get the bulk of the corrosion off and soften the rest, then follow up with a terminal cleaning brush to scrub away whatever is left. If you don't have a terminal cleaning brush you need one! Either ask Santa for one or click the link below:
I scrubbed the hell out of mine until they were mostly free of corrosion (the green shit) and had a clean shiny connection surface. When using a battery brush be sure to use a dust mask, you do not want to breath battery acid dust.
Then it was time to install the battery, make the connections and tighten everything up. This is also a good time to replace worn connectors, it's already torn apart, you'd might as well do it while you're in there.
And here is the final result, it's in, it's secured, the connections are clean and tight and she's ready to fire! Although I had high expectations for this battery even those were exceeded when I first turned the key, the starter cranked with a raw and vigorous power and the engine fired almost immediately! I will keep everyone up to date if this battery has any issues in the future but I can almost guarantee you that you won't hear me complain of a single problem from this thing for at least the next 5 years.
That's the end of the story, I got the battery in, went to work (late) and I've been happy with it ever since, here are some links if you want to get one for yourself and pay a lot less than I did at the parts store (If I had time to wait for shipping I would have ordered one and saved a lot of money).
Thank you for reading this weeks blog post.
Clint J. Grover