Battery replacement not as easy as it used to be

"Replacing the battery on many cars is no longer one of those jobs most people are willing to tackle."

I am noticing a trend.  I do not know whether it is a good trend or a bad trend but it is a trend. Replacing the battery on many cars is no longer one of those jobs most people are willing to tackle.

Typically, in the past, when your car would not start and the symptom was that of a dead battery many a vehicle owner would head down to the nearest store that sold batteries, buy a new one and install it themselves.  In some cases the vehicle was now fixed.  Especially if the battery was original to the vehicle and the vehicle was older than five years.

The results of many of these seat of the pants battery diagnoses were less than successful though.  For the vehicle owner it meant the possibility of no trip to the mechanic and the saving of money.  The next time the vehicle would not start though, the other two jobs the mechanically inclined owner would consider (replacing the starter or alternator) were not so simple.  Buying a starter or alternator would cost more than the battery and replacing them could be much more difficult.  What if the diagnosis is wrong again?  Better to bring in a professional.

A bad clutch switch, starter relay, bad ground,  broken wire, faulty anti theft system, and miriad of other possibilities must be eliminated.  A guaranteed fix without buying a bunch of parts is the smart money.  “Oh but I needed a new battery anyways”.

As a mechanic seeing the fresh owner-replaced battery always meant you were going to get a little more respect from the customer.  Many times the new battery was the wrong one for the vehicle and installed incorrectly.  This could justify a good teaching moment.

In recent months at my shop we have had a few people show up with a battery in hand.  “Could you install this battery for me?”  Surely!

After lifting the hood and maybe or maybe not finding the battery, the owner would recognize installing the battery was not something he/she could do.  Especially if they could not find it.

Yes we are in the age of hidden batteries.  It used to be only European cars challenged us to find the battery.  Now many vehicles have adopted those battery hiding techniques.  The Europeans are still the most creative.  The Audi Q7 has the battery under the floor below the driver’s seat.  Yes, the driver’s seat has to be removed completely.  Then there are a series of covers and shields to remove.  When you get to the battery, I guarantee you will be impressed by its size.  Gargantuan!

Even if the battery is not hidden, removal can be difficult.  The VW New Beetle comes to mind.  The engine compartment is very tight and getting the battery out takes some work.

Another problem with battery replacement is when the battery is removed and some memorized settings on the radio, clock, etc. are lost.  What about the anti theft code for the radio?  We now try to do a lot of battery replacements without letting the power go down in the process. Some vehicles even set diagnostic codes when the battery is removed and require computer scan tools to reset the modules that set codes and turn on warning lights.

The latest BMWs present the craziest battery replacement process.  The battery is registered to the vehicle after replacement.  The charging system is specially set up to charge different batteries in different methods.

The batteries in these vehicles are AGM type (another whole article) and they require a special charging rate.  The age of the battery is important.  New batteries require a lower charging rate than older batteries.  The charging system in these vehicles accounts for the age and type of battery.

Do you still want to change your own battery?

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. He will write every other Thursday. E-mail:


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