Best Practices for Cleaning and Maintaining Battery Terminals

Your vehicle’s battery is its powerhouse, providing electrical current for everything from starting the engine to operating the dashboard. Its terminals are the vital link between its power source and your vehicle. In this guide, you’ll learn about proper care of your terminals for battery performance plus how they function and where to find replacements.

The Role of Battery Terminals in Vehicle Performance

Your battery uses terminals to connect with your vehicle’s electrical system. As electrical contacts, terminals attach to the battery posts. Each terminal links to either a positive red cable, which connects to the starter, or a negative black cable, which hooks up to a grounding point somewhere on the vehicle.

With so many kinds of batteries on the market, it’s no surprise that an extensive range of battery terminal types exist. Each exhibits a unique set of properties:

  • Standard: Top-mounted lead terminals with a round or hexagonal shape
  • Marine: Wingnut-shaped terminals containing brass or stainless steel to resist corrosion
  • Hybrid: Incorporating metallic blends such as copper-lead for conductivity and corrosion resistance
  • Side: Lead terminals fitted with a bolt to connect to side-mounted battery posts

You may see some terminals in black and red to match polarities, while other colors reflect the metals the terminals contain. You’ll also see many brands, including Duralast, Dorman, Schumacher, and ACDelco.

How To Clean and Maintain Your Battery Terminals

Regular maintenance prevents the build-up of corrosion. It results from hydrogen gas released from sulfuric acid in the battery reacting with moisture and gasses in the air. Corrosion can significantly reduce battery performance. Inspection and cleaning are easy DIY tasks that only require a few minutes of your time and some essential supplies.

Inspecting Your Terminals

Most experts recommend visually inspecting your battery terminals at least every six months. It’s wise to check them more often if you’re a high-mileage driver or frequently drive in challenging conditions. During your inspections, look for signs of corrosion, which can manifest as blue, green, or white crust on the battery terminals.

Cleaning Your Terminals

Terminal cleaning requires a few tools: a wire brush, cleaning cloths, safety glasses, protective gloves, petroleum jelly, and either a commercially available battery-cleaning solution or a mixture of three parts baking soda to one part distilled water. Put on your safety eyewear and gloves, then follow these easy steps:

  1. With the vehicle off,  disconnect the negative terminal first, then the positive terminal.
  2. Check for leaking battery acid around the battery area.
  3. Prepare your cleaning solution.
  4. Apply the cleaning solution to the terminals with your brushes
  5. Leave the solution on the terminals for five to 10 minutes.

Next, rinse the solution off with a spray water bottle and wipe the terminals completely dry with a clean cloth. Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly onto the terminals, then reconnect the positive and negative terminals in that exact order.

Where To Purchase Battery Terminals

Eventually, you may need to swap your terminals or purchase replacement components such as a battery terminal bolt. Your preferred auto parts retailer should have a wide selection of these products. Choose a retailer with top-notch customer service and convenient pickup and shipping options.