Getting your car battery wet can be a scary situation. We rely on our vehicle’s battery to start the engine and power essential electronics.
Exposure to water can damage a battery and leave you stranded. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at the risks of water on car batteries, how to handle a wet battery, ways to protect it from moisture, and when a battery may need to be replaced after water damage.
Table of Contents
The Risks of Water on Car Batteries
While modern car batteries are designed to withstand some environmental moisture, extended exposure to water can still cause problems. Here are some of the potential risks if your battery gets wet:
- Short circuits – Water can short circuit the battery terminals or internal connections. This can lead to a dead battery or even an explosion risk in severe cases.
- Corrosion – Wetness promotes corrosion on the battery posts and connectors. This can inhibit electrical current flow.
- Internal rust – Moisture causes battery plates and internals to rust more rapidly, reducing performance and life.
- Cracked housing – Accumulated water may freeze and crack the battery case open, resulting in leaks.
- Damaged seals – The rubber seals around battery caps can become compromised after water exposure, allowing more moisture to enter.
- Electronics damage – If wetness reaches vehicle computers, control modules, sensors or other electronics through battery electrical connections, it can cause malfunctions, shorts and permanent damage.
While most battery water risks concentrate on electrical issues, there is also potential for chemical leaks if the corrosive battery acid inside becomes very diluted with water. Clearly, batteries and water do not mix well.
What to Do if Your Battery Gets Wet
If your battery has been splashed, submerged or exposed to rain or fluids, here are some important steps to take:
- Remove battery – Disconnect the cables and remove the battery from the vehicle to isolate it and prevent further issues.
- Clean and dry – Use a microfiber cloth to gently wipe off any moisture, dirt or corrosion from the battery casing and terminals.
- Neutralize acid – If leaked battery acid is present, sprinkle baking soda on it to neutralize. Recheck in 5 minutes and reapply baking soda until bubbling stops.
- Rinse with distilled water – Gently rinse any areas that had battery acid on them with distilled water and dry thoroughly. Avoid regular tap water.
- Dry out – Allow the battery to air dry completely before reinstalling, at least 24 hours. This gives time for any interior moisture to evaporate.
- Test voltage – Use a voltmeter to test the battery state of charge. If still 12V or above, reinstallation may be possible.
- Inspect closely – Look for any cracked housing, damaged terminals, white powdery corrosion, bulging sides, or warped plates that indicate permanent damage.
- Consider replacement – If concerned about any remaining moisture or damage impacting life expectancy, replace the battery.
With prompt attention to drying, neutralizing acid, and testing voltage, a wet battery may still be salvaged. But extensive moisture exposure can require replacement.
How to Protect Your Car Battery from Water
Here are some good ways to help prevent your vehicle’s battery from getting wet in the first place:
- Park out of flooding risk – Avoid parking in low areas that can flood during heavy rain. Even shallow water reaching the battery compartment can be problematic.
- Check weatherstripping – Make sure hood and trunk weatherstripping seals properly to prevent moisture dripping into the battery well during rain or car washes.
- Keep compartments clean – Debris and dirt can clog battery compartment drains. Use compressed air to clear blockages.
- Install protective spray – Applying a corrosion control spray or dielectric grease to posts and connections helps repel moisture.
- Check case cracks – Inspect the battery case and caps regularly for any cracks that could allow water seepage inside.
- Lubricate terminals – Keep battery terminals lightly lubricated to prevent corrosion buildup that attracts more moisture.
- Use protective sleeves – Insulating terminal sleeves help protect from contact moisture.
- Maintain charge level – Keep the battery properly charged, as deeply discharged batteries are more vulnerable to moisture damage over time.
With attentive battery compartment cleaning, weathersealing, and moisture prevention aids, you can help minimize wetness risks.
Signs Your Car Battery Needs Replacement After Water Damage
While drying out and cleaning a wet battery may resolve some issues, often the damage is irreversible and will require replacing the battery. Watch for these indicators:
- Battery tests very low charge after drying period
- Corroded, discolored or fuzzy battery terminals
- White or blue crusty buildup on terminals despite cleaning
- Bulging, warped or cracked battery case
- Loose battery in the tray or rattling plates
- Sulfur smell from vents indicating internal issue
- Electronics glitches indicating hidden moisture damage
- Battery will not hold a charge for more than 1-2 days
- Interior acid leaks indicated by staining on the battery
If wetness issues are severe or battery performance declines rapidly after exposure, it is typically better and safer to simply replace the battery.
When to Call a Professional After Water Damage
In certain situations involving a car battery getting wet, it’s advisable to have a professional assist:
- If battery acid leaked significantly in the compartment
- For any symptoms of electrical short circuit or electronics damage
- If the battery leaks, smells odd, or makes noises after wetness
- If you are unsure about moisture detection or cleanup
- If battery charge tests very low repeatedly after attempted drying
- For testing and potential replacement recommendations
- If any other components got wet such as alternator or starter
While some moisture exposure only requires minor DIY battery cleanup, more serious water-related issues are best handled by the skills of a professional technician to avoid the risk of problems or injuries.
Preventing Future Water-Related Car Battery Damage
Once a battery has been compromised by moisture, it’s especially important to take preventive steps against recurrence:
- Add protective sprays to help repel water
- Use an insulated battery cover for high-risk situations
- Seal any identifiable moisture entry points
- Park on high ground during heavy storms or flooding
- Keep the battery compartment meticulously clean
- Inspect frequently for case cracks or acid leaks
- Maintain vigilant battery charging and maintenance habits
- Consider upgrading to an absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery for resilience
Remaining attentive and taking proactive measures to protect your replacement battery from water risks will help maximize its trouble-free lifetime.
While modern batteries withstand some environmental moisture, extended direct water exposure can lead to dangerous electrical shorts, permanent corrosion, performance decline, and eventual failure. Promptly drying, testing, and cleaning a wet battery may restore normal function in some instances, but often the damage cannot be reversed and replacement becomes the wise and safest choice. With vigilant battery compartment maintenance and water prevention aids, you can defend against many moisture hazards and extend your car battery’s life significantly.