Maintaining Maintenance-Free Battery

Times Staff Writer

Question: I would like to know what to do to avoid failure of the maintenance-free battery in my new Ford. I have twice cleaned a whitish material from the terminals and applied Vaseline, but is there anything else I can do?--R.B.

Answer: Unfortunately, you have done just about everything that is possible on a sealed battery. You should probably use a special wire tool or a wire brush on the posts. It is also helpful to keep the top of the battery clean, because a dirty top can conduct some current across the posts and drain the battery of some of its power.

On open-style batteries, it is possible to check the electrolyte level and add distilled water as needed. On those batteries, it is possible to charge the battery as well, which some experts believe prolongs the life of a battery.

Q: I am the original owner of a 1979 Buick Regal, which now has 110,000 miles on it. I thought I took care of the car well, but I have a problem with motor and transmission mounts. I replaced two engine mounts and a transmission mount in 1987, and three motor mounts and one transmission mount in 1988. My repair shop cannot advise me on what the problem is. I am not a hot rodder. Can you give me any advice?--A.E.B.


A: Since your model car doesn’t have a known history of motor mount failures, the problem might be something peculiar to your car. You don’t say whether the car has been in a recent accident. If it was, the geometry of the frame may have been distorted, causing additional stress on the engine mounts.

Another potential, though less likely, cause of the problem is that your mechanic is using mounts made of inferior materials. There are a lot of manufacturers who make mounts, and many of them use rubber compounds that differ significantly from original equipment. A softer mount can better isolate engine vibration, but it will also fail more quickly.

Heat and atmospheric pollution can lead to premature rubber failure, but not nearly as quickly as you have experienced. If the mounts fail again, you might want to have a body shop or alignment expert examine your car.

Q: A friend of mine claims I should use my air conditioner in the winter occasionally, because if I don’t it may not work next spring. That sounds crazy. Is it true?--Y.I.

A: Yes. Motorists should remember to operate their air conditioning system every few weeks during the winter for a period of about five or 10 minutes. During a long winter layover, the internal seals inside the compressor can become brittle if the refrigerant is not occasionally circulated through the system.

Q: Does antifreeze deteriorate with age? How frequently should it be replaced?--P.M.W.

A: If you mean antifreeze in the container, it has an almost indefinite shelf life. It is a very stable chemical that should be OK to use even after years of storage.

Of course, inside your cooling system, the antifreeze deteriorates with age. It has additives to retard corrosion and the buildup of acids, but it loses these attributes with use. You should consult your owner’s manual for a recommended replacement period, but many motorists elect to change their anti-freeze annually.


Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.