What is That Yellowish-White Powder on My Car Battery?

Updated on January 5, 2017

Thanks to the resounding and sometimes overwhelming level of questions I've received from all of my readers, I've come to a resolution that will make everyone happy. YOU (the most MVP!) will get your questions answered one-on-one.

So! Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to the very first of these new articles from Nataysha who's having some troubles with her old rusty truck.

"Stuff On My Truck"

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Hi. I am having an issue with my rusty old truck. It has always ran well and was never any problem to start. The other day, I opened the hood and noticed some fuzzy yellowish white stuff on top of the battery. Not much but enough to notice. I topped up the washer fluid and closed her up. I also plugged it in as it was supposed to get cold, overnight. Next day, I was out and about. I had a problem. I tried to start my truck. The dashboard lights came on (not sure about headlights, etc.) but nothing else happened. I did not hear anything. It did not struggle nor did I hear a click sound. I tried it a couple times and it started up, as it normally would. What are you thoughts, please!! I need my beater but am nervous to get stranded. Ugh help!!

~Nataysha

Battery Corrosion and Calcium Build Up

Dear Nataysha,

First, thank you so much for asking your question on my other hub Five Signs Your Car Battery Is Dead. Second, thank you for owning an old rusty truck! Those are some of the funnest automobiles to own, drive and work on, especially if you're mechanically minded.

That being said, old rusty trucks don't provide all that pleasure without plenty of pain. It's usually a pain in the gas tank, but occasionally you'll run into little maintenance issues like these, that can cause big problems.

In this instance, that yellowish-white stuff you've found on your old battery is corrosion. Thankfully, corrosion is easily taken care of with a few simple steps and some regular maintenance. First though, let's talk more about that corrosion.

Sulfuric Battery Corrosion

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If you find that your vehicles battery has a buildup of blue, bluish-white, white, yellow or yellow-white powder around the terminals, posts or cell tops, what you have is corrosion from the reaction of the sulfate in the battery with the lead in the terminal posts. This is usually because of an imperfect seal on the battery and is often the result of buying a poor quality battery, but can also come from overcharging your battery or having an extremely old battery. As discussed in previous articles, car batteries are generally expected to last only 2-5 years with reasonable care. If your battery is still within this time, it's usually pretty easy to adopt grandpa's favorite method and brush those battery terminals regularly to keep the battery going.

Caution:

  • Cleaning your battery can mean touching a congealed form of battery acid, which can be extremely harmful to your skin. Everyone reacts differently, so it's important to avoid the risk and WEAR GLOVES whenever you clean your battery terminals.

3 Ways to Clean Your Battery Terminals

If you're looking to prolong the life of your aging battery, you're best bet is to keep those terminals as clean as possible, as often as possible. There are many ways you can do this, but the three most popular methods are:

  • Simply scrub the terminals clean with a specifically designed terminal brush, until you've gotten all of the corrosion.
  • Mix up some baking soda and water to apply to a tooth brush that you can use to scrub the terminals clean.
  • Pour diet cola on the terminals for a few minutes, then wipe away the corrosion.

My preferred method is baking soda and water mix with a terminal brush, as that ensures that you've gotten your battery terminals as clean as possible.

Note:

  • Use care when using cola to clean your posts. You want to ensure that it's sugar free and then you want to make sure to use it sparingly, as cola is so corrosive it can actually wear down your battery posts faster than the sulfation will.

Battery Maintenance Tips

Once you've cleaned and beautified your battery terminals, it's important to think about your battery's maintenance needs from here on out. A battery with corrosion forming on it is a battery that is slowly losing its life. That means that if you want to prolong that life, you'll need to take extra car to keep that corrosion from building up.

A regular cleaning once per month will work wonders, but you can also enhance your battery's life by purchasing some extremely affordable anti-corrosion terminal washers or replacing your old terminal clamps with new ones that are more resistant to corrosion.

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