Automotive electrical systems are not very complex when you look at the big picture, and many of the technologies we use today are from alternators before lead acid batteries, – have been around for a long time, but there are still many people who look askance at a relatively simple task like connecting jumper cables, perhaps because they have heard that improper operation can cause significant damage or even explosion of a battery. And while you will find that many of the weird myths and rumors about automotive technology are just unsubstantiated myths and rumors, the dangers associated with connecting connecting cables or charger maybe not properlycause great damage or even cause the battery to explode. The good news is that if you take the time to understand why A car battery can explode, and if you take a few basic precautions, you won’t have to worry about this problem.

Safe connection of connection cables or charger

There are a few general rules of thumb that can help you safely connect connectors. cables but there are also a number of special cases that supersede these rules. So before you use your car to provide a start, accept a jump from someone, or connect a charger to your battery, the first thing you should do is check your owner’s manual to make sure your car doesn’t have a connection point designation. other than batteries. If you have a battery in your car that’s buried somewhere weird, like in a wheel arch or trunk, then there’s a good chance you have to use a junction block or some other kind of remote connection.

Jumpers sparkle when pressed together.
J. Ronald Lee / Moment / Getty Images

Regardless of the vehicles in question, the basic idea of ​​connecting jumper cables safely is to connect the electrical system of the donor vehicle with a good battery to the electrical system of the vehicle with a dead battery. The positive must be connected to the positive and the negative must be connected to the negative, as the reverse connection could damage both cars and create potentially dangerous sparks, but more on that later.

Best procedure for safe connection of connection cables

  1. Make sure both car keys are in off position.

  2. Connect one jumper cable to the positive (+) terminal of the donor battery.

  3. Connect the same cable to the positive (+) terminal of the discharged battery.

  4. Connect another jumper cable to the negative (-) terminal of the donor battery.

  5. Connect the other end of this cable to bare metal on the engine or frame of the vehicle with the dead battery.

Connecting the charger is done in much the same way, except that the charger is used instead of the donor battery. The positive charger cable must be connected to the positive (+) battery, after which the negative charger cable must be connected to bare metal on the vehicle’s engine or frame.

There are some exceptions where the positive is ground, but in most automotive electrical systems, the negative is ground. That’s why you can connect a charger or jumper cable to bare metal on a car’s frame or engine with a dead battery, and current will flow into the battery. Of course, technically Maybe connect directly to the negative pole of the battery, and in some cases it may even be easier. So if it’s possible, and it’s essentially the same as connecting to some other site, why go through the trouble? Because you don’t want your battery to explode.

The science of car battery explosions

Car batteries are called lead acid because they use lead plates immersed in sulfuric acid to store and release electrical energy. This technology has actually been around since the 18th century and is not very efficient in terms of energy to weight or energy to volume. However, they have an excellent power-to-weight ratio, which essentially means they are capable of delivering the high levels of on-demand current required by automotive starters.

The disadvantage of lead-acid batteries, apart from the fact that they are not an extremely efficient way to store energy, is that they are made up of quite hazardous materials and these hazardous materials can interact in dangerous ways. The presence of lead is the main reason that car batteries must be disposed of carefully and properly, and the presence of sulfuric acid is why you must be careful when handling them if you do not want your clothes to have holes or chemical burns on your skin. ,

Of course, the danger that we are particularly concerned about is sudden and catastrophic explosion, and the source of this particular danger is the interaction between lead and sulfuric acid in the battery. small quantities hydrogen gas are formed both during the discharge process and during charging, and hydrogen is highly flammable. So when the battery is discharged to the point where it can no longer power the starter motor, there is always the possibility that some hydrogen gas is still inside the battery or leaking out of the battery just waiting for an ignition source. The same applies to a freshly charged battery, since charging — and especially recharging — at high voltage produces both oxygen and hydrogen.

Car Battery Explosion Prevention

There are two main sources of ignition that you need to be concerned about and can be avoided with careful charging, jumps and maintenance. The first source of ignition is the spark generated when connecting or disconnecting jumpers or charging cable. That’s why it’s so important to connect to the bare metal on the motor or frame instead of the battery. If you connect a negative jumper to the battery itself, any remaining hydrogen can ignite due to the spark. For the same reason, it is recommended to wait to turn on or connect the charger until it is connected.

Another type of car battery explosion still involves hydrogen gas, but the ignition source is located. inside battery. The problem is that if the battery is not properly maintained and the electrolyte level may drop, the lead plates will be exposed to oxygen and may warp. This can cause the plates to bend and touch during the excessive current leakage that occurs each time the starter is cranked, which can lead to a spark. inside batteries. This, in turn, can ignite any hydrogen present in the cell, causing the battery to explode.

What about sealed car batteries?

There are two main types of sealed car batteries: traditional lead acid batteries, which are simply maintenance free, and VRLA (valve regulated lead acid) batteries, which are actually maintenance free. In the case of VRLA batteries the electrolyte is contained in a saturated glass mat or in a gel state so evaporation is not really a problem and there really is no need to ever add more electrolyte and it poses little or no danger to the plates ever. becoming exposed to the air. However, sealed batteries that use a liquid electrolyte can cause problems later in life.

if you have VRLA battery , whether it is an absorbed glass mat or a gel cell, the chance of the battery exploding is extremely low. However, it’s a good idea to follow Jumpstart and use best practices to stay in the habit. However, maintenance of these batteries is not really possible, so you do not need to check the charge level or electrolyte level regularly.

Particular attention should be paid to sealed and maintenance-free batteries without VRLA, since at least some the level of evaporation will occur over time and the situation will only get worse if the battery is allowed to be fully discharged repeatedly or recharged. with high voltage. Therefore, despite the fact that when starting or charging batteries caution is advised when handling any batteries, more better take extra care when handling old, dead or freshly charged non-VRLA batteries.

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