Here’s How To Safely Dispose of Car Batteries

Dispose of your battery at no charge to yourself — you might even make a buck.

byRobert Bacon| UPDATED Feb 28, 2022 1:37 PM
Here’s How To Safely Dispose of Car Batteries
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Your engine turns over slower and slower every time you twist the key, until one day you hear “click, click, click.” Your battery is dust. Since you’re a reader of The Drive, we know you have the tenacity and capability to source and fit a new battery, but the question is: how do you safely dispose of your old one?

Anyone who’s environmentally conscious, or just trying not to break the law, shouldn’t throw their old battery in the trash. Automotive batteries contain hazardous materials that are dangerous to both yourself and the environment if not disposed of properly. 

Thankfully, the EPA estimates that roughly 99 percent of the lead used in automobile batteries is recycled correctly, so let’s keep you out of the 1 percent. Better yet, disposing of a car battery isn’t too difficult, and The Drive’s crack how-to team has created this guide to make it even easier. 

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Disposing of a Car Battery Basics 

Estimated Time Needed: 5-10 minutes (plus the time it takes to get to the disposal location)

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Battery

Disposing of a Car Battery Safety 

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless — hopefully.

Everything You’ll Need To Dispose of a Car Battery

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tool List 

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How To Dispose of a Car Battery

Let’s do this! 

Disposing of a Car Battery 

  1. Ensure your engine is off and locate your battery. If your car's battery isn’t where you’d expect (under the hood), consult your owner’s manual.
  2. Locate the positive (red) and negative (black) terminals, and remove their protective caps if necessary.
  3. Use your wrench (usually 10 mm) to loosen the negative cable clamp first and lift it free. The negative cable will be black and usually has a ‘-’ sign on the terminal.
  4. Now perform the previous step on the positive clamp. The positive cable will be read and usually has a ‘+’ sign on the terminal.
  5. Remove the clamp that locks your battery in place by unfastening the nuts or bolts that keep it in place, and be careful not to let any parts of the clamp fall into the engine bay. A socket wrench is usually the handiest tool for this job. 
  6. Inspect the battery for any leaks to ensure you can safely remove it.
  7. Lift the battery straight out of the engine bay, making sure to keep it level at all times.
  8. Place the battery in a heavy-duty bag, and never let it sit on its side.
  9. Bring the battery to one of the following locations to dispose of or recycle it: a place that has a hazardous chemical pick-up/drop-off point, metal recycling establishment, or an automotive parts store.

Pro Tips to Dispose of a Car Battery 

You know you want more useful tips, so here’s everything we’ve got.

  • Be extra cautious if you’re removing an old lead-acid battery, as there’s a higher risk that this unit could have a leak.
  • Batteries weigh between 30 and 50 pounds, so make sure to brace yourself before lifting yours out of the engine bay. If you need some extra height to get a better grip, try using a stepping stool. 
  • Some metal recycling facilities will offer you cash in exchange for your old battery.
  • Never let your wrench touch the negative and positive terminals simultaneously, as touching both terminals could create a spark and even cause the battery to explode. 
  • You usually pay a ‘core charge’ when you buy a new battery, but if you give your old battery to the retailer, this charge is refunded.
  • If you don’t need a new battery, many auto parts stores, like AutoZone, will give you a gift card in exchange for your old battery.
  • Metal recycling establishments will often offer you cash for your old battery, as the lead inside it is worth money.
  • Dropping your old battery off somewhere that has a hazardous chemical pick-up/drop-off point should be your last option, as you’ll get the least return for your battery.
  • Some clamps require two wrenches to disconnect them, as they’re secured with a nut on both ends, so you might need to borrow a spare wrench. 

Video

Check out the video below by Frakking Creations, which runs through the process of disconnecting and removing the battery from a car. The video also gives you some helpful information about how disconnecting your battery could affect some of your vehicle's electronics or presets. 

FAQs About Disposing Car Batteries

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

Q. Why are old car batteries worth money?

A: Even if your old car battery isn't functioning properly, it’s still full of lead. As with any metal, lead is valuable, so you should be able to find a company that’s willing to pay for it.

Q. How much can you get for an old car battery?

A: How much your battery is worth will depend on how much it weighs and the current price of lead. To get a more accurate estimate of how much your battery is worth, call up your local scrapyard or take it to an auto parts store to see how much the business will give you in the form of a gift certificate.

Q. Can a flat battery still produce a spark?

A: Even if your battery doesn’t have enough energy to start your car, there's probably some residual energy in it, so it could still produce a spark under certain circumstances.

Q. What happens if you disconnect the positive terminal first?

A: If you remove the clamp on the positive terminal first, and the terminal makes contact with the body of the car via the tool you’re working with, it would create a short. This short could cause your battery to swell, rupture, explode, and even catch fire.

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