Winter Months – Vehicle Battery Safety Tips

Kelvin Naidoo, Manufacturing and Technical Director of AutoX.
AutoX is the manufacturer of the leading automotive battery brands Willard and SABAT and the official distributor of the world-renowned VARTA automotive batteries.

During the winter months, people may need to work on their car battery or use battery charging equipment. Because sulphuric acid is contained in batteries, it is important to remember that it is a poisonous and corrosive liquid and will cause burns and irritation to the skin and eyes if not properly managed.

Therefore, take precautions when charging a battery because it can give off a fine mist of sulphuric acid that is dangerous. It is important to always handle batteries with care. When working with a battery, keep it upright, and always charge it in a well-ventilated area. Use eye protection and protective clothing to avoid injury should there be a risk of acid splashing or spillage.

Sulphuric Acid

If there has been skin contact with sulphuric acid, immediately drench the affected area with clean water and remove any contaminated clothing. If any soreness or irritation persists, seek medical advice.

For eye contact, immediately wash out the eyes with clean water until the initial burning subsides. Do not use eye drops but seek prompt medical attention.

With ingestion, do not induce vomiting but make the patient drink as much water or milk as possible, followed by Milk of Magnesia, beaten eggs or vegetable oil and seek immediate medical attention.

Wash away small spillages with plenty of water and neutralise them using Bicarbonate of Soda mixed with water (10 grams Bicarb to 1 litre of water). Disposal of sulphuric acid can only be done by authorised specialists and not by consumers.  For burns, apply a dry sterile dressing and seek medical attention.

Electrical Energy 

Electrical energy can be discharged from batteries and when charging equipment. Burns may occur from the heating effect of tools and conductive objects in contact with live battery terminals or conductors. In addition, sparks and molten metal may be ejected and combustible materials, notably gaseous fumes, ignited to cause a potentially lethal explosion.

It is possible to receive a severe electric shock when charging equipment and with a number of batteries connected in series i.e. five or more 12-volt batteries (+60 volt nominal). Before using conductive tools on a battery, remove metallic personal adornments from the hands and wrists.

Before working on a vehicle’s electrical system, blow across the terminals and the vent holes to disperse any fumes and disconnect the battery where there is any risk of accidental short circuits.

Always disconnect the earth terminal from the battery first and connect it last to prevent short circuiting. Store, charge, check and test batteries in a well ventilated area and do not place tools or conductive objects on top of batteries.

Before using a battery charger, consult the manufacturer’s literature and remember to switch the charger off before connecting or disconnecting the battery.

Emergency Procedure for Treating Electric Shocks

In the event of an electric shock, immediate action is essential, especially a severe shock, immediate action is essential as the nerves controlling breathing and heart may be affected. Make sure it is safe to approach the person.

If the person is not clear of the electrical source, switch off the power. If this is not possible, attempt to separate the person from the conductor using a dry, insulating object such as wood, rubber, brick, thickly folded newspaper and cardboard, and try to push or pull the person clear of the point of contact. Do not touch the person with bare hands.

Apply artificial respiration if necessary. Seek medical attention thereafter. In the case of an explosion, seek medical attention and remember that sulphuric acid may have been ejected into the atmosphere.

Emission of Gases

Hydrogen and oxygen are emitted during charging and are emitted during cranking or movement of the battery. An explosive atmosphere is created if the concentration of hydrogen in air exceeds 4%.

Avoid sources of ignition close to the batteries. In particular: no smoking, no naked flames and switch off all electrical current before making or breaking electrical connection. Avoid sparks caused by accidental short circuits.

AutoX is a leading South African automotive lead‑acid battery manufacturer, supplying local and selected African and European markets with our well-known battery brands.