A crusade to improve battery safety...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

Hardly a month goes by when you don't read about how dangerous car batteries can be. We are told over and over again to be very careful jumpstarting them. So why don't battery manufacturers take more care in labeling the positive and negative terminals? They use little tiny plus and minus signs that are hard to see under GOOD conditions. Once they've been exposed to dirt and grime, you're lucky if you can make them out at all. Please start a crusade to make battery companies mark these terminals better so that mistakes won't be made!

TOM: We love crusades, and we'll be glad to add this one to our list--right under the Save the Skeets Foundation (we heard that people were shooting the poor little skeets, so we formed a foundation to protect them).

RAY: You're absolutely right, Mike. Not only do the polarity markings get obscured by road and engine grime, but most jumpstarts take place in dark, rainy parking lots, not warm, well-lit garages. There is no excuse for making the "plus" and "minus" signs so illegible. Even worse, some batteries have the terminals on the side rather than the top, making them impossible to read OR reach. Making the terminals big, protruding, and even reflective would decrease the chances of hooking up jumper cables incorrectly.

TOM: An even better idea would be to make the terminals themselves in the shape of plus and minus signs. If the positive terminal was actually a big plus sign, and the negative terminal was a big minus sign, it would be impossible to confuse them. Of course, this would have to be accepted as the industry standard, and battery and jumper cables would have to conform to fit these terminals.

RAY: You know what's even worse? When you do need a jumpstart, and you reach into your glove compartment to get a flashlight to see which terminal is which, THOSE batteries are always dead too! I guess we'll save that crusade for another column.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One