DIY Car Maintenance: How to Change a Car Battery

car battery

My new battery! Isn’t she a beauty!

Full disclosure: Some of the links to products within this post are affiliate links and will earn me money if you purchase the product. As always, I only include affiliate links for products I actually use and have proven helpful for me personally.

I have never been incredibly handy or mechanically inclined. I’m not the guy to call when a shelf needs to be fixed or when there’s a leak coming from under the sink. For better or worse, those just aren’t skills that I learned or was particularly interested in growing up.

But a variety of factors have spurred me to want to be more hands-on with my car and the maintenance it requires. It’s been having a lot of issues recently and I’m tired of shelling out money without really knowing what’s going on. I’ve also read a number of articles showing that basic car maintenance is not only eminently possible to learn, but that it can be very rewarding. So I’ve resolved to tackle one project at a time, starting simply and working my way up. First project: changing my car battery.

Recognizing the problem

The first step in any car maintenance project is recognizing the problem that needs to be fixed. In this case it was fairly simple. Just about a month ago I left my office and tried to turn on my car to go home, and nothing happened. A co-worker helped me jump the battery (a post for another day) and I made it home fine.

Now, I’m not an expert, but I do not think that your battery failing to turn on once necessarily means you have to replace it. So I decided to just keep an eye on it over time. It never actually died again, but there were plenty of times where it took a few extra seconds to start up, and I could clearly tell that it was on its way out. It was time to get a new battery and learn a new skill in the process.

Learn how to fix the problem

I had never changed my car battery before, so I needed to learn how to do it. Luckily for me, the internet is an amazing resource. I typed “change battery 1998 honda civic” into Google and was immediately provided with a number of helpful resources. In the end, I found an eHow article that explained the process step-by-step, as well as a YouTube video that actually demonstrated the entire process (on a later model Civic, but still incredibly helpful). These two resources taught me everything I needed to know.

Gather the parts and tools

adjustable wrenchAs it turns out, changing a car battery is actually an incredibly simple process, so there aren’t a lot of tools or parts needed. For tools, the only thing I needed was an adjustable wrench, pictured here. I had received a Black & Decker Tool Set as a wedding gift, which has come in handy many times, so I already had the wrench. If you don’t have the tool you need, you might want to see if you can borrow it from a friend or family member first, especially if you’re just starting to learn these skills and you aren’t sure you’ll really keep them up. You don’t want to go out and spend money on something you won’t end up using again. On the other hand, if it’s a tool you will be able to use for multiple other projects down the road, investing some money in a good one could be a good decision.

As for parts, all I needed was a new battery. I first checked the typical auto parts stores online and found batteries ranging from about $100-125. Costco was my next target, and I found that I could get one there for $74 with a 3-year warranty. Pretty good. But I was lucky to have mentioned my goal for changing my battery on a Mr. Money Mustache post, and one of his readers suggested I check some local junk yards for a used battery. Since I’m already planning on replacing this car in the near future, the potential for reduced cost was worth risk inherent in this approach. Plus, this felt like it totally fit in with my newfound spirit for learning something new.

So I did another internet search for junk yards and other used auto part stores near me, and found two that fit the bill. One could sell me a battery for $40 with a one-year guarantee. Another would sell me the battery for $30 with a 30-day guarantee. In the end, I went with the $40 battery for the better guarantee.

The main lesson here, and it’s one I learn over and over again, is that the easiest or default way of doing things is rarely the best. If I had simply chosen Costco over a typical auto parts dealer, I would have saved $25-50. By choosing a used auto parts dealer, I saved another $34. A little time spent on research saved me a decent amount of money.

How to change a car battery

Finally, it was time to actually do the job. For a more complicated project I would probably have enlisted someone to help me out, but this was so easy that I figured I could go it alone. So I watched my YouTube instructional video again, wrote down the step-by-step instructions, drove over to the parts dealer, made sure they still had the battery, and got to work.

Step 1

The first step is taking out the current battery. This is pretty easy, but you have to do things in a certain order. If you go out of order you run the risk of damaging some of the electrical components in your car.

First you have to disconnect the protective cover from the negative terminal. The negative terminal will typically be black and have have a “-” symbol next to it. Disconnecting it simply involves using your adjustable wrench to losing the bolt enough that you can pull the cover up and off.

Step 2

The second step is to disconnect the protective cover from the positive terminal, which will typically be red and have a “+” symbol next to it.

Step 3

Next, you have to loosen the bolts on the bracket holding the battery in place enough that you can remove the bracket. From there you take out the old battery and set it to the side.

Step 4

Now you simply take the new battery, put it in place, and run back through Steps 1-3 in reverse order: 1) Re-attach the bracket, 2) Re-connect the cover for the positive terminal, and 3) Re-connect the cover for the negative terminal.

And that’s it! Now you have a new battery and you’re good to go. For me, the entire process took about 10 minutes.


Changing the battery ended up being a pretty easy procedure, but it’s one I wasn’t motivated to try until recently. By taking a little bit of time to research the part for myself and learn how to do it on my own, I saved anywhere from $60-100. And the best part is that next time it will be even easier. As I master even more basic car maintenance skills, I will not only continue to save money on those jobs, but I’ll learn more about how my car works and hopefully be able to make it last longer, which in turn will save even more money. And on top of it, I’ll feel good about taking control over another part of my life.

We all face things like this in our lives. There’s a certain job or task where the amount to learn feels daunting and prevents from even trying. Investing is like this for a lot of people. Budgeting is for others. The fact of the matter is that we can’t learn everything about a topic before we start. But by starting somewhere, we begin the learning process and start on the path towards mastery.

What’s something you’ve been hesitant to start? What’s one simple step you could take in the next week to get started?

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45 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Your Daily Finance July 31, 2013

    Changing a battery is a lot easier than people make it out to be. The hardest part is actually figuring out sometimes if it is the battery and finding the right tools. I tend to go see if they can recharge my battery first instead of buying a new one but if all else fails I just buy one. I just purchased one last weekend and got a discount because I gave them my old battery.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      That’s a good idea on trying to recharge it. Not something I had considered. I’ll have to look into that next time. Also, I should have mentioned that the price included a trade-in. I think it would have been $10 more without that. I should add that to the post.

  • Liz July 31, 2013

    I love the feeling of tackling a project that saves me money when I DIY..such a great feeling.

  • Holly Johnson July 31, 2013

    Believe it or not, I can actually change a car battery! I learned once when I absolutely had to figure it out and had no one to help.

  • Rita P July 31, 2013

    Wow you post sound like it is simple to change the battery of my car. I never tried but gonna refer your post when i would need it some day

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      It is incredibly simple. Definitely a good first project for someone without experience.

  • Alexa Mason July 31, 2013

    I am a baby when it comes to car problems. I am afraid to touch anything. I would probably call my dad or one of my brothers if I needed help changing a battery.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      I’ve always been afraid too, but I think there’s less to be afraid of than it seems. Especially with basic stuff like this. We’ll see how far I take it down the line. I certainly don’t envision myself rebuilding an engine, but I think there’s a lot of basic maintenance that almost anyone can handle.

  • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma July 31, 2013

    Congrats on learning a new skill. That skill isn’t douche the changing of the battery, but the willingness to attempt simple repairs on your own. In life, that is probably one of the most important skills to have.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      Very good point. Simply being willing to take on these kinds of projects is a huge skill. And the more you do it, the more resourceful you get, which only makes the next project easier.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money July 31, 2013

    While I have been learning a whole lot about home maintenance since buying a house, I know pretty much NOTHING about auto maintenance. I think this is a great post and I appreciate you sharing your insights. Definitely can be a money-saver long-term if you learn some of the basics.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      Home maintenance is another one I’d like to get into, though I have to say that my motivation is much lower as a renter. But it’s probably better to start now and have some experience before we get our own place.

  • Michelle July 31, 2013

    It is so simple to change a car battery, and I really had no idea that some people paid for this. I should start my own car battery installation business 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      I think typically they do the replacement for “free”, but really the service is just bundled into the cost of the battery.

  • Andrew July 31, 2013

    I would like to learn some basic auto maintenance skills and home maintenance too. It’s so much gratifying when you’re able to make basic fixes without resorting to ask for help. My friend changes his own oil…might have to get underneath the car for that one, but he tells me that it’s pretty easy too. Though oil changes are only about $20 to $25 so the savings might not be as great.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      An oil change is my next project. That one definitely has a few more complications (and messes) to it. For me the cost savings is only part of it. More than anything I want to have a better understanding of what’s going on with my car. Though I think there definitely will be a long-term savings.

      • Mr. 1500 July 31, 2013

        I was going to suggest this, but someone beat me to it. Changing oil is super easy and you’ll save money. The best thing for me is time though. I can change my oil in under 10 minutes. If would take far longer to haul my butt down to the local oil change place. Hopefully you have a car that is easy to work on without jacking it up.

        Remember to also change the oil filter at the same time.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

          Great point about saving time. I’m sure it will take me more time the first try or two, but eventually it will definitely save the hassle. I’ve found a couple of good resources on doing an oil change already, so I feel pretty confident. Not sure yet if I’ll have to jack up the car, but my wife already has a jack so at least it won’t be an expense.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar July 31, 2013

    Thanks for sharing. An even better way to get your car battery changed is to let your husband do it! We also just learned how to fix a windshield chip ourselves. It’s a long way from doing heavy maintenance, but everything adds up over time.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      Haha, I should have thought of that! Where’s my hubby when I need him? A chipped windshield is a good one. I’ll have to remember that before I call my insurance company next time.

  • Done by Forty July 31, 2013

    I’m no gearhead either, but changing a battery is definitely a good start. I love the feeling you get from fixing something yourself. 🙂

  • John S @ Frugal Rules July 31, 2013

    Nice work Matt! I am sure it’s easy, but anything with my car I’ll leave to an expert 🙂 I have managed to teach myself a good number of things around the house that I never thought I’d be able to do. It certainly does feel good to get it accomplished when you get it done right.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      I’ve always had the same attitude about my car, and there are definitely certain things I’ll have to leave to the professionals. But I think it’s helpful to have a better understanding of how things work. My big hope is not only that I can fix things on my own, but that I’ll better understand future problems so that I can avoid unnecessary work and getting overcharged for necessary work.

  • moneybulldog July 31, 2013

    I’m with John on this, I don’t mind getting stuck into most things but I’ve always been a bit afraid of messing with the car. I just have visions of the brakes giving out when I’m heading down the steepest hill known to man!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      Haha, brakes are definitely a different ballgame. I’ll have to really look into what’s involved when I get to something as serious as that. That’s something where I would definitely want someone else around who knew what they were doing.

  • E.M. July 31, 2013

    DIY maintenance can be so rewarding and fulfilling. It’s great that you looked at other alternatives like the junk yard. I would have never imagined that they would sell you a battery with a guarantee! This is why it’s always good to explore other options. Thanks for sharing!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      The junk yard idea just fell into my lap. But I was surprised by the guarantee as well. And I couldn’t agree more about exploring other options. The default option is rarely the best.

  • I was so motivated to start learning about DIY on the car and bike and then Guatemala happened. For an oil change you just pay the oil and they change it for free. A battery change would be less than $5. I turned lazy haha.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      Pretty hard to beat $5. Still, the advantage of doing it yourself is just understanding better what’s going on with your car. That may or may not be worth it to you.

  • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets July 31, 2013

    We have the biggest knowledge base in the history of the world in our pockets everywhere we go. Why not make use of it and become an expert in whatever the heck we want. Car maintenance is a great place because it saves you money, and helps you understand the hunk of metal you drive everyday. Nice work, and glad ot hear all turned out well!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 31, 2013

      Thanks! And thanks for the inspiration. You’re absolutely right. We have the ability to learn almost anything as long as we put the work in to do it. There are still times we’ll need help (as your post today recognizes), but it’s worth at least giving it a shot on your own.

  • cashRebel August 1, 2013

    Such a great philosophy. I want to learn how to take care of my car, but when something major breaks, it always seems too late. Starting small is the way to go.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 1, 2013

      I definitely wouldn’t start with something big, though it can’t hurt to search around the internet a little bit to see how big it really is. My plan is definitely to start small and work my way up.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer August 1, 2013

    LOVE this post, Matt. We have saved SO much cash by Rick heading on to the Internet and figuring out how to fix things himself around here. This could be a great series for you. Super helpful for so many.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 1, 2013

      I certainly hope it’s helpful. I feel like my readers can learn along with me. It’s amazing how far you can get if you just have a little willingness to learn.

  • Pretired Nick August 1, 2013

    The battery is definitely one of those fixes that everyone should just DIY. It’s super easy. Although you forgot the most important step: resetting all your radio presets!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 1, 2013

      Good call! I hadn’t even thought about that before I started this. I don’t use the radio much so it wasn’t a big deal, but I did have to reset the clock.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 1, 2013

    This is such an easy thing to do, yet many people don’t know how to do it. You can save good money by doing this yourself. Nice tip on the used parts store. You can get some good life out of a used battery.

  • Greg August 4, 2013

    Totally agree that this a good DIY fix. Lucky for me, my dad was around when my first car battery died. He showed me how easy they are to replace. Certainly saved me some cash.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 5, 2013

      Very easy. Although it seems like the biggest cost saver was being able to find a cheaper part. Though I don’t think the cheap provider would have changed the battery for me, so that option was only available if I was willing to do it myself.

  • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 5, 2013

    I read a few sources that actually said that while you want them to be secured tightly, you want to make sure you don’t overdo it. I can’t remember the exact reasoning for that off the top of my head.

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