Vintage Volkswagen Battery Care

Featured ’67 Beetle — Eric ShoemakerI receive frequent questions about batteries, battery care and installation. Here a few of the tips which I dispense when I answer.

Know your battery! Check your receipt, if you still have it, to learn the battery’s age. Batteries have a way of “aging” because, once installed, they are out of sight. One of my VW friends told a group of us recently that when he could not start his car, he inspected the battery and found it to be 10 years old! Well—that’s a ripe old age!

So get that detail out of the way first.

If you have a test meter, check the voltage on your battery. It should read at least 12.50 volts and as much as 12.7 volts, depending upon its age and charge. When a battery drops to 12 volts, it will not function as designed.

If you do not have a test meter and/or cannot charge a battery, it’s best to simply remove the battery and take it to a battery shop to have it tested and charged, if necessary. Battery shops can do it all, including selling a new battery if the need arises.

If your battery appears to need charging, remove it from the car. I like to use nitrile gloves when handling the battery, if it is of the liquid type, because it is more than likely to have some acid residue on it. Don’t get this onto clothing or anything else. Battery acid is ‘hungry”. I loosen and remove one of the cable connectors and push it out of the way of the battery so that it won’t stray onto the pole and spark. When loosening the connector bolt, do not allow the tool to touch metal and spark.

I like to use a large piece of cardboard box in an open area for doing the charging.

Place the battery onto the cardboard because the liquid will bubble into tiny mist-like droplets as the battery charges. The cardboard will catch these. Then dispose of the cardboard when the process is completed.

Clean the battery posts. If you do not have the tool for this, use sandpaper for the purpose. Make each pole nice and shiny.

Given that this is a liquid-filled battery with removable caps, remove the caps and fill each cell to the indication in the hole. Use distilled water.

Run a heavy-duty extension cord to the charging area. Leave the caps off the liquid-filled battery to avoid building gas in the closed cells. Connect the charger to the battery first. Then plug in the extension cord.

Try charging the battery on a slow charge—usually 2 amps on most home-owned chargers. Leave the battery charging in this slow manner but check it from time to time. The meter on the charger should alert you to the progress.

Meanwhile, you can do some “homework”. Inspect the battery compartment. Remove the nut and washer and the clamp. Are they rusted? If so, clean them thoroughly. Also, clean the stud where the clamp fits. Clean the area where the battery sits.

You can neutralize any light corrosion by using a solution heavy with baking soda and water. Pour a little bit onto the corrosion and allow it to bubble I hope that you still are using the nitrile gloves and are avoiding getting any of the corrosion onto your clothing or anything else.

Use paper towels to clean the area and dispose of them into a trash container. Once I have removed this residue, I pour a little fresh water onto the affected area, then use paper towels to dry it.

Note the condition of the Ground (Negative) Strap. Is it corroded? If it is corroded it will show blue-ish-white deposits. Remove it completely and soak in a baking soda-water solution. You will see the baking soda begin to bubble away the corrosion. After a lengthy soak, remove the strap and thoroughly rinse, using water. Best to do this outdoors because it’s a little dirty to do in the kitchen sink. Allow to dry well. If you have compressed air, you can dry the strap more quickly.

Battery#a

If the Ground Strap is frayed and appears to be fragile, it’s time for a new one. Go for a good one because you will want to have excellent conductivity.

Check the condition of the bolt holding the Ground Strap to the body. If it is corroded, remove and replace with a new bolt and washer–or clean it well. If you have access to a tap, clean the bolt hole threads (8mm X 1.25). Reinstall the cleaned strap. Clean the insides of the Positive and the Negative (Ground) connectors. There are tools for this job but if you don’t have one, you can use a piece of sandpaper. Roll it into a cylinder and turn it round and round inside each connector until the metal appears shiny and clean.

Note the condition of the Positive Cable—is it in good condition? Are the wires well connected to the connector?

Some battery chargers will alert you to a full charge with an audible sound. Others may have just the meter. Once the battery is fully charged, first unplug the extension cord—then remove the clips from the battery. Use a paper towel to clean the top of the battery to remove any acid which may be there from the charging process. Clean the caps and reinstall them.

Set the battery into the battery box with the poles according to the correct connectors—plus is for the Positive Cable and minus for Negative—the braided Ground Strap.

Before connecting the cables, secure the battery into its place using the clamp. Now, you are ready to connect to the cables.

Double-check before actually connecting to be sure that the battery is positioned properly—it does happen, occasionally, that someone will put the battery in backwards. Once the connectors are in place, tighten them for the best conductivity.

Someone posed the question about sparking when the second cable is connected. This is okay. Put the last cable firmly onto the second pole and push it into place—it may spark a bit when it initially touches. No one has ever come close to dying from this! Then tighten the bolts on both. While doing so, don’t allow your wrench to touch the car frame or you will get a good spark!

IF you find the need to purchase a new battery, make sure that the shop knows the proper make and model of your car. You want the proper-sized battery which will fit into the battery compartment.

An over-sized battery can touch the seat-bottom springs and short. Furthermore, it may not seat in the battery box to be clamped into place.

Now go out and drive your Beetle with contentment. You’ve just resuscitated it.

The Finishing Touches for Your Vintage Volkswagen™
The Finishing Touches for Your Vintage Volkswagen™

Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs for going on 40 years. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are 76 years old and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

26 Comments

Eric Shoemaker

about 1 year ago

Great article, Jay. I'm glad we finally got around to this one. Such a simple thing that probably goes overlooked. You're helping pave the way for future '67 Beetle owners. I appreciate everything you do for all of us around the world. I'm sure the readers would agree.

Reply

Todd

about 1 year ago

Thanks, Jay. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge!

Reply

Richard

about 1 year ago

Now there is some sound experience guys/and gals. Good info Jay

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Just gelling a few thoughts. Eric and I had some questions earlier this week by a reader who asked us to do this Article. So we put our collective heads to the task and here you are. (Eric and I are a two-headed writing machine---LOL). Hopefully we'll get more Battery Tips as the comments come in! That's the point--to get people focused on different aspects of our cars. jay

Reply

mikebuettell

about 1 year ago

Great work Jay...as usual. You didn't mention use of a "trickle" charger for long period storage. Your thoughts? Leave battery under back seat or remove?

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Mike...You bring up a good thought here--I've not used a trickle charger, but for most of us vintage people, that's a great idea. Someone who uses a trickle charger please chime in here to let the rest of know how best to take advantage of one. jay

Reply

gavin

about 1 year ago

Mike thanks for the question! Jay, I have used the trickle charger method for years and found it to be ideal in my winter storage application. Temperature range is from -10 to +25 on average for approx. 4 solid months here in Northern Michigan. I remove the back seat, leaving the battery as is. I do clean posts but thats it. I connect positive and negative clamps and make SURE its set at 12v on my 67'. Most modern trickle chargers have safety features that will not overcharge your battery or drawn it down to 0 is you accidentally set it to 6v on your 12v battery. I keep my beetle plugged in, only unplug it to connect the battery and start it up at least once every other week. Best investment I've made! Easy and reliable has been my experience.

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Thanks for your input, Gavin! This helpful information gives Readers something to consider--especially those who must store their vehicles for the Winter months, and/or for those who cannot drive their Beetles on a regular basis. Which reminds me of a VW friend in NJ who has 3 collector VWs. He found it necessary to put all 3 on trickle chargers due to being unable to drive all on a regular basis. jay

Reply

Dave

about 1 year ago

Great battery article. I switched to an Optima sealed battery and love it. No maintenance at all, and it holds a charge longer during storage and inactive periods. It was more expensive, but so far worth the cost. Due to its height, a sideways installation with a spacer wood block was used to retain the original mounting strap and lid. I have a 1964 Beetle, so its 6 volt, but a 12 volt is available.

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Dave...More and more people are switching to the Optima style battery for the reasons which you address. The user has to do a bit of adapting for installation but this is a great alternative to the standard battery set-up. It eliminates the corrosion problems, especially, as well as not having to check fluid levels. Thanks for this information! jay

Reply

Eric Shoemaker

about 1 year ago

I almost got one. I'm not sure why I didn't..

Reply

Eric Shoemaker

about 1 year ago

Bob. I believe there is a new company making these for old VWs. It was in an older Hot VWs. I'd have to check.... Something like this...

Reply

Quinn

about 1 year ago

Good Information Jay: Additional suggestions: When disconnecting battery from the circuit,remove the ground strap first, thereby disabling the circuit.. When connecting battery, install the positive cable first, then the ground strap, that normally will alleviate the sparking syndrome. In order to preserve the battery terminals and cable clamps one can cover with Vaseline or buy at parts store a kit that has two felt washers-sometimes red and green or similar and place on the terminals-works well.

Reply

John M. Poirier

about 1 year ago

I live in SW Florida and the weather here stresses the battery more than a cold climate. I definitely agree with Quinn about the Vaseline and felt pads, as well as the sequence when removing and replacing the cables. Also, if you want to be sure that you don't get shocked if the wrench touches metal while loosening or tightening the nut and washer, cut off the finger of a rubber glove and slide it over the wrench.

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Ha! John---I love this simple, yet effective--method for avoiding those shorts when using a tool. Good job! jay

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Quinn--You are right on both counts--disconnecting and re-connecting the battery! Good instructions there! And...I plumb forgot about the Terminal Felt Washers and Vaseline (or other grease products) for eliminating corrosion at the terminals-connectors. that's been my practice but I missed that--this is why everyone's input is so valuable for the '67 Beetle Community! jay

Reply

Bob ebert

about 1 year ago

Speaking of batteries, I want to put a battery kill switch in my 67 Bug.so I don,t have to keep lifting the seat to dis connect the battery for storage. has anyone done this and where did you place it. Bob Ebert

Reply

Richard A. (Dick) Diaz

about 1 year ago

Well in addition to having three VW's I also ride motorcycles. Something I have always done for my motorcycle battery is to keep it on a Battery Tender to maintain the charge. There are pigtails on the battery that match the pigtails on the Battery Tender. Just park the bike and plug it in! My bike is a 2008 with the original battery and it responds like new! Keeping that thought I have all three of our VW's and one other car on Battery Tenders! Same idea; attach pigtails to the battery and when I park the car I reconnect the Battery Tender! Works like a champ and extends the life of your battery! Just a thought from a guy with five Battery Tenders plugged in all the time! I still check battery water though and the condition of the cables! But nothing beats keeping things going other than driving those bad boys!

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

There you are, Folks! Two great testimonials from regular users of Battery Tenders/Trickle Chargers. For us Vintage People, this is good news. jay

Reply

Rebecca in Seattle

about 1 month ago

Can you attach the alligator clips directly to the positive and negative posts? The directions say to clip the negative to the engine block or similar.

Reply

bob ebert

about 1 year ago

My. name is Bob Ebert and I live in a cold country Canada. This what I know about trickle chargers. As you know the charger is used to keep the battery topped up at all times usually during periods of storage. It is connected to the battery at all times. over the storage period. , this is why it is important to buy a quality one. I store my 67 Bug out in the cold in my garage. sometimes the temperature can go to below zero. Good trickle chargers come with auto off switches with maintain the proper charge at all times, and will not over charge your battery. I use the product called (Tenderizer) costs about $30.00. This works for me.You can buy a cheap one from Walmart for about $8.00. Buyer beware, they can heat up or evan short out, remember this isn,t something you will be looking at everyday. , the extra money will give you peace of mind. The trickle charger will not charge your battery in a few hours, sometimes depending how low your battery is it might take a few days to top up. I hope this is helpful to you . Remember buy a good one. thanks Bob

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Hello, Bob...I'm glad to read your good input on trickle chargers. Right on--about not buying the cheep ones. One of these days we need to see an article on your '67 Convertible, Bob! jay

Reply

Charlene

about 5 months ago

I have a '67Bug and it is always on a battery tender. I was told that the gas that is emitted will ruin the interior. Is that true. I want to have the entire interior re-done, and can't find a dry battery (no gas emissions) that will fit. I saw where one of the guys put in a optima on it's side. I need a 12v and would that fit on it's side, and is there a place to purchase the "side" mounting adaption? I am in an area that sometimes in winter is sub, mostly 10-20 deg. and up to 110 in summer. I know someone that would make be one of those adapters is there is a diagram. Like this site, interesting. Charlene Russell

Reply

jay salser

about 5 months ago

Hello, Charlene...Thanks for reading 1967beetle.com! I think that what the Reader meant to say was that he lays the battery on its side. I do not know of any adapter to the on-its-side mount. If there is..I hope that one of the Readers will respond to your request. Laying the battery on its side will be fine. You'll just have to mount it so that the cables can properly be routed to their respective connections. Why don't you talk with a battery company to ask what they offer? Try this Link: http://www.odysseybatteries.com/auto.htm AND this one: optimabatteries.com Measure your present battery so that you can give the information to the battery company representatives. Some of these do not need to be laid on their sides. But, they need to be of approximately the same size as the regular VW battery so that the poles will not short on the seat bottom. Let us know what you find, please! jay

Reply

Joe Robinson

about 1 month ago

I just bought a 1967 beetle ....I need a new battery. To keep it pure is there a particular battery I should be looking for?

Reply

jay salser

about 1 month ago

Hello, Joe...Thank you for reading the article and for your question. The short answer to your question is--I do not know of a VW authorized stock replacement battery on today's market. If you are going to purchase an acid-filled battery, talk with a provider who can determine the correct size of battery for the '67 Beetle Battery Location. Don't accept a battery if the provider cannot verify that his battery will fit your car. There is a limited number of battery manufacturers. Companies buy their batteries and put their names on them. A reputable battery provider will have charts which indicate which battery will fit your '67 Beetle. If you are interested in a non-liquid-filled battery, you should talk with a representative of a company, such as Optima, about your car and the space provided for a battery. Most of us, I think, try to buy a battery from a well-known outlet which can verify the size of the battery. I called a major retailer who told me that the size for the 1967 Beetle would be: Group Size 42 I hope that this helps. jay

Reply

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply