Hard-to-Install Batteries: What You Need to Know

By AMA Staff

If you own an automobile in Alberta, there’s a good chance that, at some point, you’ve sat in a driveway or parking lot, turning your key—or mashing the start button—and cursing a starter that refuses to turn over. How do we know this? Because every winter, battery-related issues account for one-third of AMA member calls for roadside assistance.

Often, CAA battery service technicians can get you back on the road with a simple boost. If your vehicle’s battery is on its last legs (or completely dead), it can be quickly replaced with an affordable, reliable CAA Premium battery. But while AMA operators can test and boost almost all batteries, some newer vehicles have batteries that can’t be replaced at roadside. 

“Over the years, manufacturers have tried to lower the profile of their vehicles’ hoods,” says AMA’s Randy Loyk, a manager of Automotive Services with more than four decades of industry experience. “In doing so, they’ve had to relocate components, and batteries are one of the parts that are easier to move.”

Which means that you can nowadays find batteries located behind wheel wells, under seats, even in trunks. Getting at these batteries can require specialized equipment and sometimes more than an hour of labour.

“There’s a particular Dodge vehicle where you have to remove a wheel and then the inner fender well in order to access the battery,” Loyk says. “So you can’t replace that battery at the roadside because the vehicle has to be up on a hoist.

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“And for another car you have to remove the windshield wipers and then a plastic cowling, which is the sort of part that can break if you’re trying to dismantle it outdoors in extreme cold.”

Just because you can’t see the battery, however, doesn’t mean it’s hard to install. Loyk cites the Jeep Grand Cherokee, whose battery isn’t visible under the hood, but can be accessed hassle-free via an access panel beneath the front seat.

On the other hand, some batteries may be easy to physically access and replace, but require additional technical steps to install. “For a few European vehicles you now have to register the battery,” Loyk says. “A mechanic has to use a scanner that programs the car’s computer to work with the specific battery.” Replacing the battery may also necessitate the resetting of electronic components in your vehicle, such as windows and stereo systems.

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And if you have a higher-end car—or start/stop technology in your vehicle—there’s a chance it uses an Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) battery. AGM batteries are more complex and expensive than the standard lead-acid variety, but they’re also better able to handle the demands of modern vehicles’ ever-growing number of electronic components—and so are likely to become more common. CAA battery service currently has a limited number of AGM batteries, though Loyk says that with growing demand, AMA is looking into increasing its stock.

So what do you do if you think your car has a hard-to-install battery? The first step is to input your vehicle’s details in AMA’s up-to-date battery-quote tool. If your battery situation is more specialized, you can take your car or truck to one of a number of Approved Auto Repair Services (AARS) facilities—or to a mechanic of your choice—that can work with hard-to-install batteries. Simply confirm that they can perform the appropriate battery installation, and book an appointment. And, of course, if your vehicle isn’t driveable, AMA can tow it to a service centre within the distance limits of your membership level.