How to Dispose of Car Batteries Safely 

It’s time to shell out more money on your car and replace that battery that keeps dying. Batteries can die for multiple reasons whether it be from leaving the lights on overnight or having a faulty alternator. Maybe there are no specific issues and the battery is just getting old. Most standard car batteries have a lifespan of about 3-5 years so regardless of how well you maintain it, it will need to be replaced eventually. Car batteries are composed of harmful chemicals and materials not safe for the environment and as a result can not just be thrown out in the normal trash. How to dispose of car batteries safely? There are several locations where you can bring a depleted battery to dispose of properly.

replacing car battery
My dead battery by Qfamily / CC BY 2.0 Batteries are located in the front of your engine compartment so they can be easily accessed. Typically, only a couple nuts will be holding it down. With just a wrench you are able to get it free.

When to Replace A Battery

Knowing when to replace your battery can save you the hassle of dealing with a dead car. As previously mentioned, they generally last about 3-5 years, but using a determined amount of time can have you replacing it sooner than actually needed. Different levels of maintenance can elongate battery life, but it is always good to keep an eye on the different pieces for any potential problems.

Looking at your battery, some signs it could be towards the end of its life are bulging, leaking, corrosion, or missing cell caps. Bulging can be a result of excessive heat or overcharging. Any sign of bulging or swelling will most likely mean the battery is going to fail soon and should be replaced immediately. If excessive bulging and swelling happens the battery runs the risk of cracking open or even exploding! With that being said, a bulging battery can be extremely dangerous, not only to the car but to you as well. DO NOT try to remove the battery yourself or drive the car. Unfortunately, you will have to bite the bullet and call a tow truck or hire a service to come and replace it. Better to have paid the extra money than get splashed with harmful chemicals.

No car battery should be leaking under any circumstances. The fluids and chemicals inside a battery are exceedingly volatile and should always be contained inside the plastic shell. The older a battery gets the more likely it is to have issues, including the possibility of leaks. Excessive heat or cold can cause a crack in the outer shell or cell caps. If you notice any liquid leaking from the battery you will have to be careful. Trying to remove it yourself can be dangerous so once again, going to a professional could be in line.

A more common sign that a battery may need to be replaced is heavy levels of corrosion building on the terminals. Corrosion can happen from minute leaks near the terminals and will result in a build up of powdery or crusty substance.

corroded terminal
2007 11 22 – N Attleboro – Battery by thisisbossi / CC BY 2.0. If left untreated battery corrosion can become significant. The more corrosion, the less effective the battery will be and the more chance it has of failing.

If the battery is still relatively new you can actually just clean the terminals themselves and continue to use it. We recommend keeping a close eye on the battery afterwards to check for any other issues or additional corrosion.

If the battery is older you may just want to consider replacing it. It can be easy to lose track of how old your battery is but purchasing a tool called a multimeter can help to gauge your battery health.A fully charged battery should read 12.6 volts or higher. Check the battery every five minutes or so after a full charge and if the multimeter indicates it is dropping the battery is weak and most likely old.

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How Batteries Work

A battery works by creating a chemical reaction that translates chemical energy into electricity. A car battery will typically use 6 cells composed of lead and lead dioxide plates. These plates are immersed into a sulphuric acid compound which initiates the chemical reaction. A whole bunch of science goes on which in turns creates the electricity needed to start and function your car.

Thankfully car batteries are designed to be recharged and used over and over again which is why they can last multiple years as compared to a normal AA battery. However, they will not last forever. If your car is not starting, checking the battery is a good place to start

How to Remove a Battery

  1. Safety First – If the battery is showing any sign of significant leaking or bulging you will want to employ a mechanic to remove it. If there are signs of corrosion, wearing gloves and safety glasses is recommended to avoid any potential contact with harmful chemicals.
  2. Disconnect Negative Cable – The negative terminal will have a black coating or plastic cap over the terminal. If it does not, check for a minus sign near the terminal which also indicates the negative terminal. With the use of a wrench remove the nut on the terminal and push the cable to the side.
  3. Disconnect Positive Cable – With the negative cable removed, now remove the positive. It will have a red plastic cap and/or the plus sign.
  4. Remove Strap – With both of the cables disconnected and moved to the side, look for a fastening strap or clip. Once unhooked the battery will be able to be removed.

Why Car Batteries Need to Be Disposed of Separately

Batteries need to be disposed of separately because of the harmful materials and chemicals they use. Normal trash can end up in a number of places, but will most often end up in a landfill in your home state. Landfills are essentially giant sites where trash is collected and will gradually decompose. Knowing that batteries contain different types of lead and acid we would not want them decomposing into the earth. Lead disposed of into the environment will pollute the soil, water, and air. Lead can remain in an environment indefinitely, perpetually polluting the area.

Similarly, sulfuric acid is a chemical dangerous to the environment. It is overwhelmingly corrosive and can burn organic material including plants and animals. One battery may not contain enough lead or acid to do any significant harm but if everybody were to dispose of their car batteries via trash it could lead to significant pollution and possibly disrupt natural ecosystems.

If car batteries can’t go in the trash can they go in the recycling instead? Unfortunately, they can not. Recycling plants are fickle to say the least and can only handle very specific types of materials. Some states in the US go as far as mandating only specific kinds of plastic to be recycled so the materials used in car batteries would almost never make the cut.

recycling battery

Although car batteries can not be disposed of in your normal recycling, there are places that accept used batteries and will recycle them accordingly.

Where to Get Rid of Old Car Batteries

We’re not throwing the battery in the trash or recycling, and we are most certainly not just going to throw it into the woods or a lake, so how do you dispose of a car battery safely and properly? First off, make sure the battery is safe to even remove. Remember that leaking acid or any sign of bulging can be extremely dangerous. If you are able to safely remove the battery it is a good idea to place it on some sort of disposable material incase of any possible leaking or corrosion. A plastic bin or piece of scrap wood would work or even some trash bags. You will also want to make sure the battery is secured so it won’t get thrown around while driving.

Recycling Depot

Depending on where you live a recycling depot may be able to accept a depleted car battery. Most cities or large townships will have their own recycling depots so a quick google search for the closest location can let you know their hours and where to drop it off. The websites will let you know what materials are accepted and what can just be thrown in the trash. On some occasions a recycling depot can have multiple bins outside labeled for each specific waist material. This can be convenient if you just want to come drop it off quickly.

Auto Shop

If you are preemptively changing your battery before it fully dies you can go right to an auto shop. An auto shop will be able to remove your old battery and will most likely have new batteries on hand to replace right away. Auto shops are able to recycle the old batteries properly and safely and will save you the trouble of removing the battery and bringing it to another location. Nearly all auto shops will provide this service but a popular one with plenty of location is Advance Auto Parts. Some auto shops will even pay you for the old battery as an incentive to go to their store and promote good recycling habits.

auto zone
Auto Zone by Paul Sableman / CC BY 2.0

Auto Zone is another popular auto shop with stores nationwide across the United States that will replace and dispose of your car battery.


Recycling batteries is a national initiative with a great amount of success. Because of how dangerous car batteries can be to the environment it is a major initiative to assure all batteries are being disposed of properly. In order to make it as easy and accessible to the everyday driver many retailers now will accept used batteries to recycle of accordingly.

Retailers that accept dead batteries

  • Walmart (with auto center)
  • Home Depot (works with a non-profit called Call2Recycle to recycle rechargeable batteries)
  • Batteries Plus Bulbs
  • United Battery
  • GlobalTech Environment

Some retailers that sell car batteries may even offer a core charge. Check your receipt to see if that is the case and if so you can get some money back when purchasing a new one.

Metal Depot/Scrap Yard

Another place to dispose of your car battery properly, and while getting paid, can be a scrap yard. Scrap yards will accept almost any type of metal material and are structured to recycle, reuse, and dispose of them accordingly. Selling just one car battery to the scrap yard may not be as lucrative as you would hope, but if it is a close by option then you are in luck. Some people even go as far as collecting old and used car batteries from family and friends and sell them in bulk to scrap yards. Tools like the iScrap App, can help you find the nearest yards around you.

Pick-up Services

If your battery is not safe for you to remove yourself, or maybe you just don’t have the time, there are services that will come to replace your battery for you and take your old one to dispose of it safely. Some auto shops will offer the service along with other groups such as the Battery Recyclers of America. If you are a member of AAA, they offer roadside assistance where they can even come if you are broken down somewhere to replace your battery right there and then. AAA will take your old battery to dispose of it safely.


Car batteries are complex, rechargeable batteries that use chemical reactions to produce electrical power. They are composed of lead and sulphuric acid which can be dangerous to humans, animals, and the environment as a whole. Disposing of them safely and properly will require you to either bring it to a specified retailer, auto shop, scrap yard, or request a service to come pick it up. We want all of our readers to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Recycling car batteries along with other techniques such as living a zero waste lifestyle can have major benefits to the environment.

how to dispose of car batteries

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