Don't let that dead battery clurtter up your garage - it's worth money.

Cape Town - Got a used car battery and don't know what to do with it? Join the club.

As a biker I used to think car drivers didn't have this problem. Motorcycle batteries are sold (usually dry) over the counter, to be filled with fresh battery acid and installed by the owner, whereas most car owners take their vehicles to a battery fitment centre and come away with an amped-up car and a lighter wallet.

But last weekend a friend and I were chatting over a recalcitrant carburettor in his garage when I noticed a number of (obviously second-hand) car batteries in one corner, and asked about them.

They'd come out of his bakkie, his wife's hatchback and his classic sports car, over a number of years, he said. As they failed, he'd replaced them himself - but he had no idea what to do with the old ones.

He knew better than to dump them in the trash; the lead, plastic and sulphuric acid they contain can be extremely harmful to the environment - not to mention the municipal workers who don't know there's half a litre of potent corrosive in your domestic refuse.

WIN-WIN SITUATION

And there they were, cluttering up a corner of his garage - just like the half-dozen dead bike batteries in mine. So I asked around; there's a lead surcharge on a new battery, so these things must be worth something, right?

Correct. First National Battery, through its Battery Centre franchise network, is working towards recycling every used lead-acid battery in South Africa - no matter where it came from, including industrial batteries and the sealed lead-acid batteries used in some domestic alarm systems.

It's a win-win situation, marketing director Andrew Webb said; recycling the materials - particularly the lead - in old batteries is vital for the sustainability of the battery industry, it keeps toxic waste out of the environment and yes, they'll pay you for your old battery - or cancel the lead surcharge on a new one.

There are 120 Battery Centre franchises across the country, he says, and they're all part of the Scrap Battery initiative. They'll even come to you if, like my mate, you've got a lot of them - just call 0800 333 462, toll free, and the Scrap Battery guys will sort you out.

It's unusual for a car battery to die overnight, he said, you can usually tell when it's on its way out, if you know what to look for.

Watch out for these warning signs:

The battery warning light on your car's dashboard stays on for longer than a few seconds after starting.

Your car turns over very slowly when starting, especially from cold.

The battery loses charge after standing over a cold winter weekend.

The car's headlights dim when the engine revs drop to idle.

Any or all of these is a good reason to have your car's battery (and electrical system) checked out, Webb said.

He also told me that the lithium or nickel hydrides in the rechargeable batteries used in cell phones, laptops, calculators and toys are also toxic, and shouldn't just be ditched when they will no longer take a charge. Scrap Battery doesn't deal with them, but a number of retailers have put collection bins in their shops - ask at your local shopping mall, he suggested.

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