Your car's battery is one of the most important parts under the hood. It is responsible for powering the starter, lights and ignition system of a car, but if the terminals are dirty or corroded, the battery may not function properly. However, it is pretty easy to keep them clean.

First, you need to know what to look for. When the car is off, pop the hood and locate the battery. The location can vary, but the battery is always on the surface. The battery is the square or rectangular object with two terminals that have cords coming off of them.

The terminals should be clean and dry, but if there is any buildup, you will need to clean them off. It is a good idea to wear a pair of protective gloves, as the corrosion could be harmful if it gets on your skin. Corrosion is more likely to occur in vehicles that are not driven very often. The ashy-white buildup is caused by the terminal oxidation.

Start by disconnecting the ground wire from the negative terminal and then remove the positive wire. A stiff-bristle or a wire brush will likely be enough to remove any corrosive buildup, but stubborn buildup could require a stronger approach. There are a number of cleaners available that are designed to cut into caked-on buildup and help you restore your battery to a clean state. Once the corrosion has been removed, you can use a bit of grease on the terminals, which can slow down the formation of corrosive materials.

Be sure to completely dry the battery before reconnecting the wires. When you reconnect the wires, be sure to start with the positive one first, and then the ground wire. Make sure both wires are secure, as any looseness might make for a bad connection and cause problems.

If the battery is acting up after you've cleaned it, it may be nearing the end of its life. A good rule of thumb for car batteries is to replace them every four years, but this can vary depending on the type of battery, the vehicle and your driving habits. Signs a battery is reaching the end of the line include a car that won't start, lights that grow dim or other electrical components malfunctioning.