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I have been told that as well as different strengths of battery (Cold Cranking Amps CCA), there are different types of car battery. And that using the wrong one can cause it to over-charge and the battery to explode.

I am not certain on the names, I think one is Calcium, and the other is Lead Acid, but not sure. I thought they were all lead acid, til now.

To work out which type my car needs, what key words should I look for in the manual?

To work out what type a battery is, what should I be looking for on its stickers?

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Unless you have a very strange car (ie possibly some of the hybrids, and maybe some heavy duty offroaders) or live in a very cold environment (eg northern Canada or Russia) you can use standard 12 volt lead-acid car batteries. If your manual says it has to be something different, then pay attention to the manual, but otherwise, go with the default.

If you run high current devices (such as high wattage audio amplifiers etc) or find the car has trouble starting in very cold temperatures, you may want a high CCA battery, but moving up a level like this will not cause any problems such as those you describe. I did this when I installed large amplifiers in my current car, so I can run them for a while with the engine off without worrying that I will run the battery down.

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I agree: this is largely a don't care for normal operations. The best reference might be the big book in the shop: look up your particular vehicle and they'll recommend a specific battery for you. –  Bob Cross Jun 25 at 15:16
    
"if your manual says it has to be something different" What kinda thing might it say to indicate it is something different? –  Oxinabox Jun 25 at 16:04
    
Perhaps: requires battery type xxxxx :-) –  Rory Alsop Jun 25 at 16:16

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