Just as car owners ignore automobile batteries until a problem arises, many companies that use industrial batteries in forklifts and pallet jacks often don't bother to maintain them -- until it is too late.

Simple maintenance procedures can prolong the life of an industrial battery, an item that can cost as much as $5,000. Advises Gene Hester, president of Hester Battery Manufacturing Co. in Nashville:

* Check the battery weekly to make sure water is at the correct level.

* Wipe off excess water and acid from the top of the battery to prevent short circuits.

* Use the forklift or pallet jack for 8 hours, recharge for 8 hours, and follow with 8 hours of rest. On Friday, set the charger for 12 hours. Industrial batteries need an extra boost once a week.

* Keep the battery charger in perfect working order.

* After two to three years, get a maintenance check that includes a discharge test, balancing, and resealing.