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Plan Ahead: Know How to Jump-Start a Car

As a teenager, I was lucky enough to have my very own car — a 1988 burgundy Pontiac 6000 STE. It was very reliable — until I left the headlights on for about seven hours straight while I was at school. After classes ended that day, I hustled out to my car, turned the key in the ignition and… nothing. It’s a sinking feeling that I’m sure many drivers have experienced at one time or another — followed by the panicked question: What do I do now?

Luckily, I was able to call my dad, and he stopped by for a quick jump-start (a procedure that mystified me at the time). Now, I have two backup plans in place: I have a good roadside assistance plan through my auto insurance company, so there’s always someone on call who can help me with a dead battery, and I also took the time to learn how to jump start my own car — just in case. If you’re like me, and you never thought to learn how to jump-start a car, here’s what you need to know:

Add jumper cables to your emergency car kit.

First, make sure to add jumper cables to your emergency car kit. That way, you’ll have the cables on hand if you ever need them. You may also want to add a pair of splash-proof polycarbonate goggles with the “Z-87″ designation, which the Texas Department of Insurance says you should wear to protect your eyes when jump-starting a car.

Also, if your battery is dead, you’ll need to ask someone to let you use their car to jump-start it. Exercise caution in this situation; if you can’t contact someone you know and trust, don’t ask strangers for help. In that case, it’s best to contact a roadside assistance or towing service for assistance.

Once you have the cables handy and a friend has agreed to let you use a working automobile to charge your dead battery, here are the steps to take, according to Tech-Cor Research:

  • Park the two cars close together, but make sure they don’t touch. Then, turn both cars off.
  • Connect the positive jumper cable (usually red) to the positive terminal on the “dead” battery. (Typically, the positive battery terminal is marked with a plus sign, while the negative is marked with a minus.) The Texas Department of Insurance says you should make sure the positive cable does not touch anything metal except for the battery terminal.
  • Connect the other end of the positive cable to the positive battery terminal on the vehicle providing the jump.

The jump is meant to restart the disabled vehicle, not to recharge the battery.

  • Connect the negative cable (usually black) to the negative terminal on the vehicle providing the jump.
  • Connect the other end of the negative cable to an exposed metal part of the vehicle with the dead battery.  (Unpainted components like brackets, bolts, etc., provide the best ground). TDI says to make sure you do not connect it to the battery, the carburetor, fuel lines or any moving parts.
  • Start the “donor” vehicle and run the engine at a moderate speed.  (A bit above idle usually works)
  • Start the disabled vehicle. If it doesn’t start, you may need to check the cable connections, according to Consumer Reports. If that doesn’t work, there may be some other problem with the car, and you’ll need a mechanic’s help.
  • If the car with the dead battery starts up, let it run with the cables attached to both cars for at least 20 minutes, Consumer Reports suggests.
  • Remove the black cable from the ground on the previously disabled vehicle.
  • Remove the other end of the negative cable from the battery of the vehicle providing the jump.
  • Remove the positive cable from the battery of the vehicle providing the jump.
  • Remove the positive cable from the previously disabled vehicle.

The jump is meant to restart the disabled vehicle, not to recharge the battery. So, it may be a good idea to put the jumped battery on a battery charger, which you can buy at an automotive or department store, as soon as possible to ensure that it’s charged to full capacity, according to Tech-Cor.

Dos and Don’ts

Experts recommend that you avoid smoking or doing anything that could cause a spark when you’re working on the battery, to avoid causing a fire. The Sight & Hearing Association recommends these additional safety measures when jump-starting a car:

  • Do not try to jump-start a vehicle when its battery is frozen.
  • Set the parking brakes on both vehicles.
  • Make sure the batteries on both cars are the same voltage.
  • Make sure to turn off the headlights, heaters and other features that use electricity on both vehicles.
  • Cover the vent caps on both batteries with a damp cloth.
  • Do not allow the jumper cables to touch each other.
  • Do not lean over the battery when you are making the connections.

So, now you know how to be prepared in case of a dead battery — keep that roadside assistance number handy, and also arm yourself with knowledge.

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