How to Jump Start a Car: Tips and Ideas
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to have my 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 roadside assistance plan through my auto insurance company, so there’s always someone on call who can help me with a dead battery. If you don’t have a roadside assistance plan, you can ask someone to let you use their car to jump-start it (like I did with my dad). But, exercise caution in this situation; if you can’t contact someone you know and trust, you might not want to ask strangers for help.
- I found out how to jump start my own car and learned some helpful tips. 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 should also wear eye protection when jump-starting your battery, says Meineke, in case of sparks.
Using Jumper Cables
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 Edmunds:
- 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.) 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.
- 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).
- Start the “booster” vehicle and let the engine idle for a few minutes.
- Start the disabled vehicle. If it doesn’t start, you may need to check the cable connections, according to Consumer Reports. If the battery is a few years old or has been dead for a few weeks, you may consider revving the engine a bit to speed up the charging process, says Edmunds. 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 (negative) cable from the ground on the previously disabled vehicle (vehicle is still running). Following the reverse order of the connecting process can help prevent sparking.
- 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 store, as soon as possible to help ensure that it’s charged to full capacity. If you’re unsure about the long-term health of your battery, consult a mechanic or a professional at an automotive store for advice.
Originally published September 2013.