Jumper cables charging battery

How To: Jump Start a Car

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It’s midwinter, freezing cold outside and the sun is barely up. You’re already 30 minutes late for work. You hustle to your car, jam the keys into the ignition and proceed to start the car, but it responds with nothing but dead silence.

Just then you realize you left your interior light on all night and your car battery is dead. Not a big deal though, jump starting a car is easy. At least that’s what you’ve told yourself. But now that you actually have to take care of business, you’re not so confident. After all, you don’t want to send sparks flying, or worse, cause explosions.

Jump starting a car is one of those skills that absolutely everyone should have, and everyone thinks they do have until the situation arises. Fortunately, to prevent yourself from ever being in the above scenario, all you need to know are a few simple steps.

Step 1: Pull the Running Car Close Enough to the Stalled Car

Many jumper cables aren’t very long so you’ll have to get the cars close enough to be able to connect the two. However, make sure that the two cars are not touching.

Step 2: Turn Both Cars Off

Not only will you want to turn the cars off, but also make sure that there aren’t any accessories running. Turn off the headlights, blinkers, air, radio and interior lights, and unplug cell phone chargers, mp3 players, etc. Not only will these suck power while you’re trying to start the stalled car, but too much current being pushed through the car’s electrical system could potentially damage the equipment.

Step 3: Connect One End of the Positive (+) Cable to the Positive Terminal of the Dead Battery

Positive is almost always the red cable/terminal, but check with the markings on the battery and on the cables to be sure. Don’t let the positive cable touch anything metal other than the battery terminal.

Step 4: Connect the Other End of the Positive Cable to the Positive Terminal of the Good Battery

Again, don’t let the positive cable touch anything metal other than the battery terminal.

Step 5: Connect One End of the Negative (-) Cable to the Negative Terminal of the Good Battery

Negative is almost always the black cable/terminal, but as already mentioned, you’ll want to check the markings to be sure.

Step 6: Connect the Other End of the Negative Cable to a Non-Painted Metal Surface on the Engine Block of the Car with the Dead Battery

Don’t connect the other end of the negative cable to the dead battery, carburetor, fuel lines or moving parts.

Note: Be prepared for your car alarm to go off the moment the circuit is complete. This happens occasionally.

Step 7: Start the Car With the Good Battery

Allow the car with the good battery to run for 3 to 5 minutes, and then turn it off before moving on to the next step. Leaving it on could ruin the alternator.

Step 8: Start the Stalled Car

Keep the jumped car running for at least 30 minutes to give the battery sufficient time to recharge itself. You may want to drive around for a bit to aid in the recharge.

If the stalled car doesn’t start, clean the terminals of the battery with a rag to remove any rust and/or dirt. Then go back to step 7 and let the battery charge for a few more minutes.

If after a few tries the car doesn’t start, you may need a new battery, or there may be other issues such as a bad alternator or ignition switch.

Step 9: Remove the Cables in Reverse Order

You can do this as soon as the stalled car has started, but be sure that the red and black clamps of the jumper cables don’t touch while they’re still connected to one battery.

Additional Tips

  • Wear safety glasses as an added precaution, and keep your face as far away from the batteries as possible.
  • If the battery is cracked and leaking, do not attempt to jump the car. You will need a new battery.
  • Consider investing in a jump starter pack such as the Energizer All-In-One Jump-Start System
  • Never smoke or operate anything that may cause a spark when working on a battery. Batteries can give off flammable gas.
  • Use jumper cables that are free of rust, corrosion and exposed wires.
  • Only use batteries that are recommended in the car owner’s manual.
  • Dispose of a car battery properly. Take it to a service station or to an auto store such as AutoZone.
  • Do not try to jump-start your battery if your car’s fluids are frozen.
  • Prevent Blindness America offers a battery safety sticker that lists the correct steps to take when jump starting a dead battery. To get one, call 1-800-331-2020.
  • If you’re not comfortable with jump starting a car, it may be best to contact a friend, AAA, a mechanic or a local service station for assistance.

How to Jump Start a Car Without Cables

If your car has a manual transmission, you may be able to jump-start it without cables.

  1. Position the car at the top of a hill, or have a couple people prepared to push the car.
  2. Get in the car, brake with one foot and fully depress the clutch with the other.
  3. Release the parking brake.
  4. Put the car in first gear.
  5. Turn the ignition to on (not start).
  6. Take your foot off the brake and allow the car to roll down the hill.
  7. Once you reach 5 to 7 mph, quickly release the clutch.
  8. The engine should turn over and start. If not, depress the clutch and release it again.

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