Learning how to jump a car battery isn’t difficult, but it can definitely be intimidating for first timers. Here are some of the reasons why your battery might have died and some tips for jumping your battery that will help you get you back on the road in no time.
Why Did My Battery Die?
The most common cause of a dead battery is leaving your lights on all night long, but that’s not necessarily the only way to drain your battery. Other culprits can include an interior light that doesn’t shut off due to a faulty door latch or trunk switch, or even a poorly installed stereo system, subwoofer or car alarm that may be leeching power through a short circuit. If you find your battery is constantly dying on you, it’s worth heading to your local NAPA AutoCare expert to diagnose the problem.
There are two basic tools used to jump a car battery. The first are standard jumper cables, which are intended to connect your car’s electrical system directly to that of another vehicle nearby, allowing you to use its juice to get your engine going. You’ll need to choose the right length of cable; standard units force you to park face-to-face. That’s not always possible on a busy highway, however, where it may be safer to park nose-to-tail and use a set of extended cables. Thicker cables, noted by their lower gauge size, will also transmit electricity more efficiently, which makes for easier jump-starting. Finally, solid copper clamps always beat copper-plated clamps, as the latter design can wear off over time and significantly reduce your ability to jump a car battery.
Another option is a portable power pack, which is a self-contained battery you can keep charged in your trunk or garage. The pack can be attached to your car’s battery and save you from having to wait for a rescue.
Making the Connection
Regardless of whether you use cables or a power pack, learning how to jump a car battery requires you to understand how to make the right connection with your vehicle’s electrical system. Always check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for any special instructions for hooking up jumper cables. Some vehicles may have special remote connections points or the battery may be located in an odd place like under the rear seat or in the trunk.
Although you are likely familiar with the concept of connecting the positive terminals and negative terminals together using jumper cables, it’s a good idea to clamp to the chassis of the car being jumped instead of the dead battery’s negative pole. This provides you with a stronger ground — the battery itself has to ground out through the chassis, so you are cutting out the middleman — and ensures that any sparks that might fly are located far away from the battery, which could be venting flammable gases.
If you are using a battery pack, you’ll follow the same steps: positive cable to positive terminal, negative cable to negative terminal or ground pole/chassis. Lastly, make sure that the pack is on and ready when you crank the ignition on your vehicle.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.