Learning how to safely jump-start a car isn’t difficult, but it’s an important skill to have, so that you can help someone else — or yourself — out of a sticky situation. Being comfortable with jump-starting a car means you’re less likely to be stranded if your battery dies, and it also lets you act as a good Samaritan when someone comes up to you in a parking lot and asks for your help.
Check out these three tips that will help your jump-starting go smoothly.
1. Know Where to Attach the Jumper Cables
The first thing you should know is how to identify the positive terminal on the dead battery, as well as the battery of the running vehicle, if applicable. It’s the one with the plus symbol beside it; in some cases, it’s further identified by red markings.
Connect the red cable to the dead battery’s positive terminal first and then connect that same cable to the live battery’s positive terminal. Next, find an unpainted metal engine mount or engine bracket (the alternator bracket works great) inside the engine bay of the car with the dead battery, and clamp the black cable to it. Do NOT use a metal A/C line, brake line, or transmission cooler line. You are trying to ground the clamp to the car chassis the same way it is with the battery, you want something nice and solid. With the ignition off, do the same in the engine bay of the car with the live battery. If you don’t see any unpainted metal to clamp to, you can attach each cable to the cars’ respective negative battery terminals as a last resort.
If you’re using a portable jump-start pack, the instructions are the same, without the need to involve a second vehicle.
2. Start Both Vehicles
Once both cars are connected, start the car with the live battery, and let the engine run for a few minutes. Next, slip behind the wheel of the car with the dead battery and start cranking the ignition. Don’t be discouraged if the vehicle cranks for a while before it starts, as a very dead battery will require more of a draw from the other vehicle’s electrical system.
If you’re using a portable pack, simply turn the unit on. You should be able to start the vehicle with the dead battery immediately.
If the vehicle won’t start right away, don’t give up. Instead, let the cars stay connected for another few minutes and try again. If the vehicle with the dead battery won’t start a second or third time, the problem might not be entirely related to the battery, and it’s a good idea to call for a tow.
3. Carefully Remove the Cables
The last part of learning how to safely jump-start a car is knowing the order in which to remove the jumper cables. Start by removing the black — or ground — cables on both vehicles, and make sure that they don’t touch any other metal in the process. Once they are removed and secured, you can unclamp the positive terminal from one car and then the other. At all times, you’ll want to maintain a safe distance between positive and negative jumper cables. If they touch, they will spark and potentially injure you, short out a battery or cause a fire. Don’t worry — it’s easy enough to keep them apart — but don’t get casual while holding the cables, either.
Jumping a car is a helpful skill to have, and it’s worth keeping jumper cables in your trunk, so you can avoid having to call a tow if your battery dies.
Check out all the batteries
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.
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.