Knowing how to jump-start your car using jumper cables is a skill you should have as a driver. It’s also a good idea to be able to troubleshoot what went wrong if you find yourself with a car that won’t start.
Learn the steps to jump-start a dead car battery and how to troubleshoot issues with your vehicle with this guide.
How to Jump-Start Your Car
Using jumper cables to jump-start a dead battery is an easy basic car skill to learn. Jumping a car can be dangerous if you’re not sure what you’re doing. These steps should help you learn how to jump-start your car safely with the help of jumper cables and another driver’s vehicle.
1. Get a Set of Jumper Cables
Before you can jump-start your car, you need a pair of jumper cables. Purchase a good quality set of cables to keep in your car. Consider creating a car emergency kit that includes the jumper cables for any time you or another driver is stranded on the roadside.
2. Park the Running Car Near the Dead Car
Make sure the cars are close enough that your jumper cables can reach the batteries of both vehicles. Place both cars in park or neutral. Turn both vehicles off and make sure all electrical components are off, such as headlights, interior reading lights or radios. Pop the hood of both cars and set the parking brakes for increased safety.
3. Locate the Positive Terminal of Your Battery
Look under the hood of your car for the battery. On your battery, you should find two terminals, one positive (+) and one negative (-). Many car batteries have plastic coverings over the actual metal terminals for safety. Lift the plastic covering with a positive (+) sign on your dead battery.
Before continuing, make sure the battery is in good condition. If the battery is cracked, leaking or smells of sulfur, don’t try to jump your car. A cracked battery can explode when power is sent to it. If the battery is in okay condition, you can continue. Attach one of the red clips of the jumper cables to the metal sections of the positive terminal of the dead battery.
4. Attach the Cables to the Positive Terminal on the Working Vehicle
Once you’ve connected a red clip to your dead battery, locate the positive terminal on the good battery. Attach the other red jumper cable clip to this positive terminal.
5. Find the Negative Terminal of the Working Vehicle
After attaching both red clips to the positive terminals, locate the negative terminal on the charged battery. Attach one of the black clips to the negative terminal on the working battery. Be sure you don’t accidentally attach the clip to the negative terminal on your dead battery.
6. Attach the Final Black Clip to Unpainted Metal on the Dead Car
The last black clip should go on an unpainted, shiny metal part of your car’s engine. A clean bolt or metal surface of your engine block is the best place to connect the final clip. Try to avoid attaching the last clip directly to the negative terminal of the dead battery. If the battery is corroded or damaged, this connection could lead to sparks when you try to jump-start the car.
If you cannot find a good place to connect the final cable, you can use the negative terminal of the dead battery. Always use caution when choosing this route and double-check your battery for damage before starting the vehicles. You should never connect the final negative jumper cable clip to metal parts on the body of the car. Connecting to the car’s body, including fenders or grills, can cause damage to your vehicle’s electrical system when jump-starting the car.
7. Start the Working Vehicle
Let the charged battery run for a few minutes to help your car gain a charge before attempting to start it. You can press the working car’s gas pedal slightly to increase the charging power. Don’t push the pedal all the way down or rev the engine.
8. Try to Start Your Car
Turn on your car and see if it begins to run. If it doesn’t turn over, turn off both vehicles and check that your cables are properly attached to the terminals. If your car starts, leave it running for a few minutes to ensure the battery has enough charge.
9. Disconnect the Jumper Cables
Letting your car run to continue charging, begin disconnecting the jumper cables. Go in reverse order from attaching the cables. Start with the negative, or black, clip that’s attached to the metal part of your engine block. Then, remove the other black clip from the negative terminal of the good battery. You can then disconnect the red, or positive, clip from the good battery. Finally, detach the red clip from your previously dead battery.
Be careful when disconnecting the jumper cables. If the clips touch one another, they may spark a little. You should always use caution when disconnecting the cables. They can become hot when jump-starting a vehicle.
After the cables are disconnected, drive your car around for about 15-20 minutes. This allows your alternator to continue charging the battery.
Checking Diagnostic Trouble Codes
There are a lot of reasons a car won’t start. Dead batteries often happen because of human error. Leaving the headlights on or trunk open overnight can run down a battery.
If you find yourself with a dead battery and don’t think it was caused by human error, you may want to troubleshoot the issue. A diagnostic test from a mechanic could cost over a hundred dollars. To save money, you can purchase an inexpensive tool that reads the diagnostic codes on your vehicle.
Diagnostic Trouble Codes, often known as DTCs, give you information about issues within your vehicle’s systems. Your DTC reader hooks up to the computer system in your vehicle and gives you codes for any issues found. An internet search or call to a trusted mechanic with your Trouble Codes should tell you what’s wrong with your car.
Once you have a potential problem, you can find a solution. If you’re mechanically inclined, you might want to order replacement parts and complete repairs yourself. On the other hand, you can visit your mechanic and let them know what you’ve learned on potential issues. Your repair shop should be able to help you further diagnose the vehicle and make any necessary repairs.
Consider Roadside Assistance
What do you do if you find yourself in need of a jump-start and there aren’t other vehicles around? Adding roadside assistance to your car insurance could help you if you find yourself stranded on an empty roadside. Roadside assistance gives you peace of mind if your car breaks down on the road. Along with jump-start services, roadside assistance can help you get back on the road with fuel delivery, towing services and lockout services.