How to Properly Jump a Car: The Only Guide You Will Need

jumpstarting a carIt’s one of life’s consistent truths – if you drive and own a car, you will, at some point, try to start it up and find you have a dead battery.

Maybe you left the lights on. Maybe it was really cold. Maybe the battery is just old and worn out.

Whatever the reason, nothing can put quite a damper on your morning like walking out to start your morning commute, already crunched for time, to turn your key and hear nothing but silence greeting you.

If you don’t know how to properly jump a car, keep reading for your complete guide on how to get your car back on the road again in no time.

The Equipment You Need

Thankfully, the equipment you need to get your battery up and running comes down to two things – a source of power and a pair of jumper cables to transfer that power.

Most often, the easiest and quickest source of power is another car. If you’re nearby another working car, their battery can offer yours the charge it needs.

External battery chargers can also be purchased and kept on hand. These can either be another battery that keeps a stored charge or a machine that produces voltage through being plugged into electricity.

The only item you’ll need to have on hand is a dependable pair of jumper cables. These come in varying lengths. While it might be tempting to buy a small pair, consider sizing up. If your car dies while parked at an angle that makes bringing other cars near an obstacle, you’ll be thankful to have more length to work with.

Understanding How Your Battery Works

Before you try to jump the thing, you should understand how a car battery works to avoid complications.

When you open the hood of your car, you’ll see two nubs coming from your battery. These are called terminals.

Just like the batteries you have in your TV remote, there is a positive end and negative end, and when the circuit is completed between the two, an electrical charge is created.

The positive terminal of your car battery will generally be the larger of the two. It is typically marked in red, and will have a (+) sign or the lettering “POS”. The negative terminal will be smaller and black, with a (-) sign or the lettering “NEG”.

Your jumper cables will have four alligator clips, two red and two black. It’s important to connect the proper clip to the corresponding colored terminal to complete the circuit.

How to Properly Jump a Car

Once you have your battery cables and another source of power to pull from, it’s time to jump your battery. Thankfully, the process is pretty easy once you understand how your battery and the cables work.

  1. Check your batteries. Make sure the voltages match and that the donor battery is in good repair.
  2. Ready both cars. Park the donor car near, put both cars in park and turn off the ignitions.
  3. Open both hoods.
  4. Attach the four clips to the battery terminals in this order:
    • Red to dead – attach one red alligator clip to the red terminal of the dead battery
    • Red to donor – attach the other red alligator clip to the red terminal of the donor battery
    • Black to donor – attach the black clip of the same side of the battery cables to the black terminal of the donor battery
    • Black to metal – attach the remaining black clip to an unpainted metal surface not directly next to the battery. One of the metal struts under the hood will work.
  5. Start the donor car and allow it to run for a few minutes.
  6. Test the interior light of the car being started. If it comes on, try to start the car.
  7. If it starts, allow it to sit connected for a few minutes before disconnecting. If not, allow it more time before starting again.
  8. Once the car has started, unclip the clips in the reverse order.

If the car won’t start after being connected for several minutes, check your connections. Make sure your terminals aren’t corroded and that metal is touching metal to form the right connections.

If everything is right and the car still won’t start, your battery might be beyond a simple jump.

Safety Concerns When Jumping a Car Battery

While it’s a simple process, there are some precautions to take when jumping a battery to protect both cars and yourself from injury.

  1. Read the owner’s manual. Some cars have technical or sensitive circuitry that don’t make them a good candidate for jump-starting.
  2. Don’t jump-start damaged batteries. This includes cracked, leaking, corroded, or visibly damaged batteries.
  3. Don’t try to jump a frozen or dry battery.
  4. Don’t touch clips together. This is mainly an issue when the clips are connected, but it’s a good habit to never touch the clips together.
  5. Make sure both batteries are of the same voltage. They should both be the same voltage or damage might occur (ie: 6V or 12V).

Be Prepared For an Emergency

Even if you know how to properly jump a car, sometimes you’ll find yourself stranded and waiting for someone to come tow or rescue you from a situation where there is no donor car.

Keep standard emergency supplies besides jumper cables in your car like freshwater, blankets, flares and flashlights, and non-perishable food handy. If you have the means to do so, consider keeping an alternate power pack made to jump-start your car battery. This ensures you have a way to give your battery a jump even if you’re in an isolated place where another car isn’t readily available.

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