How to Jumpstart a Car

Christian Wardlaw | Mar 06, 2020

When your vehicle’s battery dies, it’s important to know how to jumpstart a car. The process is simple but requires careful attention to detail. Also, remember that working on cars can be dangerous, so its critical to take proper precautions before attempting to jumpstart a car or perform any of your own vehicle repairs.

how to jumpstart a car using jumper cables

With those warnings expressed, this is how to jumpstart a car:

  • Consult your owner’s manual. Some vehicles may not be suitable for jumpstarting and could require professional assistance.
  • Get a pair of jumper cables that are in good condition. Jumper cables look like thick outdoor extension cords, but instead of plugs on each end they have pairs of red and black clamps. The cable should be free of flaws and the clamps should be clean and in proper working order.
  • Find a running vehicle. You’ll need to attach your jumper cables to a running vehicle’s battery in order to jumpstart a dead battery. If you’re dependent upon the kindness of strangers, be sure that you remain as visible as possible to the public.
  • Position the running vehicle’s battery as close to the dead vehicle’s battery as is possible. Remember, different types of cars have the battery located in different places, so check the trunk if you don’t find it under the hood.
  • Set the parking brakes of both vehicles. Shift into Park if the vehicle has an automatic transmission, or neutral if the vehicle has a manual transmission.
  • Shut off the running vehicle’s engine.
  • Attach one of the red jumper cable clamps to the positive terminal of the dead battery. The terminals are metal nubs on the top of the battery, which may be protected by rubber flaps. The positive terminal may be marked “POS” or with a “+.” In the absence of markings, the positive terminal is usually the larger of the two.
  • Next, attach the other red jumper cable clamp to the positive terminal of the running vehicle’s battery.
  • Now, with regard to the running vehicle’s battery, take the black jumper cable clamp closest to the red clamp and attach it to the negative terminal. It may be marked “NEG” or with a “-.” In the absence of markings, the negative terminal is usually the smaller of the two.
  • Last, take the second black clamp and attach it to an unpainted metal surface as far away from the dead battery as is possible.
  • Start the vehicle that works and let the engine run for several minutes. This will supply electrical current to the dead battery. Try to start the car with the dead battery.
  • If the car with the dead battery does not start, check all jumper cable clamp connections, let the engine run for a few more minutes, and try again. If the dead vehicle does not start, you likely need a new battery.
  • If the dead vehicle does start, do not shut it off until you’ve had a chance to drive it for 30 minutes or so. Driving the car will recharge the battery. But first, once the dead vehicle roars back to life, let the two vehicles idle together for a few minutes before removing the jumper cable clamps.
  • Remove the jumper cable in the reverse order of you connected them. First, unclip the black clamp from the unpainted metal surface. Next, remove the black clamp from the running vehicle’s negative battery terminal. Then, remove the red clamp from the running vehicle’s positive battery terminal. Last, remove the red clamp from the dead (and hopefully now running) vehicle’s positive battery terminal.
  • After driving the car for a while, the battery should get charged up. If the car won’t start again later, the battery can no longer hold a charge and you’ll need to get a new battery.

Remember, understanding how to jumpstart a car is one thing. Using jumper cables and attaching them to battery terminals and metal surfaces is another. It does pose some potential risk to your physical well-being. If you’d rather not take a chance, don’t hesitate to call a professional for help.

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