How do I jump-start my car?

November 03, 2016

When you get up on a particularly cold morning, and the air is almost piercing, you really just want to get to work and start your day so it’ll be over with sooner. I had one of these days a week or so ago, but my car wouldn’t start. I turned the key in the ignition a few times, and my car wouldn’t even turn over. I’d seen people pull out the red and black cables before, and perform some strange clamping and unclamping procedure, but I never thought I would be the one doing the clamping.

So, how do you deal with a car that’s not starting? First of all, make sure you have jumper cables. Many people carry some in their trunk or with their spare. (If you don’t have any, and your car frequently has battery problems, this is probably a good investment!) Secondly, find someone with a working car who is willing to help you jump yours. Park the cars close to each other (but don't let them touch each other; the charge can travel between the cars if the metal surfaces touch). Then, engage both parking brakes. (For manual cars, put the car in neutral, then engage the parking brake.) Pop the hoods in both cars, and you’re ready to get going.

(For obvious reasons, car batteries can be extremely dangerous. They carry enough charge to seriously injure anyone who handles them incorrectly. If you’re uncomfortable handling a car battery, ask someone who is comfortable with it to help you out with jumping your car. If you think you can do it correctly, make sure you still take all the safety precautions throughout the process.)

  • Begin by checking that the jumper cable clamps and battery terminals are clean enough to provide a clear electric current between the cars.
  • Next, connect the red clamp to the positive terminal of your dead car.
  • Double-check that the clamp is secure, then connect the red clamp to the working vehicle’s positive battery terminal.
  • Connect the black cable to the negative terminal of the working battery.
  • Then, connect the other black end to an unpainted metal part of the dead car’s engine as a ground for the charge transfer.
  • Start the working vehicle, and let it run for a couple minutes. This will allow a charge to travel over the cables to charge the dead battery enough to start it.
  • After a few minutes, try to start your car. If it still doesn’t start, run the working car for a while longer, and try again. (If it still doesn’t start, you should bring your car into a repair shop to have your battery looked at by a professional.)
  • If the car does start, disconnect the cables in the opposite order, starting with the black grounding clamp, and working your way back to the positive cable in your car, then drive your car around for a while to recharge the battery. (If your car starts without any problems the next few times, there shouldn’t be a serious problem, but if it doesn’t, your battery isn’t holding its charge, and you should bring it into a mechanic and have it looked at. )

While jump-starting my car could have been a dangerous process, some online resources helped me get my car back on the road safely, and let me get to the day that I was so eager to finish. Now, my car runs fine, and I know how to prevent a wasted morning the next time I encounter the same problem.