How to Jump Start a Car

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How to get going again if your battery has let you down

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As car owners and regular road users, many of us worry about a breakdown that will leave us stranded. Similarly, finding out that your car battery is flat and you can't get home can cause great anxiety; that awful feeling you get when you turn the key and nothing happens with only the dull glow of the battery charge warning light on your dashboard... the unsettling, dull click beneath from the starter under the hood need not signal the end of your journey. There are still a few ways to reinvigorate the battery and get back on your way, so knowing how to jump start your car is a vital life skill.

However, this is not something you can do alone since you need to have access to another car's battery. You could call your roadside assistance provider, but failing that, your best bet would be a friend or a generous stranger pulling over to help you out. Here, your options include push starting (if you drive a manual) or jump starting. With regard to the latter, you will need to ensure you have the correct equipment on hand.

What is Jump Starting?

Jump starting a car is essentially just directing power from an external source to the internal battery. This is most often necessary after a prolonged stint of inactivity or in particularly cold weather conditions. The most common solution to this is using jump leads to connect your car's battery to another. Alternately, you could also get power from a portable car battery pack, which negates the need to rely on another person. Though this may seem like a quick hack, it will cost you around $400.

In either case, you will be jump starting the car with leads. This device comprises a pair of cables wrapped in thick rubber and tipped with crocodile clips. This allows them to transmit electricity without the risk of shocking the user. It is highly advised that you keep a set in the trunk, as you cannot rely on friends or helpful strangers to have their own.

Battery Charging Pexels.com

Jump Starting vs Using a Battery Charger

The most prepared among us probably own a portable battery charger, since it is a handy little tool. Whether at home or out on the road, it can be used in lieu of a jump start to get your dead battery going again.

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Pros and Cons of Using a Battery Charger Instead of Jump Leads

  • You don't need anyone's help. Sometimes flagging down a passing motorist doesn't work, and waiting for a friend or family member to come give you a jump costs time.
  • You get going a lot faster. Aside from the time you save doing things yourself, battery chargers are also more efficient. You don't have to wait five to ten minutes while the two cars idle to charge your battery enough to start the vehicle.
  • They are far more expensive than a set of jumper cables. This is especially true if you opt for the higher output options. Time really does mean money.
  • They're useless unless charged. If you don't remember to recharge the battery packs after use, you might still find yourself stranded and relying on others.

How to Use Jump Leads to Jump Start a Car

Using jump leads is actually quite simple, but the fear of getting shocked or making a mistake overcomplicates things. Once you get the hang of things, though, you can jump start your battery quickly and easily. Follow these steps on how to attach and use jump leads:

  • Ensure that both vehicles are completely switched off.
  • Pop the hood and remove any cover on the battery.
  • Be careful not to touch any metal parts when handling the jump leads.
  • Connect the red cable to the positive terminal on each battery.
  • Connect the black cable to the negative terminal on the working battery first, and then to the same terminal on the dead battery.
  • You will likely notice a small spark when the circuit is completed.
  • Wait a short moment for the battery voltages to equalize then start the car with the live battery.
  • Let it run for a few minutes, and you can occasionally gently rev the motor to ensure it remains in peak active condition.
  • It is then time to test whether or not the dead battery has absorbed enough charge to start the car.
  • If it does not start, wait a little longer and try again. If it does start, let both vehicles idle for a few more minutes.
  • Finally, disconnect the leads and take the jump-started car for a long enough ride to reenergize the battery so that you won't have the same problem when you stop again.

Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes, so here are some tips and tricks to help you prevent your car battery from dying in cold weather, too.

Jump Leads unsplash.com

What’s Different When You Need to Jump Start a Diesel Engine?

While many diesel engine vehicles sold in the USA differ from gas-fed ones in that they sometimes have two batteries instead of one, this doesn't significantly change how to start a car with a dead battery. So long as it has a manual transmission, you can still bump start a diesel without any fuss, while you can jump start a diesel by connecting the leads to either of the two batteries, since they are connected in parallel.

FAQs

Is there a specific order for how to connect jump leads?

You should start with the red cable first, connecting to the dead battery and then the live one on the positive terminal. Afterwards, you will do the same with the black cable, but connecting to the negative terminals instead.

How can I start my car with a dead battery?

If your battery is completely dead, the only reliable way to get the car started is via a jump, although you may have some luck trying to bump start the car. The best plan is to connect your leads to a working battery - how long it will take depends on the starting charge, but you can expect to wait between five to ten minutes.

Can you call 911 for a jump start?

A car breakdown is not considered an emergency situation. As such, it would not be appropriate to call 911 in the US. Instead, you should call your roadside assistance provider. Alternatively, you could try to get in touch with a towing service, but these days, you can actually call an Uber instead, it will be a lot cheaper. Roadside assistance should come with their own car battery jump leads, but it doesn't hurt to have your own, just in case.

Can you jump start an automatic car?

It is possible to jump start the battery in an automatic vehicle, and it does not require deviating from the steps already explained. However, it is impossible to bump start an auto due to the open clutch setup.

What do you do when your car won’t jump start?

If you are certain you have given the process enough time to properly charge the "dead" battery to the point that it should be able to start but it is still not working, then chances are that your battery is no longer viable. In this situation, you don't have much choice but to replace it.

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