How to Jump Start a Car

The 4 step process to jump starting your car so it revs up and doesn’t blow up. It’s really easy to boost your car battery you just have to do everything in the right order.

I had been planning on doing a post on how to jump start your car for a few years, but never got around to it.

Then one day my car wouldn’t start. So I got around to it.

A combination of really cold weather and my general lack of desire to go anywhere is what prompted my battery to declare a work stoppage.

Cold weather and not driving your car for a long time will drain a battery to the point that it doesn’t have enough juice in it to start.

It doesn’t mean that battery isn’t good anymore – it just means it’s gone into hibernation.

You need to boost your battery just to get it started and then let the car run for about 30 minutes. During that time the alternator will do its job and recharge the battery so it’s as good as newish.

Keep in mind, if your battery is old or needs to be jump started regularly, you don’t have a battery that’s in hibernation. You have one that’s old, worn out, and needs to be replaced.


NOTE: Not replacing your car battery when it’s old and weak means you’re putting undo pressure on your alternator. And your alternator is a lot more expensive to fix than replacing your car battery.


So how do you jump start your car?

You need 2 things to jump start your car. A pair of jumper cables and a good battery.

The good battery can be from another car or a portable battery pack made for charging your own car.

WHAT? What’s a portable jump starter??

I just discovered these things and am now obsessed with them. A portable jumper is a small battery pack that will fit in your glove compartment.

If your car battery dies, you just attach the jump starter pack to your car battery and start your car like a regular car boost. But with the added advantage of not needing a working car nearby.

A perfect gadget to have if you’re alone somewhere that doesn’t have other cars nearby to help you with a boost. If you live alone in the country, are on a camping trip, or work weird hours, where finding someone to boost your car when you leave work at 4 a.m. is hard, then one of these little car jumpers could be a lifesaver.


The next thing you need to keep in mind is …

YOU DON’T WANT TO BLOW ANYTHING UP

To make sure you don’t fry your jumper cables, alternator, battery, stereo or any other component in your car you have to attach the jumper cables in a specific order.

It’s easy. Any fool could do it. You just have to make sure you do things in the right order.

  1. Positive clamp goes to positive on dead battery.
  2. Positive clamp goes to positive on good battery.
  3. Negative clamp goes to negative on good battery.
  4. Negative clamp goes to bare metal on dead battery engine. (best if the metal is at least 1′ away from the battery)

  1. Turn both cars off. The one with the dead battery and the one with the good battery. Grab your jumper cables and find the batteries in both cars.
  2. Connect a red jumper cable clamp to the positive (+) terminal of the dead battery.
  3. Connect the other red cable clamp to the positive (+) terminal of the good battery.
  4. Connect the black cable clamp to the negative (-) terminal of the good battery.
  5. Connect the black cable clamp to an unpainted piece of metal on the car with the dead battery. Something on the engine is best, but if your car battery is in the trunk like mine, then clamp to the trunk latch. You should clamp to metal that’s at least 1′ away from the battery to prevent sparking.
  6. Start the car with the good battery.
  7. Start the car with the dead battery.
  8. After the dead battery starts, let the car run for 30 minutes to give the altnerator sufficient time to fully charge the battery.
  9. Remove the cables in reverse order (negative ground on dead battery – negative on good battery – positive on good battery – positive on dead battery)

And since I knew you were going to want to see me jump my car here you go …

A sense of dread washed over me when the my car wouldn’t start. I was heading to Betty’s for some reason when I realized I probably hadn’t driven my car in weeks.

It’s your basic pandemic problem. Dead car batteries the world over because we’re not going anywhere.

I toyed with buying a portable charger just so you could see it work, but wanted my car right away, not after a charger was delivered so I called my sister Pink Tool Belt who I knew was just leaving her store The Hillbilly Mansion a few blocks away from me.

She didn’t even have to get out of her car. She just drove up, turned the car off and waited for me to kickstart my battery out of hibernation.

CAR BATTERY BOOSTING TIP!

If your car’s battery is in your engine, back into your driveway so the battery can be accessed easily if it dies.

If your car’s battery is in your trunk, drive straight into your driveway so the battery, (at the back of your car) can be easily accessed.

In the very same week, my niece’s car battery also wouldn’t start and she had to get a jump for the exact same reasons – very cold weather, and only leaving the house once a month or so to buy some COVIDdles.

How about you? Have you had to jump start your car this year? And are you, like I, willing to blame it on Coronavirus?

40 Comments

  1. celestial says:

    Years ago I had a darling little white Toyota whose battery would quit for no reason and then work perfectly for the next 20 starts. I learned to be an excellent jump starter and made my own flannel jumper cable bag to hold the cables. If I found the battery was being sulky I would just ask the car next to me if I could have a jump and they would usually agree when I said I would do everything (and I did). The funniest occurrence was when someone else had a dead battery and I offered to jump start it. The man looked at me in utter amazement and said “You know how to jump a car?” I got him up and running in no time; I can still see his bewildered face watching in fascination.

    I had a friend whose husband was a probable genius (he had scored 1600 on his ACT test etc.); he would bring out the manual and read the directions every time he had to jump a car. She would say that brains were handy but that she would rather have me along on cold winter days because I was much handier. Now the automatic chargers and trickle chargers have taken over and I no longer have the chance to impress the natives.

  2. Charles says:

    Great article Shawna. I’ve recharged my battery on my old truck a good few times in the last year or so, as it was very COVidle 😀. Someone came to help me with a 2018 Mercedes, and there is no sign of a battery! Just one place where there’s a red + but no earth –. Is this to stop Merc owners from helping people out, or could you use metal on the frame?

  3. Pookie says:

    You might mention offhand to your sister one of these days that ‘unique’ and ‘one of a kind’ mean the same thing, so it’s being quite redundant to state that something is unique AND one of a kind.

  4. TucsonPatty says:

    Thanks for this, Karen.
    Growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere – Dad made all 11 of us learn how to jump a car, and how to change a flat tire. We also had to patch the tires there for awhile, which scared me to death! I figured I would blow myself up by over inflating the patched tire.
    I’ve lived in the city for so long I don’t even know where to hook the jack to the bumper anymore. (That owners manual, though!)

  5. Sam says:

    We had the most unfortunate battery situation when we were first married. Terrible electronics system on an experimental car model (Olds Aurora, it was awful) with the battery under the backseat. To get anything accomplished, we had to remove the baby’s car seat (which was affixed to the frame under the seat because that car was ridiculous), pop the back seat out, and charge the battery from there. Then reassemble everything.

  6. Vikki says:

    COVIDdles—my new favorite phrase!

  7. Scout says:

    Great post! Need to know stuff. Well done. I bought my brothers and myself the jump packs for Christmas one year and they are awesome. They can even charge your phone in a pinch. Highly recommend. We’ve each been stranded or able to help others in five minutes or less. Mine holds a charge for 20 jumps easily. I charge it twice a year– if that. Total champ. Don’t think about it. Get one.

  8. Christine E says:

    NOTE: If you do not have jumper cables or the bad battery car location is too far of a distance from the good battery, you can remove the good battery, carry it to the bad battery and flip it upside down and touch the + to + terminals and – to – terminals to jump the bad battery.

    This has saved me once in a remote location. I am not sure of the safety precautions using this method, but when you are in dire straits, safety is third :)

  9. Reg says:

    That’s a great price for the D-power portable charger. I went with the Tacklife t80, which has an on /off switch to slow down the battery discharge when not in use. I

  10. Susan says:

    My battery went dead a few weeks back, but not for lack of driving. I came home from a shopping trip, put the car in the garage, unloaded the trunk, and shut everything down. Two days later I went into the garage to get something out of the car and was horrified to see that I had left the driver’s door open! I prayed to the battery gods, but no dice-that battery was flat. Had to call AAA. I think one of those battery packs is in my future.

  11. Irene says:

    I agree with Derek.
    You need to actually drive your car to charge your battery.
    You can stay connected to the good battery while the good car is running and keep your revs fairly high for 5 minutes or so to make sure your car doesn’t stall and die just after you’ve driven off. The running car will help charge your flat battery sufficiently to drive off, but drive off you must! :-D
    Also, I always just connect positive to positive and negative to negative; I don’t connect the negative cable to the car body.
    Clever husband quote: “If you connect the negative to the car body, there will be a voltage drop caused by the impedance of the car body varying according to the distance of the negative jumper lead to the negative battery terminal, so it’s better to put it directly onto the battery.”
    Whew!

    • Irene says:

      Well ok, you COULD just leave the car running, but then you’ll be sitting there with your foot on the accelerator anyway to keep it revving high enough to charge. Much better to go gallivanting. :-)

      • Karen says:

        No you really don’t need to leave your foot on the accelerator. Not being contrary, I just don’t want someone to read the comment and think they can’t leave the car running as a way to charge their battery. ~ karen!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Irene & Derek! You don’t have to drive. Honestly. You really can just leave the car running if you have to. ~ karen!

    • steinar says:

      If your car is a veteran car from the 1940-50s, you would need to keep your revs high as the generator would be a “direct current” unit. Today cars have an alternator that starts charging as soon as the engine runs.

  12. Texas Barngirl says:

    I had a battery explode once when I hooked it up wrong, so I was paranoid about hooking them together. The only way I could remember the correct order was to think my starting point was “RED TO THE DEAD” and then follow the circuitous route you show, which simplifies the setup.
    I now have a big battery pack which I love, but I’m intrigued by the little one you show. I have to keep mine plugged in so it’s always ready – how long does yours hold a charge if left in your glove compartment?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barngirl! I haven’t bought one of the little ones but according to what I read they hold their charge for quite a long time and can do many charges from one pack. ~ karen!

  13. Claire says:

    Living in Ireland, we have manual cars (non-automatic). While my husband has become adept at roll-starting a car (something you can’t do with an automatic), I’m rubbish at it and have become designated pusher.

    • Karen says:

      Ah yes. Until this car I always drove a standard (manual) and have done the gimme a push start many times. I used to live on a hill so it was easy, I could just take the emergency brake off, start rolling down the hill and pop the clutch. I heard they’re phasing out manual cars altogether here! ` karen

  14. Mary W says:

    I can’t even set my car clock. I see the tiny H and M and assume that is the means to set the clock BUT— no matter how I wish it would work it doesn’t. No big deal – I just remember each year that the clock is either one hour slow or it is correct depending on daylight savings time. It is also 17 minutes fast due to someone setting it that knew how when they changed the battery but they didn’t know exactly what time it was. So now IF I want to use my clock I add one hour and subtract 17 minute. Easy! Better than learning how to fix the clock setting adjustments. I really appreciate this info. I read we will be wearing masks possibly into 2022 so I hope to remember this information if and when I ever drive again.

    • Steinar says:

      There is something real magical that comes with every car ! Believe it or not ! It is called “OWNERS HANDBOOK” !!! If you open it, you’ll find everything needed to start the car, how to switch on the light and how to SET THE CLOCK ! You’ll learn amazing witchcraft by reading there !

    • Lesley says:

      It took years until the clock set procedure for my car finally stuck. Hold the AM/FM button down until the display flashes, and then H.

      Also, my jumper cables came in a little bag with the instructions written on it, so I can use those memory cells for something else. I dunno what, but something.

  15. Debbie says:

    To make sure our batteries keep running, we go out every day and run our vehicles for about 10-15 minutes when it gets really cold. If it’s going to be subzero weather like we just had for the past 2 weeks we’ll start them twice a day. So far so good. And yes, it does help to have good batteries and not super old ones.

    • Karen says:

      Yes, as long as you start the car every couple of days it’s fine. It’s when you go to get in it after a couple of weeks of not starting it. :) ~ karen!

    • Steinar says:

      Why not buy a battery charger ? The cost is probably $ 20 – 30 and the modern ones can even be connected to your battery for years if you would like to store your car. It charges the battery until it’s “full”, then switches off and if your battery is losing power, it switches on by itself and charges it back to full. It does this for years if you don’t want to take a ride !

      • TucsonPatty says:

        After having to call my insurance company’s roadside assistance for not one but two dead battery jump starts, I asked and was recommended a “Battery Maintainer”, instead of only a trickle charger. You can leave it hooked up to the battery forever without causing harm or having to remember to go out and unhook it. (That’s why the battery was dead in the first place – I forgot to go out and start it for a couple of months.)
        “A battery maintainer is essentially a battery charger that’s designed to supply your battery with a small amount of electricity for long periods of inactivity. A battery maintainer will also extend the life of the battery.” – O’Reilly Auto Parts.
        It’s been on the battery, keeping it happy for several months now, as I’ve only driven to 4 doctor appointments in the last year.
        It won’t overcharge the battery and harm it.
        Another excellent tip: make sure your insurance carrier has roadside assistance so you don’t pay extra for a tow truck or AAA, if it isn’t necessary!

  16. Derek says:

    Sorry to be a curmudgeon But a few points to note. When applying the negative (black) please apply it directly to the engine or the failed battery first before connecting to the good battery. there won’t be a spark anywhere near the battery if you apply the black secondly.
    Don’t connect to anything else like a hood (bonnet in the UK) catch as it may well be mounted on plastic so the current will short down the very thin cable to make a connection which is too thin to carry 100amperes and may get red hot .
    An alternator very rarely puts out any charge whilst the car is ‘ticking over, so leaving it ticking over for thirty minutes on the driveway will put very little charge in to it. As you are going to have the engine running anyway it would be better for the battery to go for a 15 minute drive hopefully without lights and wipers on etc.
    portable jump starters are great as long as you keep them charged in readiness but no good if you use them and put them back in the garage.
    A much better bet is to purchase one of the very good little chargers that attempt to repair your failing battery as well. I’ve got one and it has repaired most but not all that I’ve thrown at it. I don’t know if the batteries are ‘as good as new’ but they seem to be holding the charge okay since.
    I hope this makes sense to everyone. Stay warm everyone.

  17. Heather Powell says:

    You really are good at doing stuff! It figures we bought a new battery for my husbands old truck today, put the other one on the charger for later. It is the season for stalled batteries! Guess we’re not the only ones. Thanks for all the awesome info and the swears! Pretty new to your blog and it’s the only one I subscribe to. You crack me up!

  18. attygreen13 says:

    We recently bought one of those battery packs to keep in the trunk – it has already saved us once on a road trip. They make great gifts for college kids, older family members who live alone and seldom drive, etc.

  19. Shawna says:

    In the last year, I’ve replaced the batteries in my mom’s car and her pickup. But since I’m living with her and driving the truck, my car’s battery has become, pardon the pun, terminal. As it’s a 2014, there’s all this STUFF on top of the battery that I couldn’t figure out how to remove. Eventually I’ll call AAA I suppose.

    My 1st car was a 71 VW bug I got from my Grandpa. As the battery was under the backseat and the terminals had no colors, my mantra for a jumpstart is “red goes to right & brown goes to ground”. It mostly works.

    • Derek says:

      Hey Shawna, all the stuff on top of the battery just lifts away when you remove the battery restraining bar but remains connected to the system so nothing harmful happens there. If you are going to replace the battery it’s advisable to find your radio code because you’ll need that when you change the battery because there’ll be no power going to it so it’ll think it’s being nicked !
      I change batteries by connecting the good one to the power leads first before removing them from the old one (thin wires are okay as there’s very little power being used whilst the ignition is off) so there’s power at all times to the system then lift the old one out and put the new one in whilst still connected then put the leads back on, it is a faff but saves the re-coding. If you’re getting the AA out tell them you don’t have the code for the radio before they start on the change, they can deal with it.

    • Karen says:

      Mostly works, lol. :) Well that’s better than mostly doesn’t work. ~ karen!

    • Derek says:

      Shawna, if you give the surface by the terminals a wipe with a cloth you’ll see an impressed positive and negative sign, it’s on all batteries. It’ll save the spark happening that ignites the hydrogen gas in the battery which puts the top of the battery through the garage roof! Honestly.

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