Tips and Tricks to Safely Jump Start Any Car

In the days of motoring infancy, the predecessors to our modern vehicles were unreliable, but easily repaired- even on the side of the road. It became common for motorists to stop and offer aid to broken down fellows back in the days when there were more horses on the road than cars.

The legacy our pioneering motorist ancestors gifted to today’s motorists compels us to carry a set of jumper cables in our car. Some have cables they have never even removed from the package, but there they are, stowed away just in case.

So strong is the legacy of helping one another that jumper cables are a frequent gift to young drivers getting their first car. They are a symbol that the responsibility of car ownership and the privilege of driving means respecting fellow motorists and lending a hand as you hope someone will when you find yourself in the dark with a dead battery.

A set of Jumper Cables is often the first tool a new driver receives. Knowing how to safely use jumper cables is an essential skill.

Someone’s willing-now what? When jump starting a car, which cable goes first?

With your jumper cables unravelled, you will see they are two fused heavy gauge cables, one red the other black. Typical jumper cables will have heavy duty clamps at each of the four ends. All that is required is to connect the cables. There is a safe way to do it that will never hurt you, your car, or the car of the gracious person who stopped to help.

You should have a service manual or a workshop manual for your vehicle. Start there for specific jump starting procedures. Almost all cars built after 2000 have multiple computers that are sensitive to electrical surges. Many cars have different requirements, impossibly placed batteries and delicate hardware and software that can be ruined by not following the procedures outlined in a repair guide that covers your vehicle.

Almost any car can jump start a dead battery, when the procedure is done correctly and safely. It is important to remember that only cars and trucks that use a 12 volt, negative earth system should follow these instructions. If your vehicle is a 6 volt, or some other non-standard voltage, you will need to review your service manual for the instructions.

How do you jump start a dead battery, then?

It’s easy, totally safe, and works most of the time. If it doesn’t, there are a few options. Don’t panic.


Park both cars with the battery or jump points nearest one another. Do this safely. Don’t block roads or driveways if possible. Turn both cars off, turning off the radio, climate control, lights and all other electronics in both vehicles. Open the hood or trunk depending on where your battery or jump points are located.

Tips For Jump Starting A Car

If both cars have accessible batteries, begin by connecting the red cable to the positive post of the car with a dead battery. Hold the other end so the clamps are not in contact.

Then connect the jumper cables to the car with the good battery, starting with the red to the positive battery terminal. Connect the black cable to the negative terminal on the battery.

Connect the last black cable to a metal part of the car with the dead battery, not the negative of the battery. This prevents a circuit of electricity running between the two vehicles.Common places are exposed metal on the engine, body or frame. Painted parts and oily spots are not likely to make a good connection.

If the battery is difficult to tell which cable is which, simply follow the most easily visible cable. A negative cable will run directly from the battery to a spot on the body, engine, or frame. The positive cable will run to a solenoid that has other cables running from it, and usually, lots of red cables. Think RED is HOT and that’s POSITIVE.

Some vehicles will not have accessible batteries. The road around this can be simple, or not. The safest way is to locate the cars alternator. On the back of the alternator, a large gauge wire will be bolted down. This wire might be white, yellow, red or many other colors. If you are unsure, or if it is difficult to tell, your workshop manual provides illustrations of your alternator to help identify what you are looking for in the dark.

Connect the red clamp to the post on the alternator, making sure the clamp is not touching any other posts. It may be very difficult on some vehicles to locate the back of the alternator.

Make sure that the jumper cables are clear of fans and belts before continuing.

Do not start the car with the good battery. Wait a few seconds, then try to start the dead battery car. Crank the car for a few seconds, five or six times. If it cranks slowly, it is unlikely that it will be safely jumped, and it is not wise to continue trying. You could end up with two cars with dead batteries. It is not considered safe to jump start modern cars with a running car due to the risk of damage to sensitive electronics. Damage can happen to both, or either vehicle.

Now, if you are driving around town in a classic, pre-tech car, this is still a safe procedure, but if both cars are older and do not have a bunch of electronics, jump starting an older car can be done with a running car, though damage to alternators has been documented. Otherwise, make the same connections as above.

If the car with the dead battery starts, great! Just unhook and you are on your way.

Don’t turn it off! You should drive for 20-30 minutes before shutting your car off again, but follow these tips for safely unhooking jumper cables.

You want to remove the cables in the reverse order order you put them on. Always start by removing the negative cable first, starting at the car with the dead battery. To be safe, all you have to remember is negative, first.

Do not touch the metal clamps together. They will spark, and are very dangerous. Burns, fires and destroyed batteries or jumper cables can occur. Survivalists make welders out of batteries and jumper cables, so remember, it’s enough power to fuse metal together.

How to Jump Start a Car Without Another Car

Do you drive a stick shift? Yes? Maybe try a bump-start. Your transmission mechanic appreciates you doing it in second gear when possible.

Do you have a spare battery that is charged? Use that to jump your car.

For the rest of us, someone created an easily portable, self-contained power source strong enough to jump start your car without causing any damage. A portable jump starter is the safest way to jump start any post-2000 car, and should be considered as the only option for many modern cars with complex electronics systems. Most towing companies use jump boxes or boost boxes these days because of the higher level of safety for sensitive electronic equipment.

Portable jump starters are replacing jumper cables as the essential tool to have in your trunk.

A portable jump starter is very easy to use. When fully charged, it will provide plenty of power to jump start most batteries more than once. If you have one, keep it charged. Read the instructions at least once, and if you can, keep them in the glove box.

Connect a jump starter just like you would to jump a car, the red clamp to the positive battery terminal, the negative to a metal part of the car after turning off all electronics.

Some portable jump starters will have different settings to accomplish one or more tasks. Typically, you will want it set on START, or a similar word.

Now, it’s as simple as turning the key. If your car starts, disconnect the portable jump starter. Remove the black, negative cable first, then the red cable, ensuring they do not touch together. If you remove the red cable first, you run the risk of sparks, damage to electronics, and damage to the portable jump starter.

If your car does not start, your battery might be excessively dead, you might have an open or short in a circuit, a fuse might have blown, or you could have another problem that isn’t easily diagnosed.

The good news is that the spirit of helping one another is as alive today as it has ever been, and in most towns and cities, someone will stop to offer help to their fellow motorist stranded on the side of the road. With a little knowledge about how to jump start a car with or without a battery, we can continue to help each other in the modern era.


About Derek F


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