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How to Jump-Start Your Car

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 3/14/2019 Rich Ceppos
Follow this helpful guide to do it properly-and safely.© Getty Images Follow this helpful guide to do it properly-and safely.

You're running late for an important meeting, party, date, event-you name it. You jump into your trusty ride, twist the key, and click-click-click-click. You're not going anywhere. It's the sickening sound of a dead battery, exactly when you don't need it. Of course!

You know what's next: You need a jump. If you're lucky enough to have a friend or relative who (a) lives nearby, (b) is home, (c) is willing to help you out, and (d) has a set of jumper cables, there's still one last problem: You also need to know how to jump-start your car properly, so that you don't damage either vehicle's battery-or, worse, get injured in the process. Follow these steps to do it correctly and safely.

Step 1: Park the Second Vehicle Close

Park the car with the good battery nose to nose with yours without the two vehicles touching, close enough that the jumper cables will reach. (Most vehicles have their battery in the engine compartment; some have the battery in the trunk.) Turn off the engine in the vehicle with the good battery. Raise the hoods of both vehicles and locate the two batteries.

Step 2: Locate the Battery Terminals

Jump Shot: How to Use Jumper Cables © Jeff Xu - Car and Driver Jump Shot: How to Use Jumper Cables

It's time to locate the positive and negative battery terminals, to which you will be connecting the jumper cables momentarily. As shown in the above illustration, the terminals are clearly marked with a "+" and a "-" sign. The positive (+) terminal is often covered by a plastic cap (which you'll need to flip out of the way). FYI, the wire running from the car to the positive terminal is red; the wire to the negative terminal is black. The jumper cable's clamps are color coded in red and black as well, so it's easy to know what goes where.

Step 3: Connect the Cables to the Battery Terminals

a close up of a toy: Jump Shot: How to Use Jumper Cables © Jeff Xu - Car and Driver Jump Shot: How to Use Jumper Cables

Make sure none of the jumper cable's clamps are touching one another. To start, you'll probably need to leave one end of the cable and its two clamps on the ground, with the red and black clamps separated, while holding the other end, which you're about to connect to the dead battery. (If you have a helper, that person can hold the other end of the jumper cable, being sure not to allow the clamps to touch.)

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Take the red clamp in your hand and attach it to the positive terminal of the dead battery. Do not let the black clamp on that end of the jumper cable touch metal or the red clamp. After you've attached the red clamp to the positive terminal, set the black clamp down on a plastic part under the hood. Wiggle the red clamp you've just attached to make sure that it's biting into the metal part of the terminal and has a good connection.

Now, attach the red clamp at the other end of the jumper cable (the end you've laid on the ground) to the good battery's positive terminal, and attach the black clamp on that same end to the good battery's negative terminal. Remember not to let the clamps touch while you are making the connections.

Next, find a piece of bare metal under the hood of the car with the dead battery-an unpainted bolt head sticking out from the body will do. (See the illustration below.) Attach the remaining black clamp to it. Do not attach this last black clamp to the dead battery! That could cause a spark and could potentially ignite a fire under the hood (though this is an extremely rare occurrence).

a close up of a toy: Jump Shot: How to Use Jumper Cables © Jeff Xu - Car and Driver Jump Shot: How to Use Jumper Cables

In the illustration above, we've attached the negative jumper-cable clamp to a bare metal bolt sticking up from the suspension shock tower. (Many cars have bolts in this position.) Wiggle all of the clamps to make sure they are making a good connection.

Step 4: Starting Your Engine

Make sure the jumper cable is routed away from any moving parts, like the cars' fans or accessory belts. If it's clear, you can start the engine in the car with the good battery. Let it idle for two or three minutes to trickle a small charge into your vehicle's dead battery. Then attempt to start your vehicle. If it won't start right away, turn the key to off and let the other vehicle continue to idle for 10 or 15 minutes, then try again. If it still doesn't start, then your battery is probably beyond repair.

Step 5: Disconnecting the Jumper Cables

If your car does start, leave it running. Now disconnect the battery cables by first removing the negative clamp from the bare metal connection under your car's hood. Then remove the red clamp from your battery's positive terminal-and do not let the clamps touch. Place them on the ground with the clamps separated. Then remove the red clamp from the good battery, and finally, remove the black clamp. You're good to go-for now, anyway.

If It Happens Again

If, after you've driven your car for a half hour or more, it fails to restart, you have a problem that you must deal with. Either your battery is permanently dead and needs to be replaced or there's something wrong with your car's charging system. You'll need to take your vehicle to a repair shop or dealer for diagnosis. Or you can remove your battery and take it to an auto-parts store-some stores will test your battery. If it's toast, you can pick up a new battery while you're there and install it yourself.

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