Posted on by Defensive Driving | in Defensive Driving Online

Stumbling outside early on a cold winter morning and looking forward to the warmth of your car, only to realize that your car won’t start, has got to be one of the more frustrating experiences in life. Luckily, jump-starting a car battery is less intimidating than it may look, even if you don’t think of yourself as a “car person.”

Batteries die for many reasons. Lights being left on is one of the most typical causes of a dead battery. Age and lack of proper maintenance can also cause battery failure.

Before getting out your jumper cables, you’ll want to determine that it actually is your battery that’s causing the problem. Try turning on the headlights; many cars have an “accessories” setting on the ignition switch that will let you turn on the electrical system without starting the engine. If your headlights are dim, then your battery is the culprit. If the headlights are as bright as usual, then, unfortunately, you have a different problem.

You can also try starting the car and listening to the results. Do you hear the engine “cranking” quickly? This means that your battery is functioning. If you don’t hear anything, then proceed to jump start your car!

First, open your hood and inspect your battery. Most batteries will be near the front of the car on the right or left side. Some cars do have batteries near the firewall between the engine and passenger compartment; a few models even have batteries in the trunk. The battery will have two terminals: a positive terminal, which is marked with a plus sign and is usually red, and a negative terminal, black and marked with a minus sign.

If the battery looks cracked or damaged, or appears to be leaking, it’s time for a new battery. Trying to start a damaged battery could result in a dangerous explosion. Battery acid is also highly corrosive; if you have them, wear gloves and/or goggles while jump-starting your car.
**If you have a car with standard transmission, skip the steps below and go straight to the bottom of the article.

Next, locate your jumper cables. A good set of jumper cables is a worthwhile investment; they could get you out of a tight spot, or win you a new friend, if you’re the one being asked to help. Good cables should be thick and at least ten feet long. Avoid cables under $20, as these may not be thick enough to carry sufficient current to your car. Your jumper cables, like your battery, will have positive (usually red) and negative (usually black) ends.

If you notice any corrosion (green, white, or blue “gunk”) on the cables or the battery terminals, clean them with a cloth or steal brush.

Now, you need to find a good friend, neighbor, or passerby with a working car who is willing to help. Proceed to park the two cars. The front ends of the cars should be as close to one another as possible; however, be careful that the two cars don’t touch. Make sure that both cars are turned off; turn off lights, radios, and other electric equipment within both cars and also unplug phones, GPSs, or other equipment that may be charging in the car. The power surge caused by the jump start could damage these devices.

At last you’re ready to connect the jumper cables. As you proceed, keep these safety principles in mind:

1. Never smoke or strike a match while jump-starting a car, as this could cause an explosion.
2. Be careful that the different ends of the jumper cables don’t touch while any of the cables are connected. This could cause a dangerous shock or spark.

You should always connect the jumper cables in the following order. This order is designed to minimize the chance of jumper cables touching one another and causing a spark.

1. Attach a positive cable to the positive terminal on the dead battery.
2. Attach a positive cable to the positive terminal on the working battery.
3. Attach a negative cable to the negative terminal on the working battery.
4. Attach a negative cable to a shiny and unpainted service on the engine block or chassis of the car with dead battery. ONLY connect the negative cable to the negative terminal on the dead battery as a last resort; you want to keep the positive and negative ends of the cable as far apart as possible in order to avoid sparking. Note that a small spark does normally occur when the final cable end is attached.

Once all the cables are in place, it’s time to start the working car. If you want, you can rev the engine of the working car slightly for 30-60 seconds to increase the voltage being transmitted. Now, wait for three to five minutes, in order to let the dead battery charge. Then, try to start the car with the dead battery.

Assuming that your car starts successfully, you’ll now disconnect the jumper cables. *If not, see below for troubleshooting tips. Disconnect the cables in reverse order:

1. Disconnect the negative cable from the dead battery.
2. Disconnect the negative cable from the working battery.
3. Disconnect the positive cable from the working battery.
4. Disconnect the positive cable from the dead battery.

Let the formerly “dead” car run for a few minutes. Then, try depressing the brake pedal, to make sure the car won’t stall when the brake lights are activated. You can also try turning off the car and re-starting it, to make sure the alternator, which re-charges the battery, is working properly. If all seems to be in order and the car starts again, keep the car running for 20-30 minutes in order to re-charge the battery properly.

– Make sure that lights and all devices within the car are off AND the door of the car is closed, so that interior lights don’t come on automatically.
– Carefully wiggle the jumper cable ends to make sure that you are getting a good connection.
– Feel the cables themselves; if they feel warm, they’re probably not conducting current properly. Try to locate a new pair of cables.
If the car still won’t start after a second attempt, it’s probably time to call roadside assistance.

Good news! You can jump start the car without cables. Depress the clutch and put the car in first gear, then turn the ignition to on. On a clear stretch of road, either start the car rolling down an incline or get friends to push you. When the car reaches 5-10 mph, release the clutch. The engine should start; if not, try again.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”, visit’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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