January 12, 2017

How To Jump Start A Car

Bring Your Dead Battery Back to Life

Your car battery is an essential piece of your vehicle, providing one of the most important functionalities: starting the car. In most traditional vehicle types - that is, cars that run on gasoline - the battery is an SLI, a starting, lighting, and ignition battery. It’s primarily used to start the engine, but also powers auxiliary components of the automobile including the lights and radio. Once the engine is running, the majority of the energy used to power your car is generated by its alternator. But turning the car on is an essential function of the car battery, a function without which the car is rendered pretty useless. When you turn the key and hear some sputtering, or maybe nothing at all, but the engine fails to start, a dead battery is probably the culprit.

A variety of things can cause your battery to die: cold weather, leaving your lights on for too long, or of course, an old or dysfunctional battery. Regardless, a jump start can sometimes do the trick to solve all your battery troubles - or at least get your car started so you can drive it off to the mechanic’s shop and figure out what the bigger issue is. Jump starting your battery yourself requires some special tools and a little bit of knowledge - but never fear, this guide will tell you everything you need to know!

Before you attempt to jump start your vehicle, take a moment to gather a few pieces of information. Read your vehicle’s manual, specifically any sections related to jump starts or your car battery. Certain car manufacturers recommend not jump starting the car, or some may offer you special instructions related to your specific model. Make sure you know where your car’s battery is. In most vehicles, it’s in the front of the car, under the hood, with the engine. But in some models, the battery is located in the trunk. Often, if this is the case, there will be designated terminals under the hood for use in case of a jump start. Take a look at the battery to identify the positive and negative terminals. Each terminal should be clearly marked with a + (plus) sign for positive and a - (minus) sign for negative. It is vital to know which is which, as it’s important to ensure the batteries are connected properly in order to execute a successful jump start and avoid a dangerous accident.

A set of jumper cables should have one red cable, and one black. The colors are important indicators of where to attach the cables. In any electrical system, electrical energy flows from the negative terminal of a battery to the positive through a system of wires, powering something - in this case, the vehicle’s starter - along the way. In order to allow for a jump start to work properly, one must ensure that the correct terminals are being connected. The red cable will always represent the side that should be attached to the positive terminal, and the black should be attached to the negative terminal. Don’t touch the jumper cable clamps to anything but the intended target.

You can jump start a car either using a portable jump starter, or with the help of another vehicle.

In either case, begin by ensuring all involved vehicles and tools are turned off. To be safe, remove your keys from the ignition entirely. Take caution that there is nothing flammable nearby. Though uncommon, sparks, fires, and even explosions are possible when jump starting a car. Car batteries and jump starter packs contain high voltages of electricity, and while jump starters and cables are designed to reduce risk of improper usage, accidents can happen under certain circumstances.

Here’s what to do if you’re jump starting your car with the help of another car:

First, identify where each car’s battery is. In most vehicles, the battery is with the engine. Then park the cars close enough together that you’ll be able to connect jumper cables to both cars’ batteries. Be careful, however, that no parts of either car are touching the other. This is important to prevent any flow of electrical current between the vehicles other than through the jumper cables. Both cars should be put into park and powered off to begin the process. Notice again which terminal on each battery is positive, and which is negative. Then, attach the jumper cables to the appropriate places. The positive (red) cable should be attached to the positive terminals on each battery. The negative (black) cable should have one end attached to the negative terminal of the dead battery, and one end grounded.

The safest order to attach the jumper cables is as follows:

  1. Attach one red jumper cable clamp to the positive terminal on the dead battery.
  2. Attach the other end of the same cable, the second red jumper cable clamp, to the positive terminal on the working (live) car battery.
  3. Attach one black jumper cable clamp to the negative terminal of the working (live) car’s battery.
  4. Attach the other end of that cable, the second black jumper cable clamp, to an unpainted piece of stationary metal on the car with the dead battery. Do not attach this clamp to the negative terminal on the dead car’s battery.

Though some may say it’s alright to attach the last negative jumper cable clamp to the negative terminal of the dead battery, this increases the risk of fire or explosion if the jump start doesn’t go as planned. Try to find somewhere away from the battery, to decrease the potential of sparks igniting any hydrogen gas that could be coming from the battery. Safer options include the car’s chassis, a bolt on the engine, the alternator bracket, or a designated grounding terminal away from the battery.

Next, start the car with the live battery. This will immediately start charging the dead battery. In some cases, the car with the dead battery will be able to be started immediately, but in others it will need some time to charge. Allow the engine to run for a couple of minutes in order to allow electrical current to flow from the working battery to the dead one. Then, attempt to start the car with the dead battery. Turn the key to start and hold for a few seconds, but no longer than that. You may want to try this a couple of times. If your jump start was successful, the engine should spring to life. Depending on the cause of your dead battery, you may want to have the car immediately looked at. In other circumstances, your car may be okay after the jump start. Driving the car for a while will help to recharge the battery.

The last step is to disconnect the jumper cables. This ought to be performed in the reverse order that they were connected. Don’t touch the cables to anything else until they’ve all been disconnected, or you risk sending an electrical current somewhere you many not want one!

Thus, it's best to do this in the following order:

  1. Disconnect the negative (black) jumper cable clamp from the chassis/terminal on the car that received the jump start
  2. Disconnect the negative (black) jumper cable clamp from the working battery’s negative terminal
  3. Disconnect the positive (red) jumper cable clamp from the working battery’s positive terminal
  4. Disconnect the positive (red) jumper cable clamp from the car that received the jump start

Congrats, you’ve jump started your vehicle! Be sure to thank the good samaritan, friend, family member, or neighbor who helped you out by letting you use their live battery!

If, however, your jump start doesn’t work, and you find yourself turning the key in the ignition over and over again without the engine turning on, you may have a larger problem at hand. In this case, it’s best to have a mechanic look at the car or to have it towed somewhere it can be serviced.

Here’s what to do if you’re jump starting your car with a portable jump starter:

Portable jump starters, battery packs and jump boxes are often small enough to be carried around in your car, stowed away in the glovebox or trunk just in case you need them. Be sure to read their instructions, however, as not all are suitable to be stored in the high temperatures that cars can reach in summertime heat. As with using another car to administer your jump start, the jump starter should be off when you begin the process. Your car and it’s auxiliary features should also be off.

Many portable jump start devices and chargers come with two clamps that are permanently connected to the tool. There should be one positive (red) clamp and one negative (black) clamp. Keep them separate, to help avoid the possibility of a spark. If the cables are not connected, you will connect them to the jump starter, while both jump starter and car are still off, ensuring the positive (red) cable is connected to the positive terminal and the negative (black) cable is connected to the negative terminal of the portable jump starter.

Connect the clamp on the red jumper cable to the positive terminal on your car battery, and the black one to either an unpainted piece of metal in the engine or directly to your car’s chassis (the frame of the vehicle). Don’t attach the negative (black) clamp to the negative terminal of the dead battery. It is important to connect the cables in that order, and it is safest to connect the negative (black) clamp as far from the battery as possible, in order to reduce the risk of sparking that could cause a fire or explosion.

Once the cables are properly connected, power on the jump starter. Then, attempt to start the vehicle. Turn the key in the ignition to start, and hold for a couple of seconds if necessary. If a couple of seconds doesn’t start the car, give the battery pack a few minutes to cool down and prepare itself before making another attempt. This increases the amount of energy that will be given to your battery in an attempt to start the vehicle.

If the jump start is successful, you should hear your engine turn over and begin to run on it’s own. Congratulations! You can now disconnect the jump starter cables. First remove the negative (black) cable from the car, then remove the positive (red) cable from the battery terminal. Depending on the cause of your dead battery, you may want to have the car immediately looked at. In other circumstances, your car may be okay after the jump start. Driving the car for a while will help to recharge the battery.

If, however, your jump start doesn’t work, and you find yourself turning the key in the ignition over and over again without the engine turning on, you may have a larger problem at hand. In this case, it’s best to have a mechanic look at the car or to have it towed somewhere it can be serviced.

Hopefully this guide was helpful in showing what to do (and what NOT to do) when attempting to jump start a car. If for any reason you do not feel confident that you can safely perform the jump start, it’s best to call professionals. Of course (shameless plug) Urgent.ly is always happy to lend a hand.

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Many individuals and local authorities have already jumped on the opportunity to remind users to drive safely. There are even signs popping up on highways to encourage safer driving.

Luckily, there are tools out there to help the tech-obsessed (or the poke-obsessed) improve their driving. One of our favorites is an app called TrueMotion Family! The app analyzes your driving in order to provide you with a score - and insights as to how you drive. It's perfect for parents who want to monitor their teen drivers. The app gives parents the power to see where their kids drive, and produces a 'report card' on their driving in addition to an assessment of whether they were driving distracted (using their cell phone). Plus, families have access to roadside assistance on-demand from right within the TrueMotion app.

I don’t remember Ash, Misty, or Brock driving cars in their quest to be the very best, like no one ever was. And there aren’t vehicles any in PokemonGO. At Urgent.ly, we love the game and just like you, we’re prepared to travel across the land searching far and wide to catch 'em all, but we encourage you to put safety first in your travels! Remember that the power of Pokemon is awesome in augmented reality but automobiles are a powerful tool meant for use in the real world and require optimum focus to operate safely. In a world we must defend, you can start by driving safely, and catch and train ‘em all when you’re not operating a vehicle.

To stay connected and receive the latest in great content from Urgent.ly, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and check our blog for all things driving and roadside assistance!

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