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Time Needed: 5-10 minutes, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $20

Cars always throw fits when it’s least expected. It’ll happen on the first cold morning of the year, when you’re late for work, or while you’re parked in some random place far from home. You turn the key and click click click. Dead battery.  What do you do next? Jump-start your car, of course, but you need to know exactly how to do it without risking your safety.

Lucky for you, I’ve owned a hooptie or two in my time and have had plenty of randomly dead batteries along the way. Jump-starting a car is intuitively easy, all you have to do is follow our guide and avoid certain crucial mistakes. Let’s jump in. 

The Safety Brief

We will be working with electricity, so common sense and double-checking everything is going to be your best friend here. As far as keeping yourself protected, you will need some gloves, just in case any sharp edges in the engine bay decide to be mean to your hands. If you plan to clean the battery terminals, you’ll also need safety glasses and nitrile gloves.

The Tools & Parts You Need

This how-to requires a very simple trip to any parts store. All you need are wire brushes and jumper cables, available for as little as $15-20 at most places. In fact, while you’re there, grab a set for each car in your fleet if you can. It doesn’t hurt to have them and can save you in a pinch. I recommend a set that doesn’t expose the metal contacts too much and has a cover over most of the jaws so accidental sparks don’t occur.

A person jump-starting a car.
Deposit Photos

The Task: How To Jump-Start a Car

Follow these steps, and you’ll have your car running soon.

1. Find another running car.

You will need another car that is working and running that can charge your battery and energize your electrical system for a short period. It can be your neighbor, a friend, a stranger in a parking lot, or a spare car that runs. Start it up and proceed to the next step.

2. Park the cars close to each other, nose to nose is preferable.

This is so the jumper cables can reach each car easily. If the cables are too stretched out, it poses a safety hazard, so make sure you park as close as possible. It could also be beneficial to identify where the batteries are located in each car so you can position them close together. Once the car is in position, turn the running car off.

3. Pop both hoods, locate battery jump points, and clean.

Locate the hood release on both cars and pull it. Unlatch the hood and open it. Some cars have their batteries in the trunk but should have a positive terminal under the hood for easy access. It should be marked red with a positive on it. The owner’s manual will tell you where the negative or ground point will be. If the battery is under the hood, you’ll be hooking directly to that instead. The positive terminal is red with a plus, and the negative is black with a minus.

If either of the batteries have dirty terminals, take the time to disconnect the battery and clean off the acid and dirt to make sure the connection is strong.

4. Hook up the jumper cables. 

Now that you’ve located the jump points or batteries, get your jumper cables and hook them up in this order: positive terminal on the dead car to positive on the running car, then negative terminal on the running car to negative on the dead car. If either of the cars only have a positive jump point because of a rear-mounted battery, read the owner’s manual for the recommended ground or negative point. Be careful to not touch the leads together at any point.

5. Start the running car then start the dead car.

If your cables are safely hooked up and solid, go ahead and start the running car, then hop into the dead car and try to start it. Sometimes, the dead car will not start immediately, so give it a few minutes until it fires up.

6. Unhook the jumper cables in reverse order and close both hoods

Once the dead car is running, unhook everything in reverse order and close the hoods. Make sure to let the dead car run for at least 10-20 minutes so the battery can charge or drive straight to an auto parts store that can inspect and replace your battery.

How Often Should I Change a Car Battery?

There isn’t a set time period. You should replace your battery when it’s not good anymore. Use a multimeter to test your battery to be sure. If the voltage is low, you can try charging it, but if the charge doesn’t hold, it’s time to replace it.

A hand attaching jumper cables to a car battery.
Deposit Photos

FAQs About Jump-Starting a Car

Based on search data, we’ve accumulated some of the most commonly asked questions about jump-starting a car.

Q. Does the order in which I hook the jumper cables up really matter?

A. Yes, it does! Doing the correct order prevents excessive sparks and safely channels electricity through the jumper cables, preventing injury.

Q. Can I permanently damage my car by jump-starting it?

A. You can. Make sure that you do not confuse the cables as this can pop major fuses or hurt electronics.

Q. What if my car doesn’t power on after the jumper cables are hooked up?

A. Re-check and verify that the jumper cables are securely clamped. A slight spark should occur if proper electrical contact is made. If you can’t get your car to start, the battery might be too far gone.

Watch This Video To Learn More About Jump-Starting a Car

Not everybody learns with words and a visual aid can be extremely helpful. Watch this video by ChrisFix that explains everything you need to know. He knows his stuff and we trust him for good info.

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