Have you ever watched somebody pull out a set of jumper cables and thought, “I really should learn how to jump-start a car someday.”
It isn’t a difficult process. But to avoid damaging your car or hurting yourself, you should perform each step carefully, in the correct order, and with the right equipment.
By learning how to properly jump-start a car battery by yourself, you can save time, money, and hassle. In this guide, we’ll cover how to jump-start a car, how long it can take, and what you’ll need to get the job done.
How To Jump-start a Vehicle
Whether your battery is temporarily drained of power or truly dead, there are a few ways to get your car back on the road. The most important step is learning how before you’re stuck on the side of the road.
The most common method is to use a set of jumper cables and another car’s battery to give yours the charge it needs to get started. Or if you keep a portable jump-starter in your car, you may be able to give your battery a needed boost without anyone else’s help. And if you drive a car with a manual transmission, it might be possible to “pop the clutch” or “push-start” the car.
By the way, it helps if you have a good battery without a lot of corrosion on the posts. (A 12-volt battery typically lasts five to seven years. Batteries can deteriorate faster if you don’t drive much.) You may want to make checking the battery part of your routine to help save money on car maintenance.
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How To Jump-start a Vehicle with Jumper Cables
Before you try to jump-start any vehicle for the first time, it’s a good idea to read the owner’s manual, just in case there is anything you should know about that specific model. But the steps are basically the same no matter what you’re driving.
Get Out Your Jumper Cables
Jumper cables come in sets of two: The positive cable has red clamp at each end, and the negative cable has black clamps. You’ll need both cables to jump-start a car.
Jumper cables aren’t standard equipment with most vehicles, so you’ll have to purchase a set to keep in your trunk. You can purchase a new set for about $20-$40. You may want to keep a pair of gloves and safety glasses with the cables.
Get Another Car To Cozy Up Next to Yours
If you’re at home and you have a second car, you might even be able to do this by yourself. (Otherwise you’ll have to call a friend or flag down a Good Samaritan.) The two cars should be parked close enough that you can connect the cables without pulling them too tight, but leave enough room so you can move comfortably between the cars. Both cars should have their engine turned off and the emergency brake on.
Open the Hood on Each Car
Open the hood and locate the battery in each car. Then look for the negative and positive terminals on each battery. The positive terminal should have a plus sign (+) and/or a red cover. The negative terminal should have a minus sign (-) and/or a black cover.
Connect the Jumper Cables
Start with the dead-battery car. Attach one red clamp from the positive cable to the dead battery’s positive terminal. The clamp should “bite” through any corrosion and onto the metal terminal. If you have the black clamp of the other cable near the dead-battery car, be sure it isn’t touching any metal surfaces before you move over to attach both clamps to the booster (working) car.
Move over to the booster car. Attach the other red clamp from the positive cable to the positive terminal on the booster car’s battery. Then attach a black clamp from the negative cable to the booster battery’s negative terminal.
Go back to the dead-battery car. Attach the other black clamp from the negative cable to an unpainted metal surface on the engine. (You can look for an unpainted bolt or bracket that is several inches away from the battery.)
Check the cables to be sure they aren’t dangling or exposed to any moving parts in either vehicle.
Turn Off All Accessories
Before starting the booster car, check that all electronics are turned off in the dead-battery car. This includes hazard lights, the air conditioner or heater, radio, cell phone charger, etc.
Start the Booster Car
Put the booster car in park, start the engine, and let it idle for a few minutes. Don’t race the engine, but gently rev it to a bit above idle for 30 seconds or so to help the charge get to the dead battery. An older battery may take more time to charge.
Start the Dead-Battery Car
Try starting the car with the dead battery, and if it works, let it idle for several minutes. (Ask the driver of the other car to please wait while you do this.)
If the disabled car doesn’t start, disconnect the black clamp from the dead battery, check to make sure all your other connections are good, then replace the black clamp to the dead battery. Start the booster car again and let it idle for five minutes. Then try again to start the non-working car. If you repeat this process a couple of times and the car still won’t start, you may have to call for a tow truck.
Disconnect the Jumper Cables
Once the dead-battery car is running, you can disconnect the four clamps, working in reverse order. Be careful to remove the black clamp from the dead-battery car first, and keep it away from any metal and the other cable clamps while you work your way through the rest of the clamps. Then remove the black clamp from the working car, the red clamp from the good battery, and the red clamp from the dead battery.
Replace the plastic post protectors if either car has them. Keep fingers, clothing, and equipment away from any moving parts.
Keep the Dead-Battery Car’s Engine Running
Let the engine in the car you jump-started run for about 20 minutes so the alternator can recharge the battery. Drive somewhere safe (home or to a friend’s house, for example) before you shut off the car and try to start it up again.
If the car won’t start up again, you may have to get another jump-start or buy a new battery. You may even want to take the car straight to a mechanic to have the battery tested and, if necessary, replaced.
How To Jump-start a Car with a Portable Jump-starter Device
If you like the idea of being completely self-sufficient, you may want to purchase a portable jump-starter to keep in your car. The portable unit can take the place of a second vehicle when you need to charge your battery. Here’s how it works:
Confirm That the Unit’s Battery Is Charged
Before you stash the battery pack in your car, check that it has enough juice. Units typically plug into a common household outlet, and take an hour or longer to charge. Read the directions before you use the charger for the first time.
Attach the Cables
The unit will have two cables coming out of it: one with a red clamp and one with a black clamp. The unit and your car should be turned off. Then, with your car in park, attach the cable with the red clamp to the positive post on your car battery, and the cable with the black clamp to a bare metal area on the car. (Check your device’s directions for specifics.) Ensure that the unit won’t fall over or into the engine when you start the car.
Turn on the Power
When you’re ready, hit the power switch on the jump-starter device.
Start Your Car
Try to start your engine. If the problem is a dead battery, the engine should turn over.
Disconnect the Clamps
Just as you would when using jumper cables, let the car run above idle for a few minutes to help the battery charge. Then, with the car still running, turn off the power to the device and carefully disconnect the black and red clamps. Drive the car to a safe place or take it to a mechanic to have the battery tested.
To charge a motorcycle, the steps are pretty much the same if you’re using the portable jump-starter. It may be better for your bike than using a car battery, and easier than using another motorcycle. You also can try push-starting your motorcycle.
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How To Push Start a Manual Transmission
This method is sometimes called “bump starting,” “clutch starting,” or “popping the clutch.” The idea is to get the car moving fast enough (by going downhill, getting some helpers to push it, or pushing it bumper-to-bumper with another car) that you can put it in gear, quickly let out the clutch, and get the engine to turn over. (If you enjoy learning new terms, consider adding some car insurance terms to your repertoire.)
When you get a push, warn your helpers that the car may jerk a bit when you pop the clutch. If someone offers to use their car to push you, be sure you can do so without denting or scratching either car.
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Get into Gear
Depress the clutch pedal and put the car into second gear.
Turn the Key Part Way
Turn the key one step to turn on the car, but not far enough to start the engine.
Get the Car Moving
If you’re at the top of the hill, you may be able to do this on your own, just by taking your foot off the brake and letting it roll. But you’ll likely need other people or another car to push your car. Keep the clutch pedal down.
Pop the Clutch
When the car is moving about 5 mph, quickly let your foot off the clutch pedal. The car may jerk a bit and the engine should turn over and start. If it doesn’t, you can try depressing and popping the clutch again while the car is still rolling.
Words of Caution Before Jump-starting Your Car
Once you learn how to do it, jump-starting your car can be fairly simple. But because there may be sparks, and batteries can explode, it’s always important to go through each step cautiously.
• Do keep your face as far from the battery as you can while you’re attaching the cables.
• Don’t let the clamps dangle near any metal while you’re attaching them. Don’t cross the cables when you’re attaching them to the batteries. Do keep the cables clear of the engine when you’re ready to start the cars.
• Do avoid connecting all four clamps to battery posts. It’s safer to attach the black clamp to bare metal on the disabled car.
How Long Will It Take To Jump-start Your Car
Once you know the basics of jump-starting a battery, you can expect it to take 15 to 20 minutes. Of course, waiting until you find another motorist to help you could add to the overall time.
If you’re a first-timer, it may take longer than 20 minutes. But you can cut down that time just by knowing where your jumper cables are, and where your car battery and battery terminals are located. (Speaking of first-timers, new drivers may benefit from these car insurance tips for first-time drivers.)
Calling for Help
If you don’t feel comfortable jump-starting a car yourself, or don’t feel safe where you are, you can always call a pro for help when your battery dies. The jump-start or tow might even be free if you have a roadside assistance plan through your car insurance policy. Most plans include jump-starts as a basic service, but you should verify in advance what your coverage offers.
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Jump-starting a car isn’t that complicated, and it doesn’t take long — if you have the right equipment and know the proper steps. Still, it’s important to use caution as you go through the process to avoid hurting yourself or damaging your vehicle. The hardest part might be finding someone who will let you use their car for the jump (or give you a push, if you’re trying that method). And you’ll have to be in a spot where you can park two cars close enough together that you can use your jumper cables.
If you don’t want to — or can’t — jump-start your car, you may decide it’s easier and safer to call roadside assistance. You can purchase roadside assistance through an auto club, and many car insurance companies offer inexpensive plan options as part of their coverage. If you haven’t had a personal insurance planning session lately, this might be a good time to review your options.
If you’re looking for the best car insurance for your needs, SoFi can help you compare your current auto insurance policy to what other top insurers are offering. And SoFi can walk you through the whole research process.
How long does it take to jump-start a car?
The process — attaching the cables, starting the cars and running both for a few minutes, then detaching the cables — should take just a few minutes. It’s a good idea, though, to keep the booster car around for a few minutes after that, just to be sure the boosted car keeps running and can get back on the road.
How long should you let a car run after you jump-start it?
You should let a car idle for several minutes after you jump-start it, to be sure you have a sufficient charge. After that, it’s important to let it keep running or drive it for at least 20 minutes so the battery can fully charge.
Can you jump-start a car alone?
It’s possible to jump-start a car alone if you’re home and have a second car handy to use as a booster car, or if you have a portable jump-starting device with you.
Photo credit: iStock/evrim ertik
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