How to Jump Start a Car
Don't let a dead battery ruin your day.
- Cars 101
- Guides & Gear
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
Chick-chick-chick-chick. It's the sound of dashed hopes and shattered dreams. Your battery is dead, and you're going to be late for work—again. If only you knew how to jump-start your car like all those other people. Playing with scary batteries and the stuff lightning is made out of seems like a sure way to get chicken-fried, and yet, those other people do it all the time. You can do it too, as long as you follow some simple tips.
Safely jump-starting your car is easy, and takes only a few minutes of your time to learn and get right. It's so easy we could probably teach a dog to do it, if a dog had thumbs and wasn't color blind (or if we also taught him to memorize the difference between red and black).
NOTE: Always consult your owner's manual before jump-starting your car. If you have a newer car, the risk of frying the computers and complex electronics and causing costly damage is very real. Better yet, get yourself a smart jump-box that will protect your car from the power surges that can occur during jump-starting.
Either way, if you'd like to learn how jump-start a car, continue reading and we'll have you on the road, at work, and sipping your morning coffee with time to spare.
Time Needed: A few minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Electrical
Although jump-starting your car is pretty straightforward, it’s important to remember it can be dangerous. Electricity causes shocks, of course, and batteries can emit harmful vapors. You should never attempt to jump-start a damaged battery, which can explode. Taking some safety precautions will help you minimize the risk. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure you stay safe.
- Good, non-conductive mechanic gloves.
- Turn the ignition off, and put your smart key on a shelf in the garage out of the car.
- Attaching cable clamps to the battery terminals in a single motion will avoid sparks.
- Clean any oil or gasoline spills near the battery.
Everything You’ll Need
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done.
- Set of jumper cables.
- Dead-battery car.
- Live-battery car with the same-voltage battery, or a jump starter.
You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking, though check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.
Arranging Your Workspace
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
Here are our suggestions for making your life easier.
- Pop the hood of the dead car.
- If you're using a second car, position the cars nose-to-nose or close enough for the cables to reach each battery and pop the hood of the live car. MAKE SURE THE CARS ARE NOT TOUCHING.
- If you're using a jump-starter, place it atop the dead car's engine bay so the leads can reach the battery terminals easily.
Here's How To Jump-Start Your Car
Let's do this!
Jumping with Cables and a Second Car
- Make sure the car with the live battery is NOT running.
- Connect the red clamp of your jumper cable to the positive terminal of the dead car's battery. It will have a red cover or a “+” symbol on it.
- Attach the opposite red clamp to the live car battery's positive terminal.
- Connect the black clamp to the negative terminal of the live car's battery. It will have a black cover or a “-” symbol on it.
- On the dead-battery car, connect the other black clamp to an unpainted, grounded-metal part or surface on the dead car, like the vehicle’s frame.
- Start the live-battery car.
- Let it run for a few minutes as this will start to recharge the dead battery.
- Start the dead-battery car.
- If the engine doesn’t start, keep the other car running for a few more minutes and try again.
- Remove the clamps in reverse order; black clamp from the grounded surface, black clamp from the good battery’s negative post, red clamp from the dead battery, red clamp from the good battery.
Jumping with a Starter
- Make sure your jump-starter is plugged in or fully charged.
- Most new jump-starters will come with integral cables, but if not, connect the cables to the proper (positive and negative) posts on the jump starter.
- Connect the red clamp to the positive post of the dead battery. It will have a “+” symbol (and possibly a red cover).
- Connect the black clamp to an unpainted, grounded metal surface. Somewhere on the vehicle’s frame.
- Once everything is connected, turn on the jump-starter.
- After a minute or two, start the car.
- If the engine doesn’t start, try again after a few more minutes of charging.
- Turn off the jump starter.
- Remove the clamps in reverse order; black clamp from the grounded surface, red clamp from the dead battery.
It’s a good idea to recharge the jump starter in preparation for the next time you need to jump-start the battery.
You did it, congrats!
Tips From a Pro
Here are some pro tips for jump-starting your car.
- If the dead-battery car doesn’t start after a few attempts, try reconnecting the battery cables, as they may just be loose.
- If the dead-battery car doesn’t start after a few attempts, inspect your cables for splits and cuts.
Can I jump-start a hybrid?
Yes, using the auxiliary battery. This is likely a smaller 12V battery with the same posts as a normal car battery. Don’t try to jump-start the main battery. Given the smaller size, it’s unwise to use a hybrid to jump-start another car.
Must a jump-starter be fully charged to work?
It isn’t necessary, but having a fully charged starter will give you the best results. Otherwise, you may unexpectedly run out of juice while trying to jump-start the vehicle.
Since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.
- If you have a spare 12V battery from your portable drill, you can, carefully, tape two large screws to the battery's terminals and then attach jumper cables to the drill's battery and then the car.
- If you have a car equipped with a manual transmission, you can bump-start the car by having a few strapping friends push you while you pop the clutch and get the car to move!