How to Jump-Start a Car

Don’t let a dead battery ruin your day.

byJonathon Klein| UPDATED Feb 18, 2022 7:00 PM
How to Jump-Start a Car
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Chick-chick-chick-chick. It's a sound that's dashed hopes and shattered dreams many times before. Your car's battery is dead, and you're going to be late for work again. If only you knew how to jump-start your car! While playing with scary batteries and the stuff lightning is made out of may seem like a surefire way to get chicken-fried, you can do it, as long as you follow some simple steps. 

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, I could probably teach a dog to do it, if the dog had opposable thumbs and wasn't colorblind (or we taught him the difference between a "+" sign and a "-").

If you'd like to learn how to 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.

Basics

Time Needed: A few minutes

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Electrical

Safety

Although jump-starting your car is pretty straightforward, it’s important to remember playing with your car's electrical system is dangerous no matter how common jump-starting is. Electricity causes shocks, of course, and batteries can emit harmful vapors. If you get it wrong and touch somewhere you shouldn't, you could end up in the ER — or worse. 

Never attempt to jump-start a damaged battery; they can explode. Taking some safety precautions will help minimize the risk. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure you stay safe. 

  • Put on good, non-conductive mechanic gloves
  • Turn the ignition off and put your smart key on a shelf away from the car
  • Clean any oil or gasoline spills near the battery 
  • Attach cable clamps to the battery terminals in a single motion to avoid sparks

As for the safety of your car, consult your owner's manual before jump-starting. If you have a newer car, the risk of frying 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.

Everything You’ll Need

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s a fresh list of what you need to get the job done. 

Tool List

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. Important: Make certain 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. 

You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes if using the street. We ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.

Here's How To Jump-Start Your Car

Let's do this.

Jumping With Cables and a Second Car

  1. Make sure the car with the live battery is not running.
  2. Connect the red clamp of your jumper cables to the positive terminal of the dead car's battery. It will have a red cover or a “+” symbol on it.
  3. Attach the opposite red clamp to the live car battery's positive terminal.
  4. 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.
  5. On the dead-battery car, connect the other black clamp to an unpainted, grounded-metal part or surface on the dead car, such as the vehicle’s frame. 
  6. Start the live-battery car.
  7. Let it run for a few minutes. This will start to recharge the dead battery.
  8. Start the dead-battery car. 
  9. If the engine doesn’t start, keep the other car running for a few more minutes and try again.
  10. If the engine starts, let the car run for a while before turning it off to charge the battery.
  11. 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

  1. Make sure your jump-starter is plugged in or fully charged.
  2. Most new jump-starters will come with integral cables. If not, connect the cables to the proper (positive and negative) posts on the jump starter. 
  3. Connect the red clamp to the positive post of the dead battery. It will have a “+” symbol (and possibly a red cover).
  4. Connect the black clamp to an unpainted, grounded metal surface somewhere on the vehicle’s frame. 
  5. Once everything is connected, turn on the jump-starter.
  6. After a minute or two, start the car. 
  7. If the engine doesn’t start, try again after a few more minutes of charging.
  8. If the engine starts, turn off the jump-starter and let the car run before turning it off to charge the battery.
  9. 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. Congratulations.

Pro Tips

Since you may not have access to the right tools or have a friend you can bum a wrench from, we compiled a list of our best tips to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.

  • If you have a spare 12-volt 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.

Video on How to Jump-Start a Car

For all those visual learners, here's a simple how-to video for you to wrap your head around the process of how to jump-start a car. And yes, it's from the early 2000s. We're sorry for the graphics. 

FAQs on Jump Starters

You've got questions. The Drive has answers. 

Q. Can I jump-start a hybrid car?

A. Yes, using the auxiliary battery. This is likely a smaller 12-volt 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. 

Q. Does a jump-starter have to be fully charged to work?

A. No, 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.

Q. What happens if you connect the black cable first?

A. Your body could complete the circuit and shock yourself or worse. Connect the red cable first. 

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