We have all been there. You are running late for a big meeting at work; you are heading out the door to pick up the kids from school; you have been up all night studying for today’s history final…and your car will not start. When you turn the key, the motor turns over slowly a few times and stops. You try it again and all you hear is click, click, click. Damn!

Now, what do you do?

If you are lucky, you have some jumper cables in the car. If you are luckier, you have jumper cables and another car available with a good battery. If you are really lucky, you have jumper cables, another car available with a good battery, and you will know what to do. I can’t help you with the first two requirements, but I can help you with the third.

First of all, is it the battery?

If the battery is completely dead, most of your electrical accessories will not work. This might be the case if you left the lights on or the door ajar. However, in most cases, there will be enough voltage to power your radio and your lights. This does not mean the battery has enough voltage to start your car. A good test is to turn on the headlights and have someone look at them while you try to start the car. If the lights go dim or off while you try to crank the motor, your battery is most likely the culprit.

Safety Precautions

Jump starting a battery is not difficult, but it can be dangerous if you do not follow some basic safety precautions. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the following list of battery safety items.

  • Batteries contain explosive gases that could be susceptible to sparks, flames or smoking.
  • Don't try to jumpstart a battery that is cracked, leaking or damaged in any way.
  • Batteries contain sulfuric acid. Avoid any contact with your skin. If any battery acid gets on your skin or in your eyes, flush with water immediately.
  • Eye protection such as safety glasses is recommended.
  • Do not lean directly over the battery when making a connection or disconnection.
  • Do not mix up the cables when making connections to the batteries.
  • When moving the car into position, be sure the hood is down so as not to obstruct your view.
  • Turn both ignition switches to the off position before making any connections.

What You Will Need

You are almost ready. But first, let’s make sure you have what you need. Before you begin, you need to have three things:

  1. A set of jumper cables.
  2. Another vehicle with a good battery of the same voltage as yours. Most vehicle batteries are 12 volts. Some older vehicles utilize a 6 volt system. If your vehicle has a 12 volt battery, be sure your jumper battery is also 12 volts.
  3. You need to be able to identify the positive and negative terminals of the battery. The Positive terminal is usually red and is marked with (+) or “POS”. The Negative terminal is usually black and is marked with (-) or “NEG”.

Connecting the Jumper Cables

Ok. It is time to connect the jumper cables.

  • Locate where the batteries are located in each vehicle.
  • Pull the jumper vehicle next to the vehicle with the dead battery in such a way that the batteries are close enough to each other that the jumper cables will reach when attached.
  • Turn off the ignition switches in both cars.
  • Connect the red jumper cable to the positive terminal of the dead battery.
  • Connect the other end of the red jumper cable to the positive terminal of the good battery.
  • Connect the black jumper cable to the negative terminal of the good battery.
  • Connect the other end of the black jumper cable to a good ground on the vehicle with the dead battery. An ideal surface is an unpainted bolt or bracket on the engine block.
  • Route the cables so they are free of the fan blades and any belts.

Starting the Vehicle

Now that everything is properly connected, let’s see if you can start your car using the following procedure:

  • Be sure everyone is standing away from both vehicles.
  • Start the vehicle with the good battery.
  • Start the vehicle with the dead battery. If the vehicle does not start, wait a few minutes with the jumper vehicle running and reattempt to start the vehicle with the dead battery. If it does not turn over, or turns over slowly, check for corrosion at the battery terminals. If they are corroded, try adjusting the clamp to get a better grip. If it still will not start, you may need to clean the cables. If that does not do it, the battery will most likely need to be replaced.

Disconnecting the Jumper Cables

Once the vehicle starts and the engine is idling properly, carefully remove the jumper cables in the reverse order that they were connected.

  • Disconnect the black jumper cable from the jumped vehicle.
  • Disconnect the black jumper cable from the jumper vehicle.
  • Disconnect he red jumper cable from the jumper vehicle.
  • Disconnect the red jumper cable from the jumped vehicle.

Now that your car is running, you should drive it to a secure place before shutting off the engine. If you shut it off too soon (before the alternator has had enough time to charge the battery) or the battery is bad, it most likely will not be able to restart your car. If the battery was discharged because your lights or other accessories were left on too long, driving a fair distance may be enough to recharge the battery. If you have access to a battery charger, recharge the battery.

Homework Assignment

So now that you know what to do, will you be ready to handle that dead battery when it leaves you stranded? If you do not have a set of good jumper cables, I suggest you get some in the very near future, print out this article and put both in your car. Trust me. There will come a time when you need them, but…you will be ready.