Ways to Start A Dead Battery
Possibility #1: Hoping for a Self Re-charge
A wonderful hope, yet somewhat unlikely.
Often times, there are culprits like headlights or interior lights of a car that are the ultimate cause of a dead battery. Occasionally, you can catch a break by turning off all electronic systems in your car -- any sort of lights, radio, use of windows, dashboard lights, etc. -- and allowing your car to sit for 15-30 minutes. With any luck, after this little bit of time, your car battery will sort of self-recharge, and when you turn the ignition with no other electronic systems on, it will be just enough power to start your engine. If this is the case, just let your car idle for a few minutes in order to recharge your battery more fully, and then count your blessings.
Possibility #2: The Classic Jumpstart
The most complicated option, yet the most reliable.
So you've very likely heard of jumpstarting a car: Getting power to a bad/exhausted battery by sharing some of the power from a good and working battery. Unfortunately, the actual procedure isn't quite as simple as that statement, can be a bit dangerous, and requires another working car from a family, friend, or stranger, and a pair of jumper cables. The full process of performing a classic jump start is a bit beyond the scope of this article since it's a longer process, but a jump start done correctly almost always remedies the problem, and there are other wonderful articles out there which explain clearly how to perform a classic jumpstart. Just make sure your car battery is the only thing to get a shock, and once your car has started, unhook the jumper cables in reverse order and allow your car to idle for a few minutes at least. There are also some great portable jumpstarters which you can purchase in order to allow you to perform a classic jumpstart yourself without the need of another car, but these obviously do you no good unless you have them on-hand at the time a jumpstart is needed.
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Possibility #3: The Rolling Jumpstart
For the Reckless Types.
This option is perhaps more dangerous, but can be very effective, and has the added benefit that it doesn't require another car or a pair of jumper cables. It only requires a running (rolling?) start from a hill, and a car with a manual/stick-shift transmission. Let me repeat: this requires a car with a manual/stick-shift transmission; an automatic automobile will likely not be affected by this maneuver, and it could even damage the transmission of an automatic!
This is how it works: Your battery's primary function is to start your car's engine, but if your wheels were to be spun, they would turn over your engine in a similar way as what the battery typically does, and with a little luck, they'll start your engine.
Here's what to do: Put your car in second gear, push in the clutch, and then release all breaks. Be sure though to keep a foot close to the main break though! Then as you get a good speed -- maybe 10 miles per hour -- release your clutch at a slow to moderate rate to get your engine to engage. If it worked, you'll know: Your engine will start just as if you'd turned the ignition!
What to Do if Nothing Works
Call in the Big Guns!
There are a number of roadside services which are great, but the favorite of yours truly is AAA ("triple A"). At the time of this writing, a basic AAA -- at least in Oregon -- runs at $68 per year, which includes 4 Roadside Assistance calls per year. I'm not generally a huge fan of insurance, but multiple times AAA has proved invaluable to me.
Perhaps you don't have AAA coverage, and your battery is already dead? No problem. Try calling 1-888-422-2503, sign up, and then call them back asking for Roadside Assistance. I've tried this before, and didn't receive any penalty for signing up the same day as an Assist, and the worst thing that could happen is that they charge you a bit more on your initial membership. I can tell you that whatever the case, you'd very likely pay more than $68 by asking a local mechanic to come out and emergency jump your car, and if you go AAA, you'll still have 3 more Assists throughout the year. They're definitely recommended by many if you have nowhere else to turn.
Once You're Rolling Again
Not Necessarily Out of the Woods
So you've got your car started and your battery is now apparently doing fine? Great! Still everything's maybe not as good as you'd hope. While it's true that your car does recharge your battery while the car is running, there is still a possibility of some permanent damage to your battery anytime that it is completely run down. At the very least, be aware that you're at a higher risk of your car failing to start in the future if ever it gets exhasuted, and even better, take it to a local mechanic or skilled friend to get an unbiased status update on the battery. Some shops like Pep Boys, AutoZone, and other mechanics/car parts stores offer free testing, but be aware that they are still in the business of selling batteries and other parts, so be sure to go to someone you trust, if you do go.
Your battery dying isn't by any means the end of the world, but it's still not a fun experience. With any luck it'll never happen to you again, and this valuable experience of yours will be a benefit to others you come across as well, when it's your turn to help or advise them! Happy rollin' my friend.