How to jump start a car
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Even if your vehicle is in perfect working order, knowing how to jump-start a car is a valuable skill to have in your back pocket. It's a situation nobody wants to be in, but sometimes life has other plans. No matter if it's a new or old vehicle, the battery can die from a variety of causes, and often without you suspecting it. Whether it's waking up on a winter's morning to a car that won't start or finding the same issue after a quick shopping trip, you'll now need to jump-start a car. This is your ultimate guide on why it's needed and how to do it.

Why Won't My Car Start?

There are many answers to this question, and the most common one is a dead battery. Put your key in the ignition, turn it to the "on" position. If the engine starter or the electrical systems don't turn on, the issue is very likely your battery. A battery is just a battery, right? Yes, but it doesn't work alone. In a nutshell, whether on used or new cars for sale, starting a vehicle's engine requires three major parts:

  • Battery
  • Starter motor
  • Alternator

The battery stores an electrical charge. That charge powers everything from the headlights to the air conditioning when the vehicle is running. To get it running requires the starter motor. In essence, a starter motor cranks over the engine, getting everything inside moving so that the internal combustion process can begin - that's also the end goal of knowing how to jump-start a car. Once started, the battery's power is used to ignite the fuel-air mixture in the engine via spark plugs.

Think about a wind turbine. An external force spins a generator to produce electricity and then stores it for later use. In your car, the battery is that storage, and the alternator is that generator. An accessory belt powers an alternator. That belt attaches to and is spun by the drive belt pulley on your engine. While the engine runs, the alternator generates electricity.

Let's recap real quick. The battery provides the power to start your engine, while an alternator generates power for the battery while the engine is running. Why does knowing this matter? It's an interconnected system. When the process of how to jump-start a car fails, knowing what else may be wrong can help. Now let's look at why a battery may die in the first place.

Why Is My Battery Dead?

Car batteries aren't magic; they use a mixture of chemicals to store electricity. Those chemicals can be affected by external conditions. Like how a smartphone loses its charge faster in cold temperatures, so does your vehicle's battery. Another reason is that the battery's lifespan is coming to an end. Similar to smartphones as well, the battery can lose its ability to hold a charge over time. No matter if it's a new vehicle or one of our used cars under $15,000, replacing the battery every five years is recommended to avoid this.

The other answer is human error. It's understandable. After a long day's work, you just want to hit the couch and relax. An interior light turned on can be easy to miss as you head inside, and if left on overnight, the battery will die. Aside from that, previously mentioned alternator issues can cause the problem. Combine all these factors with a battery that isn't being charged properly, and knowing how to jump-start a car will frequently be needed. Finally, the battery cables may be loose, or the terminals they connect to may be corroded.

Now, let's move on to what you came here for: how to jump-start a car.

Safety First

While you can safely jump-start a modern car or older one without issue most times, things can go wrong. Safety is essential but straightforward. Wear safety goggles and a pair of non-conductive gloves, and never touch the positive and negative cable leads together. A battery can potentially explode or catch fire; don't let it stop you with fear, but don't take safety for granted. Now that you're protected, here's how to jump-start a car:

Jump-start a car with cables

Keeping a set of jumper cables in your vehicle is always a good idea. It's the easiest method of how to jump-start an automatic car. So, with safety equipment on and another vehicle with a charged battery ready to act as a helper, here's the process:

  • Get jumper cables ready.
  • Shift both vehicles into park or neutral gear, turn ignition to "off," and engage parking brakes.
  • Attach a red jumper cable clip onto your battery's positive terminal (marked with "POS" or "+", and bigger than negative terminal).
  • Attach other red clip to the helper vehicle's positive battery terminal.
  • Attach a black clip to the helper vehicle's negative battery terminal.
  • Attach other black clip to an unpainted metal surface on your vehicle, away from the battery (e.g., metal hood struts).
  • Start helper vehicle's engine and let it run for around five minutes.
  • Try starting your vehicle.

If this works, do not turn off your vehicle. Drive it for 15 minutes afterward to ensure that the battery receives a proper charge. That's how to jump-start a car with leads and jumper cables, but what if you don't have those cables?

Jump-start a car without jumper cables

The process to jump-start a car by yourself requires a tool known as a jump starter box. Essentially acting as that helper vehicle's battery, you'll need one to jump-start a vehicle with an automatic transmission if you don't have jumper cables. It's relatively affordable and a good idea to keep in your vehicle for emergency use. So, with safety gear on, here's how to use a car battery jump starter box:

  • Ensure jump starter box is charged - top up the charge if not.
  • Turn your vehicle's ignition to "off."
  • Attach red clip to positive terminal of your vehicle's battery.
  • Attach black clip to an unpainted metal surface in your vehicle, away from the battery (e.g., metal hood struts).
  • Turn jump starter box on as directed by included instructions.
  • Let jump starter box run for several minutes.
  • Try to start your vehicle.

As with the last method, drive the vehicle for at least 15 minutes if the process works. Something to note, many kinds of jump-start car-battery-charger systems exist but can be dangerous. Look for a jump starter box with built-in voltage spike protection to avoid issues.

How to kick-start a manual car

If your vehicle has a manual transmission, you can bypass both of these methods on how to jump-start a car for a time-tested procedure known as a kick, bump, or push start. Here's how it's done:

  • Have a couple of friends stand behind the vehicle, ready to push it forward.
  • Turn ignition to "on."
  • Engage parking brake, push in clutch, and shift into second gear (first gear is not recommended).
  • Release parking brake; press brake pedal.
  • Release brake pedal; instruct friends to begin pushing the vehicle.
  • Get up to 5 mph, then release clutch suddenly.

As with the other methods on how to jump-start a car, if this works, drive for around 15 minutes afterward.

Help Is a Call Away

If you're without a jump starter box or jumper cables in a car with an automatic transmission, calling for roadside assistance is the solution. Complimentary with our certified pre-owned inventory, roadside assistance is just a call away. Once you call, they can provide you with jumper cables and help you carry out the process. If none of these methods work, unfortunately, the issue is likely not limited to the battery. In such cases, a tow to and diagnostic test at a service center is the final option.

Likewise, if one of these methods works but the battery frequently dies, then a trip to a service center is required. It may be a dying alternator or one of several other issues, but only a diagnostic test can tell for sure. From Mercedes-Benz to Honda, our dealership family has several state-of-the-art service centers to assist with this situation. Contact us today if these methods on how to jump-start a car have all been unsuccessful.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it bad to jump-start a car?

If the battery is not damaged and the correct procedures on how to jump-start a car are followed, a jump start is not bad for the vehicle. However, a damaged battery presents a fire risk as you attach jumper cables. Touching the negative and positive leads together when connected to a battery can also cause a fire, so incorrectly following jump-start procedures has the potential to be bad.

How can I jump-start a car without another car?

On cars with an automatic transmission, a jump starter box is your main solution for a jump start with only one vehicle, as it performs the role of another vehicle's battery. Connect the leads as you would with normal jumper cables and follow the procedure as if the box were a second vehicle. A push start performed by a few friends can get the engine running without battery power on a vehicle with a manual transmission.

How long does it take to jump-start a car?

The process of how to jump-start a car is straightforward but will require periods of waiting. The process of connecting jumper cables or a jump starter box will only take a couple of minutes. But, once attached and with the second vehicle/jump starter box turned on, you'll need to wait for around five minutes. After the process is complete and your vehicle is running, you'll need to drive for around 15 minutes to ensure the battery receives a proper charge. Overall, the process will take you around half an hour at most.

How can I jump-start a dead car battery?

There are three methods on how to jump-start a car. The first is by connecting another vehicle's charged battery to your dead battery with jumper cables. You run the second vehicle's engine for several minutes, then attempt to turn on your own. Without a second vehicle, a jump starter box will fill the role of a charged battery. A push or bump start can get the engine running without battery power for a vehicle with a manual transmission.

Can a car battery be too dead to jump-start?

Yes, but only in certain cases. Usually, a battery too dead to accept a jump start is too old to hold a proper charge. If your battery is new and a jump start doesn't work, deeper electrical issues are likely the cause.

How to Jump-Star a Car - Holmes Auto Group - Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)