Instant Expert: How To Jumpstart A Car

Mental FlossTwo people jump starting a carThere are certain things in life that are best left to the professionals (dyeing your hair blonde, performing open heart surgery—you get the idea). But basic car maintenance doesn’t have to be one of them. Each month, mental_floss and GEICO will team up to walk you through an essential auto-related task, helping you become that much more accomplished (and not to mention, more financially responsible) in the process. July’s lesson? How to jumpstart your car.

The task: Jumpstarting a dead battery

How much a pro would charge: $50 to $125 (if there’s a tow involved, the price will be steeper)

You’ll need:

  • Jumper cables
  • Another car
  • Your owner’s manual

STEP 1: INSPECT THE BATTERY

Let’s say you’re late for work. Eager to get going, you hop into your car, turn the key in the ignition and … nothing happens. Most likely, you have a dead battery. Have no fear: With a quick jumpstart, your car may be up and running again in no time. But before you proceed, take a good, hard look at that battery. If the unit is cracked or leaking, do not attempt to jumpstart it. Trying to do so might set off an explosion; damaged batteries should be replaced as quickly as possible—ideally by a professional.

STEP 2: DIG UP YOUR OWNER’S MANUAL

Not all cars are alike, so you’ll want to consult your manual before going any further. Jumpstarting your particular model might involve some special precautions or extra steps, so be sure to read the instructions in your owner’s manual carefully.

STEP 3: ASK FOR HELP

To revive your dead battery, you’ll need a second (non-dead) car. (You can also purchase portable rechargeable jumpstarters to keep in your trunk; be sure to read and follow the included instructions carefully.) Park the two vehicles close enough so the batteries are near each other and far from any traffic.

STEP 4: KILL THE ENGINES

Make sure both cars are turned off and the parking brakes have been engaged. Keep the keys on standby.

STEP 5: IDENTIFY THE BATTERY TERMINALS

Pop the car hoods. On the top of every battery, you’ll find two large protrusions. These are known as the positive and negative terminals. As is logical, the positive terminal will be marked with a “+” sign and/or the letters “POS.” Also, it usually has a red plastic cover. Conversely, the negative terminal features a “-” sign and/or the abbreviation “NEG.” Be advised that sometimes, these symbols might not be very legible. If you can’t read them, don’t freak out. Just compare the physical dimensions of both terminals: The positive one is always slightly bigger.

STEP 6: CONNECT THE POSITIVE TERMINALS WITH JUMPER CABLES

This is where your jumper cables come in. Place a positive clamp (the red one) onto the good battery’s positive terminal. Then do the same with to dead battery. Make sure the jumper leads don’t touch each other. If they do, it’ll create a spark and can sometimes fry an electrical system.

STEP 7: APPLY THE NEGATIVE JUMPER CABLE CLAMPS

This step is a bit more complicated. Close one of the negative clamps around the negative terminal of the car with a working battery. Grab the other black clamp, but do not attach it to the dead battery’s negative terminal.  Instead, find an unpainted metal surface beneath the hood of the immobilized car, such as a bolt. Most mechanics would recommend a section of the engine block, or your owner’s manual may have suggestions— just be sure not to clamp it on the battery, the fuel system, or any electrical or moving parts.

STEP 8: EVACUATE THE AREA

After all four clamps are hooked up, see to it that nobody is standing within a yard of either engine.

STEP 9: TURN ON THE WORKING CAR

Start the vehicle that’s been working all along. Every so often, rev it up with a light tap to the gas pedal.

STEP 10: WAIT FIVE MINUTES AND THEN TRY TO START YOUR VEHICLE

If your car still won’t turn on after one or two turns of the key, remove the key from the ignition and let it charge a few more minutes. (Keep the working car going, though.) Then try again. Should nothing happen after two or three attempts, throw in the towel and call a professional.

STEP 11: UNHOOK THE CABLES IN REVERSE ORDER

If your jumpstart was a success, do not turn off either engine. Leave everything as it is for about 30 seconds to make sure your car doesn’t stall again. If it doesn’t, you’re good to disconnect the jumper cables.  Do so in the following order:

  1. Negative (black) clamp from your car
  2. Negative clamp from the second car
  3. Positive (red) clamp from your car
  4. Positive clamp from second

STEP 12: TAKE YOUR CAR OUT FOR A SPIN

Drive your vehicle around for at least 30 uninterrupted minutes before turning it off. By then, the battery should be good to go.

A dead battery is just one of the things GEICO’s Emergency Roadside Service can help you with if you get stranded. Add it to your auto insurance policy today for just pennies a day per vehicle.

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  1. Gunny Kenneth Primrose says

    Why not instruct folks on the shade tree method to figure out if the battery or the altinator is the problem. Once the car is running remove the jumper cables and then with the engine running, remove the “NEG” cable from the battery terminal. If the car is still running the battery is the problem and if it dies, the altinator is the problem.