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How to Jump a Car: Step-by-Step Guide

Even if your vehicle is perfectly healthy, there’s a good chance that you’ll be faced with a dead car battery at some point during your car ownership. It’s possible to get back on the road in less than 30 minutes if you know how to jump a car and have the right equipment.

The average car battery lasts for three to six years. While proper car maintenance may extend its life, your battery simply isn’t built to live as long as your car — especially when driving is part of your job. If you want to keep a dead battery from completely ruining your day, you must be prepared to face the inevitable.

This article will guide you through how to jump a car and offer tips for extending your battery’s lifespan.

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Preparing to Jump a Car

Before you can jump a car, you need to have the right equipment at hand.

The most important equipment you need for this emergency is a set of jumper cables. If you don’t already own one, shop for a product that’s 6 gauge or less (the lower the gauge, the stronger the cables) and at least 12 feet long. This 4-gauge, 20-feet product is a great option.

In addition to jumper cables, some car owners choose to keep protective rubber gloves and safety glasses in their trunk as well. These can protect you from electric shock or injury.

To jump your car, you’ll also need to have immediate access to a car with a good battery that matches your battery’s voltage system. Your car’s battery should denote its voltage — commonly, 12V or 6V — right on its label, though you can always consult your owner’s manual for confirmation. Once you know what voltage you’re looking for, call a nearby friend or family member for assistance or wave down someone nearby if you’re in a safe place to do so (for example, a public parking lot).

Safety Precautions

As you dive into our step-by-step process for jump-starting a car below, keep the following safety precautions in mind:

  • Consult your owner’s manual. In addition to checking your battery voltage, you should double check for any warnings against jump-starting your car altogether.
  • Consider your car battery’s condition. If a battery is visibly damaged or frozen, jumping your car can be dangerous. Call roadside assistance and take your vehicle in to a mechanic instead.
  • Pay attention to your clamps. Always be careful about where you’re placing your cable clamps and when you’re connecting them. It’s extremely important not to let your clamps touch each other throughout the process.

How to Jump Start a Car

Hood popped open on BMW

Once you have all of your materials picked out, a second vehicle with you, and a full understanding of our safety tips, you’re ready to move ahead and jump your car. Make sure to follow the steps below closely, as completing the steps in order is critical for avoiding a shorted battery:

  1. Position both vehicles so that they’re facing each other if possible. The next best option is positioning your vehicles side by side. Both cars should be set in park if they have automatic transmissions, or in neutral if they have manual transmissions, always with the parking brake set and ignitions turned off.
  2. Open both hoods and locate each car’s battery. Look closely and make sure you’re confident that you can tell which terminal is which. Typically, positive terminals are marked in red with a plus sign, while negative terminals are marked in black with a minus sign.
  3. If your terminals are at all dirty, wipe them with an old rag before you continue.
  4. Attach a red clamp to your dead car battery’s positive terminal. Simply open the clamp and close it around the correct terminal, making sure it has a solid grip.
  5. Attach the other red clamp to the positive terminal of the working car battery.
  6. Attach the black clamp (the one next to the red clamp you just attached in step 4) to the negative terminal of the working battery.
  7. Connect your other black clamp to a clean, unpainted metal part of your dead vehicle, away from your battery. Most drivers clip onto a nut or bolt on the engine block or to their hood props, if they’re not painted.
  8. Turn on the working vehicle and keep the car running for a few minutes.
  9. Test one of your car’s interior lights. If it works, your dead car may be ready to run. If not, let it charge for a bit longer before continuing to the next step.
  10. Start your car. If it’s still not working, try charging for a few more minutes before trying one or two more times.
  11. Disconnect your cable clamps in the reverse order that you attached them in. Start with the black clamp on your vehicle, then disconnect the black clamp on the borrowed vehicle. Then, disconnect the red clamp from the borrowed vehicle and end with the red clamp on your vehicle.
  12. Close your hood and take a 15-minute drive without stopping your car. This will allow your charge to build back up and ensure it doesn’t die on you again.

If you are unable to jump start your car after a few attempts, or if your car battery keeps dying after every stop, you’ll need to take your car into the mechanic. This is typically a sign that your battery is a goner and needs a replacement, which is natural and shouldn’t be a cause for concern for the rest of your vehicle.

4 Tips for Keeping Your Car Battery Alive

Jumper cables next to a car

While you will likely need to know how to jump a car at some point in your life, it’s possible to avoid more dead batteries than necessary. Here are some tips for keeping your car battery strong:

  1. Clean your terminals. Car battery terminals are susceptible to dirt, grime, and corrosion that can cause issues with turning on your car over time. You can learn how to clean car battery terminals on our guide.
  2. Never leave your lights on. Accidentally leaving lights on is a common cause of drained car batteries. Never keep your radio or any other accessories on either.
  3. Keep a close eye on your battery’s health. Whenever you bring your car into a mechanic during your vehicle maintenance routine, ask for a quick battery check so you know where it’s at in its lifespan and catch any sudden changes in efficiency.
  4. Use your car. Not using your car for weeks at a time can actually cause your car’s battery to drain. This is something to be aware of in case you’re taking a break from work for a few weeks or longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Red car parked on road at dusk

Now that you know how to jump a car successfully, here are a few frequently asked questions that may further help guide you through the process:

1. Can I jump a car without a second vehicle?

If you want to be prepared for the scenarios where there are absolutely no other cars on the road or people you can call, you can invest in a jump-starter pack. These products are essentially battery packs attached to jumper cables, so it eliminates the need for a second vehicle.

2. Can I just call roadside assistance to help me jump a car?

If it’s included in your auto insurance, roadside assistance can definitely help you get your vehicle up and running. However, understanding how to jump a car can save you a considerable amount of time. Average wait times for roadside assistance range from 20 minutes to over 45 minutes, and that’s before the actually jump starting process begins.

3. Can I continue driving for my rideshare or delivery app once my vehicle is up and running again?

While it’s not technically against the rules, the best and safest option is to head straight to your local auto parts store to get your battery tested, in case a professional charge or battery replacement is needed. This is because your car battery may not hold its charge if it was seriously depleted, so it is possible that your car may once again not turn on after your next stop. This is certainly a situation you don’t want to be in if you’ve picked up a rider or a meal already.

AutoZone is one store that tests and charges batteries for free. If the store is closed, you should head home after completing the jump-starting process at the very least to ensure your vehicle will hold its charge after a stop, without the possibility of being stranded without assistance.

Keep Your Car Running

When you understand how to jump a car and keep emergency supplies in your car, you’ll avoid being stuck on the road for a hour or more. The jump-starting process requires close attention, but is actually quite simple to complete, especially with the help of a second driver. Once your car is running again, you can use our dead battery prevention tips above to keep earning without interruption for longer.

Knowing how to resolve to emergencies on the road can help you save enormous amounts of time. To learn how to resolve another common issue drivers face, learn how to change a flat tire with our step-by-step guide.

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  1. Brian Lemings

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