The Right Way to Jump-Start a Car if It Has a Dead Battery

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Let’s set the scene. You’ve just put on your jacket, grabbed your keys, and are ready to head out the door. You get to your car, get comfortable in the driver’s seat, and place your key into your car’s ignition. The good news is that you didn’t forget your keys. The bad news is that your car isn’t starting when you turn over the ignition. Fortunately, jump-starting a car if it has a dead battery isn’t all that difficult. Though, it may make you late to your destination.

A car battery being charged
A car battery being charged | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

How to tell if your car battery is dead

First things first, does your car actually have a dead battery? According to Auto Zone, there are a few ways to tell whether or not your car’s battery is dead. If your vehicle has had trouble starting over the last few days and now isn’t starting altogether? Then your car’s battery may be dead.

That’s not the only indication that your car’s battery is dead, however. According to Auto Zone, if you turn your ignition over, only to find that your car’s headlights, radio, and windshield wipers don’t even work… then your car’s battery could very well be dead. Fortunately, you can revitalize your car’s battery by jump-starting your car.

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Tools needed to jump-start a car

Unfortunately, jump-starting your car isn’t as easy as pressing a button. Though, wouldn’t that be nice? Truth be told, you’re going to need some tools to get your car moving again. Firestone recommends having a set of jumper cables and a rag or paper towel on hand to jump-start your car safely. You’re also going to want to find a car with a working battery.

Be mindful, however, that the other car’s battery matches the voltage of your vehicle’s battery. According to Ricky Hendan, senior tech training and research analyst at AAA, “Due to the complexity of the electrical system in vehicles, appropriate tools and procedures are crucial to prevent hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars in repairs.” So be sure to double-check the voltage of both car batteries and confirm that the jumper cables you’re using are in safe, working condition.

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Steps to jump-start a car with a dead battery

“When a vehicle battery dies, the most common solution is to jump-start the battery using jumper cables and another vehicle. However, if proper steps are not taken, there is no guarantee this method won’t cause damage to the vehicle,” David Bennett, AAA’s manager for repair systems, told Consumer Reports. Bennett isn’t wrong either. Fortunately, there are some common steps to jump-starting a car:

  • Park the car you’ll use to jump-start your car next to your car. They should be close, but not close enough that they touch. After that, turn off the ignition on both cars.
  • Now, Firestone says to attach one of the red cables to the positive terminal on the dead battery; the terminal should say “POS” or “+.”
  • You can then attach the other red cable to the positive terminal in the vehicle you’re using to jump-start your car. You can also attach one of the black cables to the negative terminal while you’re attaching the red cable to the other car’s battery. It may be labeled “NEG” or “-.”
  • You can then attach the final black clip to an unpainted metal surface under your car’s hood. Just make sure it’s far from the vehicle’s battery.
  • At this point, Firestone says that you can start the vehicle with the working battery and let it run for a few minutes so that your car’s battery can charge.
  • After a few minutes, you can try starting your vehicle. If it doesn’t start, your battery may need to be charged more. But if it does? Remove the cables in the reverse order that you put them on and take your car out for a spin for at least 15-30 minutes to make sure your battery can continue charging.
  • And if your car still hasn’t started? It may be time to give AAA or roadside assistance a call.

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How to avoid a dead battery in the future

You probably don’t want to jump-start your car on the regular. Who would? It’s definitely not the most convenient task. Fortunately, Consumer Reports does have some tips for preventing a dead car battery in the future. Not only should you be driving your car regularly, but Consumer Reports also suggests servicing and replacing your car’s battery regularly. Have your car’s battery load tested on an annual basis, and be mindful to replace it when necessary.

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