Jump starting a car… is like having chickenpox. It’s something that all of us will eventually have to go through at one point of our lives.
Here’s how it all usually unfolds. One Monday morning, you get inside your favourite car to go to work, insert your car keys and then turn. “… … … … …” Silence. Absolute silence. You tried cranking the engine again and again but the engine just won’t start. What happened?
Well, most car engines work by igniting the fuel-air mixture with electrical sparks. When the car battery is flat, you don’t get the electrical spark needed to combust the fuel. No combustion, no power.
This is a typical scenario where knowing how to jump start can help tremendously. Read on, and the future you will thank you one day.
What is jump starting a car?
A jump start is the quickest, and most accessible technique to bring your car’s flat battery back to life. You do that by using another car battery to temporarily charges your flat battery, at least just enough to start your car engine again. As soon as your car starts, the car alternator will take over to recharge your flat battery so you won’t run out of electricity midway while driving.
How to jump start a car?
To jump start your car, all you need is just a pair of (i) jumper cables, (ii) another functioning car / battery, and preferably (iii) a pair of gloves. Before we jump start, it’s important to run a quick check on your dead car to see what caused the battery to go flat.
We recommend checking these few things before deciding to jump start:-
- Are the connections on the battery terminal loose? Might be a loose cable or a dirty terminal. Tightening the connections and cleaning up the battery corrosion might just revive your car. Don’t even need to jump start!
- Are your headlights or signal lights switched on? You may have left the headlights or signal lights on, which drained the battery over time. If this is the case, you can proceed to jump start.
- Check for the date of your battery. Battery’s lifespan differs from brand to brand but as a general rule of thumb, they lasts for about one to two years. If yours is older than that, you can jump start your car and get it changed immediately.
If you’ve decided that jump starting your car is the right course of action, without further ado, here’s how you can jump start your car.
Disclaimer: As with all automotive guide you find online, always use it with caution and practice a good safety standard. When in doubt, consult a professional mechanic first!
- Park the functioning car close to the dead car. How close they need to be depends on the length of the jumper cables. You just need to make sure that you can connect the jumper cables from battery to battery and you’re good to go.
- Then, switch both the cars off. Walk around the car to make sure that they are not touching each other. This helps to make sure no electrical current can run between them, other than through the jumper cables.
- Open both the car’s hoods to locate the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals of the battery. Usually, the positive terminal is painted red in color while the negative side is black. If you want to be absolutely sure, look for the plus or minus sign on the battery itself.
- Remove any dirt or gunk from the terminals so you can clamp all over it. This allows the cables to make a stronger connection to jump-start your car.
- Connect the red clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery.
- Connect the other red clamp to the positive terminal of the functioning battery.
- Connect the black clamp to the negative side of the functioning battery.
- Connect the final black clamp to a piece of metal on the dead car. You can clamp on any metal but NOT the negative terminal of the dead car.
Interestingly, a lot of people would have instinctively thought that the other black clamp should go to the negative terminal of the dead battery. But, that is not the case. The dead battery could be emitting hydrogen gas, a highly explosive gas that could cause a fire or explosion. To be on the safe side, we clamp it to a metal further away from the battery. You can clamp it to the car’s chassis, a bolt on the engine or alternator.
Now, time for the exciting part.
- Turn the car keys to start the functioning car. As soon as the car is started, it will start to recharge the dead battery.
- Wait for a couple of minutes for it to charge.
- Start the dead car. If we did everything right, it should come back to life!
- Now, to remove the jumper cables, we just have to follow the reversed order. It is important that the clamps do not touch each other while it is still connected to the car. If needed, get your friend to help you hold them.
- First, disconnect the black clamp on the piece of metal.
- Disconnect the other black clamp.
- Disconnect the red clamps on the functioning car.
- Disconnect the red clamps on the dead car (well, now it’s alive).
Voila! That, is how you jump start a car with jumper cables.
Life after Jump Starting. What to look out for?
Car doesn’t start = flat battery = jump start = happy car?
Well, not that fast. Trust me, what you’re about to learn will save you from a lot of headache, and possibly a few hundred ringgit too. Unfortunately, if you happens to also have a bad car alternator, there’s a relapse period where your car will die again, and very soon. Like within minutes kind of soon.
Fun fact, a completely new car battery is only capable of holding enough electrical charges for a 2 hours drive, let alone a barely charged up, old, used car battery. Our cars have always relied primarily on a car alternator to replenish the used electrical energy as we drive.
So that brings us to a very important question… Did our battery died because of old age and is no longer able to hold charges? Or is it because the car alternator isn’t charging our battery, and that’s why a perfectly fine battery went flat in matter of hours?
If it’s an old battery, you can jump start your car and drive it to a nearby workshop without worrying about getting stranded. But if it’s the car alternator, then your car battery will run flat again before you could even reach the next traffic light. By now, I hope we can all agree on the importance of double checking your car alternator after jump starting your car. You know what they always say, better safe than sorry.
Here’s how you can check if your alternator still works.
Once you jump start the car, remove the jumper cable as per instructions above and let the car run for 3 minutes. While waiting, switch your previously dead car to “P” gear and make sure the hand brake is on. Then, step on the gas pedal to rev up the engine because it helps the alternator to charge the battery (if the alternator is still working that is). If your car dies shortly after removing the jumper cables, you most likely have a bad alternator too because it is not charging your car battery. Great… A bad day just got worst.
What can you do now to get out of this sticky situation?
For starters, you can try and call a few workshop to see if they provide roadside assistance services, and for your specific car model. Some alternators are very easy to replace, some are notoriously difficult. If they can replace the alternator on the spot, great. If not, they might be able to bring another backup battery for you and hopefully you can make it to their workshop before the charges run out again. Worst come to worst, you might have to call a tow truck.
The Bottom Line
Well, that sums up everything you need to know when jump starting your car. I hope this article has been helpful and practical to you. When we wrote this article… All we wanted is for this article to be able to help even just ONE person to jump start his or her car. Let us know if you are that person because it would mean the world to us 🙂
If you have any questions at all about this topic, feel free to leave us a comment down below and we will make it our mission to reply to every single one of them!
Until then, drive safe and drive smart!