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Published 11:00 AM, Tue June 2, 2015

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How To Jump-Start A Car Battery The Right Way

It has probably happened to you before.You go to turn your ignition, and nothing happens. Maybe you hear a few clicks. Another dead car battery? You need to fix this and get your vehicle back on the road - fast. If you are prepared, you already have a good set of jumper cables in your car. Now all you need to do is to learn how to jump start a car battery.

Choosing the Right Jumper Cables

You don’t need many tools to jump a car battery. First, you must find a functioning car to use for the jump-start. Make sure that both car owners are comfortable opening the hood and identifying the battery and battery terminals. Jumper cables are the most popular tool used to jump start cars because they are inexpensive and easy to store. Jumper cables usually come in a variety of lengths, ranging from 10-20 feet. Some people think longer cables are better so that you do not have to move a car with a dead battery. But, while longer cables provide convenience, they may lose power as the longer the cable, the farther the energy has to travel. The gauge of the cable denotes the strength of the cables. The lower the gauge, the thicker the cables and the stronger they are. Gauge six is a standard size for jumper cables.

Safety First

You should consider all safety risks before performing any basic maintenance or repair on your car. First, make sure that small children are in a safe area away from the engine while you are establishing how to jump a dead car battery. Take a moment to read the manual of your car. Some vehicles require extra steps in order to have a successful jump. If you’re unsure of what to do, contact your local Meineke Car Care Center for advice. Assuming that your car will permit a jump, you should be careful to prevent dangerous electric shocks. When you handle the jumper cables, be aware that their function is to transmit electrical current from one car to another. Once one end of the jumper cables is connected to a car, do not touch the metal clamps to anything but the appropriate target. It’s also recommended that you wear a pair of protective glasses in case sparks go flying into the air.

How to Jump a Car Battery

To prepare for the jump:

  1. Park the functioning car so that the vehicles face each other, preferably only about 18 inches apart, but never touching each other. For automatic transmission cars, put the vehicle in park; for a manual transmission, set the vehicle to neutral

  2. Set the parking brakes on both, so neither car moves unexpectedly

  3. Both cars should be turned off, with keys removed

  4. Set down the jumper cables on the ground, making sure the clamps do not touch each other

  5. Open the hood to both cars, and locate the batteries (refer to the owner’s manual for battery location) and battery terminals. Usually, the two terminals on each battery will be covered in red or black, with a + or – sign on top. Look at the batteries and make sure that you can identify which is positive, and which is negative. This distinction is crucial to the success of your jump. If the battery terminals are dirty, wipe them off with a rag or wire brush.

Now, begin attaching the jumper cables:

  1. Attach the red, positive cable clamp to the positive (+) battery terminal of the dead battery. You want a solid connection to the battery terminal, which may require some initial wiggling of the clamps

  2. Attach the red, positive cable clamp on the other side of the jumper cables to the functioning vehicle’s positive (+) battery terminal

  3. Connect the black, negative cable clamp to the working battery’s negative (-) battery terminal. Walk over to the car with the dead battery. Do not connect the black, negative cable clamp to the dead battery. Instead, attach that clamp to an unpainted, metal part of the car such as a shiny, clean nut on the engine block. This will help ensure a safe jump.

Know How Long to Charge a Dead Car Battery

Now you’re ready to attempt the jump-start.  Follow the instructions below to find out how and how long to charge your car’s dead battery:

  1. Start the working vehicle

  2. Wait a minute or so.  Depending on the age of the battery and how long since it died, you may need to let the car run for a minute or two to get the jump to work.

  3. Try starting the dead car. If the car doesn't start, allow the working vehicle to charge the battery for an additional minute or two before attempting again.  In some instances, slightly revving the engine of the working car while charging the dead battery may help.

  4. Once the dead car is running, you may disconnect the jumper cables, starting with the black, negative cable clamps. Do not let the clamps touch each other while any part of the cables is still attached to a car.

  5. Now, take a short drive. This will allow the battery to build up a charge. This driving allows the vehicle’s alternator to charge the battery and ensures that your vehicle does not die again once you turn it off.

If the Jump-Start Fails

If the jump fails to start your car after a few short attempts, or if the car starts but then dies again, you have some other issues you need to address. Most batteries are rated to last 4-6 years. If your battery is old, you may need to replace it. If the battery should be working well, you should consider other possible problems with other components, including:

  • fuses
  • battery corrosion
  • faulty alternator
  • ignition switch
  • starter connection

When you do not know what is wrong, your best bet is to take the car in to your local Meineke Car Care Center for service and repair.  Many centers conveniently offer free battery inspections and diagnostic scans and can help you understand your vehicle’s issues.

Dealing with a dead car battery is a pain. Luckily, getting your car working again is not terribly difficult. By following these instructions, using your jumper cables sensibly, practicing safety and addressing other potential concerns, your car will run better, be safer, and last longer. For professional advice and assistance, talk to your local mechanic at your neighborhood Meineke Car Care Center.


(Download the jump-start guide)

  • Jason Greene

    This is great, 1 thing I found to help was having a solid jumper in the car that doesn’t require a second vehicle or person such as

    I think this one even charges cell phones

  • Matt Davis

    What about turning on the headlights to avoid burning out diodes when disconnecting? My mother-in-law said someone told her this would have saved her a few hundred bucks in electrical diagnosis and repair if she had done it when she gave someone a jump one time. It made sense to me but I always wonder if it really helps. Any experts on this?

    • cawag98

      that can work (after previously dead car is running) as can putting on the rear window defroster.

      • Azzkicker

        I haven’t heard of this, but it sounds possible. Maybe I’ve always had my lights on, but I’ve never worried about it before. It would be easy insurance, even if the danger isn’t there. If you leave the cables attached longer, at some point the voltages match so there wouldn’t be a spike (or less, I would think). That makes me wonder if the idea of shutting off the good car is to drop the voltage from the 13.5 or 14, down to 12.5 or 13. Lower voltage difference would make less spark, but I always keep my rig running.

  • When car battery is dead using jump start, we start the car. Jump starter is not a battery charger, A jump starter can be used anywhere only when battery is dead. This technique works most of time and very helpful when car battery goes down.

    • d0x360

      Obviously it’s not a battery charger but as long as the alternator works getting the car started and driving it is better than buying a battery.

      The advice for only keeping it connected for 3 min I find t be false. Many times I’ve had go leave it for 10-15 min before it would start and of those cars their batteries all lasted another year at least.

      Also while doing this make sure you don’t ever see smoke. If you do then hope your wearing gloves and disconnect the cables in reverse order. Batteries can explode.

    • Christopher Boucher

      A jump does wonders while you are stranded, however it is damaging to the overall health of what could otherwise be a perfectly normal battery. Best thing to get a car back up and running is a trickle charger once all connections and alternator have been tested to ensure the battery is taking a charge..

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  • Ravener

    I always got mixed up on which one gets the ground and which order to place the others. I appreciated this explanation, rather than trying to remember all 4 positions, I just have to remember “Start on the positive side of the dead car” then work in a horseshoe shape to the good car then back around to the dead car which also gets the bare metal ground. Dead=buried=ground.

    • Azzkicker

      The key piece, which is followed but not mentioned, is not to make a spark over a battery that might be venting flammable gases. That is what blinds people. The last connection you make, and the first connection you un-make (disconnect) are the only ones that make a spark. If you always make the last connection to a frame or engine bracket, then the big spark happens away from the battery. Then make sure the first clamp you disconnect is not on a battery. That’s the whole reason people say it’s unsafe to have the cars touching (now the grounds are already connected if you have metal bumpers, so you have no choice but to make a spark over a battery.

      If you end up with no choice but to make a spark on top of a battery, choose the battery that isn’t having a problem; it’s far less likely to be venting gases (this usually happens when there’s a rapid discharge, a rapid charge, or a crack in the battery). If you get one of those manly helpers that “knows” how to do this, and yet doesn’t know how to avoid making a spark over the battery, make sure you’re sitting behind a windshield while they connect everything, so you will have your eyesight intact and can drive them to the hospital in the rare event that a battery explodes.

    • ZaphyB

      This may help you out as well. The reason to start with the dead battery positive side is so that the other end doesn’t become energized or hot. If you started with the working battery first, the other end of the cable would be energized or hot, which isn’t as safe. Hope this helps!

  • Azzkicker

    I disagree with having the good car shut off when you connect all the cables. I think you run the risk of having a completely dead battery drain the one good one you have before you get an engine started. Of course, it won’t drain it in seconds, so if you’re quick, and your good car has no trouble starting, it won’t matter, but why risk stranding yourself? The spark will be smaller if the good car isn’t running, but only a little, and if you’re connecting them in the right order, that spark is not over a battery, it’s over a frame or engine bolt.

    • d0x360

      Batteries won’t drain each other that quick lol. Also the working battery isn’t powering anything except maybe interior lights which use no electricity compared to the starter

      • Azzkicker

        With jumper cables capable of hundreds of amps, if your “good” battery is barely up to the task, it could take very few seconds to bring your 12 volts down too far to start. The working battery is powering the interior lights, but it’s also feeding hundreds of amps (depending how dead the other battery is) to the dead battery, then you get back in and expect another 500amps for your starting motor. A badass battery will do that easily, but not everybody is driving around with a great battery.

        • d0x360

          True and not everyone has cables capable of handling alot of power. Most people have those cheap cables from target or walmart etc.

          I just bought a pair of 4 gauge cables so im good to go on that end, I learned my lesson when some crap cables melted and caught fire. Unfortunately my car also has the world’s smallest battery lol so it still takes a few min to get the other car to turn over.

    • cawag98

      when the dead battery and good battery are connected, no potential energy is lost.

      • Narciso Junior

        you forgot to account for cable resistance, heat lost during the transfer of potential energy between both batteries

  • Conundrum1885

    i hear you can get pocket sized jump packs now.. based on similar tech to phone batteries.

  • Austin Sharp

    Shouldn’t you attach the black (-) clamp first?

    • cawag98

      No, generally, red = first connection made and last removed – the last connection made may spark and if it does, you don’t want a spark on or near the battery.

      • thatguy

        Yes, absolutely but also make sure that you don’t ground the other connection. Make sure that you are not grounded yourself, unlikely but still and make sure you’re only grabbing by the plastic or rubber handle. Saw someone hurt themselves and it wasn’t pretty.

  • irene gronewald

    i have jumped cars numerous times my daughter`s sparked so bad it melted metal i connected red to red bit the black one would not go on without sparking..we had our keys in ignition but turned off i tried to ground black cable to metal on car…the sparking was too extreme to connect the black cable anywhere …saw there was white corrosion on her post…no brush to get it off any suggestions not to mention her hood was almost impossible to open and mine is a bear

    • Jim Colter

      The only times I have seen that happen, the vehicle had other electrical problems that killed the battery to begin with. I would remove her battery and have it slow charged before I took the chance of her vehicle destroying my electrical system. I’m sure you already know that regular chassis grease helps tremendously to prevent battery terminal corrosion.

  • Recently my friend must use Car Jump Starter in his audi a8 d3 with TDI diesel engine. Now I’m thinking that Car Jump Starter is very useful device so everyone should have it in the trunk of the car.

  • Kathy Lambertsen

    I had someone jump my car the other day, and now my radio and sound system is dead. What happened?

    • Chaim Schvarcz

      You need a code for the radio after the battery completely dies

    • Christopher Boucher

      Sounds like a blown fuse. Sorry it’s a year late

  • Jim Colter

    With most jumper cables,(cheap ones are disposable) , establishing a connection were current is actually flowing to the dead battery usually requires slightly moving the clamps until you hear the engine “kick in” and you can hear the idle change like its straining. Until you get the proper connection you can leave the cables hooked up for literally hours and not one volt will reach the dead battery. From my experience , not having a good ground connection is usually the problem. i have used jumper cables it took vise grips to establish a good ground.

  • Thanks, i will try this method ASAP but i think that can work pretty good.
    Very clear instruction.

  • Dinesh Goel

    This video helped me a lot .My car was not starting I was searching on internet how to jumpstart car and somehow I saw the video and it helped me a lot.

  • Cleezner

    I think the download jump start picture guide is wrong. The article list says to start with the positive on the dead battery then the positive on the good battery. Then it says to put the negative cable clamp on the good battery, and then ground the negative cable clamp on the car with the dead battery. It appears the jump start picture guide is showing this process out of order and showing the grounding on the car with the good battery. Is anyone else confused by the jump start picture guide?

  • Marc B.

    Do not buy the cheap skinny jumper cables or you could be left stuck somewhere. Get jumpers with thick cables as they can conduct electricity far better. I’ve learned this the hard way more than once.

  • nathan

    Has anyone heard of or used something called Safety Jumper Cables? i want to purchase a pair but would like to talk to someone who has used them first. The website is

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