Chances are, you’ve experienced a dead car battery at least once in your life. And, if you haven’t had one yet, eventually you will.
Dead batteries often happen out of the blue. They can occur after you’ve accidentally left a light on for a long period of time or when something in the car is draining the battery, such as defective fuses or faulty wiring. Other culprits that lead to a dead battery are:
- A defective alternator
- A faulty charging system
- Too many short drives
- Loose or corroded battery cables
- An old battery
A dead battery can also signal that it's time for a tune-up. Regardless of what caused the dead battery, your top priority is starting it again so you can get back on the road.
Getting a Jump on Dead Batteries
Jump starting your car battery begins with having the right equipment. If you don’t already own a pair of jumper cables, put them on the top of your “to buy” list. They’re a worthy investment that can save you time and money when you need them most.
It might be tempting to grab the least expensive pair of cables, but there’s a reason that some cables cost more than others. Look for thicker, heavier cables that can conduct a great amount of energy; cheaper ones might overheat and be useless after just one or two jumps. This is particularly important if you're using cables on large SUVs or trucks.
It’s also important to have cables that are longer than the basic 12-footers, so that you can reach the battery no matter where you are. You can’t count on your car’s battery dying when you’re parked in a convenient spot.
4 Steps to Jumping a Battery with Another Car
One way to jump start your car battery is with another car. Make sure there’s nothing flammable nearby and park the cars as close together as possible, but don’t allow them to touch one another. Remove the keys from the ignitions of both cars while you’re attaching the jumper cables.
Step 1: The first thing to do is locate the positive and negative terminals on each battery; the positive terminal has a "+" sign and the negative terminal has a "–" sign. Your jumper cables will have two red clamps and two black clamps, and the red clamps will go on the positive terminals, while the black clamps will go on the negative terminals.
Step 2: Now it’s time to place the cables on the batteries, so follow this sequence:
- Attach one red clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery.
- Place the other red clamp on the positive terminal of the live battery.
- Put one black clamp on the negative terminal of the live battery.
- Ground the other black clamp to the vehicle by clamping it onto a fixed, unpainted piece of metal on the frame of the car with the dead battery. Options include the chassis, alternator bracket or a bolt on the engine.
Step 3: Start the engine of the car with the live battery. It will immediately begin charging the dead battery. Attempt to start the car with the dead battery. Depending on just how dead the battery is, the car might start up immediately or it might require a few minutes of charging before the engine turns over.
Step 4: Once the dead battery has been charged enough to start the car, you can remove the cables in reverse order of the way they were placed on the battery terminals. Make sure the clamps don’t touch each other (or anything else) while connected to a running vehicle, since that can send an electrical current into whatever it touches.
How to Jump Start Your Car With a Portable Starter
If you’re using a portable jump starter, the process is similar, but you want to make sure you’ve read the directions thoroughly. As with jumper cables, you’ll need to connect the red clamp to the positive terminal and the black clamp to a fixed piece of unpainted metal before turning on the power unit.
Once the current is running to your battery, you can start your engine, just as you would when getting a jump from another vehicle. Disconnect the clamps in the reverse order, removing the black clamp first and then removing the red clamp from the positive terminal.
What to Do After Jumping a Dead Battery
If a dead battery was the result of draining it by leaving lights on or something similar, chances are good that it was a one-time incident. But a dead battery could signal other problems. Make sure you monitor your vehicle’s performance in case you need to go in for a repair.
After your car has been jump started, you should drive it for several minutes to make sure it is fully charged.
If your car won’t start, even after being connected to another vehicle for several minutes, it could be anything from a battery terminal that needs a deep cleaning to a mechanical problem somewhere else in the car to an old battery that needs replacing. That’s when it’s time to schedule an appointment to have your car looked at by a professional.