Best Practices For Safely Jumping A Dead Battery

February 14, 2013
 Being stranded is, well, let’s just say it’s less than desirable, period. There is never a convenient time to have your battery die. Understanding jumper cables and how to use them can save you money and grief. If you’ve never done this before, it may be a little intimidating; however, there is no need to fear the mechanisms underneath your hood. We will take you, step-by-step, through the process of jump-starting your vehicle. Dead batteries can usually be attributed to leaving your lights on, improper maintenance of the battery or a battery that was ready to bite the dust.

Step One: Take Precautions

 First things first, you need to consult your owners manual, as some manufacturers may recommend different methods. However, once you have read and understand your manual, you will then need to line up both vehicles and try to get them close enough so the jumper cables will reach. This can be a challenge depending on where the car with the dead battery is parked and may require some car pushing.

 Turn off both engines and verify that all electronic components in either vehicle are off. Make absolutely sure the two vehicles are not touching.

 The next step is to examine both batteries. Check for cracks or leaking liquid; if you see either of these, then stop immediately! If you try to jump-start a battery with either of these conditions, it could explode.

 Once the coast is clear, you need to familiarize yourself with the batteries’ terminals, positive (+) and negative (-). Do the same with the jumper cables. Generally speaking, red or orange are positive and black is negative; however, always double check. Also, make sure there are no tears or frays in the cables and clean off any corrosion that may have accumulated around either battery. The best way to do this is with a brush or a file, some people claim using a Coca-Cola works, as well. In theory, you pour a little on the corrosion, and it will dissolve.

 Now, go back and double-check everything. If everything is still clear, then it’s on to the next step.

Step Two: Connecting the Jumper Cables

 The order in which you must connect the cables is extremely important.

 First, you need to connect one of the positive cables to the positive terminal on the dead battery, then connect the other positive end to the positive terminal of the good battery. Next, connect the negative cable to the negative terminal of the good battery.

 Once the first three are connected, you will then connect the last remaining cable (negative) to a solid shiny, non-painted metal part of the engine on the dead car—this is to avoid flying sparks and a potential explosion. Whatever you do, do not touch two ends together—the result may not be pretty.

Step Three: Jump-starting

 One person needs to enter the dead-battery car, close the doors and make sure that everything is off, from the headlights to any accessory that may be plugged in, including cell phone chargers. Another person must enter the good-battery car and do the same (turning everything off in the good-battery car ensures that more power is being generated to the dead battery). It’s now time to fire it up!

 Start the engine on the good car and let the engine run for a few minutes, then the person in the dead-battery car needs to try and start the engine.

 If you hear a clicking noise or if it sounds as if the engine is trying to start but won’t turn over, then turn the key back and wait a few more minutes. Meanwhile, the person in the good car should then moderately rev the engine a few times. After a few moments, the person in the dead-battery car should be able to ignite the engine.

 However, if it still won’t start, you may need to try a few other things, including switching the negative clamp on the dead battery from the engine to the negative post on the battery. You may also want to try adjusting the cables, trying another set of cables or cleaning off any corrosion more thoroughly.

 If you are still not having any success at this point, then it could mean your starter may need to be replaced, there is a short-circuit in the output voltage regulator or even a bad electronic ignition—this is when it becomes tow-truck time. However, assuming the best works out for you, it’s time for the next step.

Step Four: Removing the Cables

 Remember that specific order in which you applied the cables? Reverse it. You will first disconnect the negative cable from the engine block or battery of the car that was being jump-started. Next, you will disconnect the negative cable from the jump-starting car. After the negative ends have been disconnected, you will then disconnect the positive cable from the jump-starting car followed by disconnecting the positive cable from the car that was jump-started. Phew, that was almost a tongue twister!

 After you have removed all of the cables from both vehicles, it’s a good idea to leave the battery-challenged car running for a few minutes, and then shut it off. You can then try to restart the car. If it starts successfully, you will know your charging system is operational and you’re probably good to go. However, if it does not start, you will have to redo the entire process, jump it again and have someone follow you to your destination. This is important because your car might stall when you apply the brakes.

 Under-the-hood problems can be intimidating for a lot of people, but they don’t have to be. One can eliminate a lot of apprehension by simply doing a little research—and reading your owners manual is the best place to start.

 Hopefully, by now you are well prepared and confident to solve this problem, should it ever arise. It is important to note that if at any point in this process you feel unsure about what you’re doing, then stop immediately. Car batteries do not have to be intimidating, but they are no laughing matter, either, as they can potentially be dangerous. Just remember to follow the steps and keep constant vigilance.

The above was published in Vehicle MD January 30,2013