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The Do's and Don'ts of Jump Starting Your Car

Illustration for article titled The Do's and Don'ts of Jump Starting Your Car
Image: George Sultan (Pexels)

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Are you one of the many people with a car that doesn’t start during this health pandemic? Cars want to be started and run regularly. The good news is, you might be able to just jumpstart your car, drive 20-30 minutes, and your battery will be back to operating condition.


Jumpstarting your own car is a fairly straightforward process as long as you keep some basic dos and don’ts in mind. Here’s what you need to know.

Do: Clean Your Battery Terminals

If your battery is older, you may have battery acid on your battery terminals. This would look like a fine blue or white powder and it should be cleaned off before you get started. It allows the terminals to have full contact with the terminal and possibly give you a little more time with your battery. A simple brush and battery terminal cleaner will get the job done.

Do: Have a Good Set of Jumper Cables or a Jumper Box

Illustration for article titled The Do's and Don'ts of Jump Starting Your Car
Graphic: Gabe Carey

Not all jumper cables are created equal. While fairly inexpensive options are available, I’d steer clear of them unless there is a true immediate emergency. As a rule of thumb, get jumper cables with a lower gauge if possible. The longer the better too. If your car doesn’t start the last thing you want to be hampered by is cables too short to reach under the hood of another car. The Chicago Tribune recommends the Energizer jump cables for top post batteries.

If jumper cables are too much of a hassle, you might want to buy a jumper box instead. I’ve been a huge fan of these since the beginning of my career in the automotive industry at Sears Auto Center. You don’t need another car, just a charged up box and you’re ready to go. This Diehard jump starter also has an air compressor and power inverter built in.


Do: Attach the Jumper Cables to Both Cars

1. Start with the car with the dead battery. Attach the positive cable (red) to the positive of the dead battery. Then on to the car with the working battery. Attach the positive(red cable), then negative (black cable) on the working vehicle. Next go back to the dead vehicle and attached the black cable (negative) to any unpainted metal part.

Don’t: Mix Up the Cables

Mixing up the cables is a catastrophic mistake. Double check, no triple check every cable you attach. Red or a plus sign is positive and black or a negative sign for negative.


Do: Start the Working Car First

Turn on the working car first, let it run for a few minutes and then go and try to start the car that is dead. Once the car turns over let it run for 5-10 minutes before disconnecting.

Do: When You Disconnect, Go Backwards

When you disconnect the cables, go in the OPPOSITE order than you put them on. Negative (black cable) then positive (red cable). Start with the vehicle that received the jump start by removing the negative cable attached to the unpainted part.


Don’t: Do Not Allow Cables to Touch

Avoid allowing the cables, the exposed metal clamps, to touch each other. Hold them in separate hands. If they touch they will spark.

Do: Get Your Car Checked Out

Illustration for article titled The Do's and Don'ts of Jump Starting Your Car
Graphic: Gabe Carey

Although your battery may have died because your car hasn’t been started for a while or you left your lights on, you still want to check your charging system. While you could test it at home with a portable battery checker, if there is any doubt, taking it to the shop when you get the chance is a safe bet.

Do: Start Your Car Regularly

Starting and running your car regularly can help prevent this from happening throughout the rest of the safer at home period. It also helps prevent a whole host of other related problems. If you can’t start your car regularly, consider investing in a trickle charger to slowly maintain the charge of your battery. I haven’t used one of these myself but they are as simple to use as a jumper box and lots of options exist.


Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, freelance writer, and empowerment speaker who's made it her mission to engage and empower people in her community and beyond.