When your battery begins to fail on you, or it has been accidentally drained it can be extremely frustrating to try to deal with the problem. The fact is your battery only has so much life in it and can only power the electronic components of your vehicle for so long without the alternator to back it up. And even with the alternator, your battery has a lifespan of about three to five years depending on how much stress you put it under in your day-to-day driving. Obviously, if you have more electronic components running in your vehicle than the average driver it's going to run out a little sooner on you. That means if you perhaps have extra running lights, if you use the air conditioner frequently, or if you have extra things plugged into your car like a dash cam or your cell phone all the time.
Whatever the case, you may run across a situation in which your battery is no longer working so you can't get your car started. Whether that means you left your lights on overnight by accident, or your battery is just getting towards the end of its life, or it’s an especially cold day so your car won't start, you may need a jump to get going again. Let's take a look at exactly what it means to give your car a jump start, and then some of the different ways you can go about getting your car working again when your battery has given out on you.
What is a Jump Start?
In very simple terms, a jump-start is a way to recharge a discharged battery. Sometimes called a boost, it involves hooking up your dead or discharged battery to one that still has a charge to allow the power to transfer from the good battery to the bad battery. The goal is to give your battery enough power to allow the engine to crank and get the vehicle started. Once that happens, your alternator will take over as the source of power to allow your battery to continue charging as normal.
So long as your battery is still capable of holding a charge, a jump-start should be sufficient to get your vehicle working again properly. However, if your battery is too old and is not able to handle a full charge any longer, even though a jumpstart may get your car going again it's very likely that you will face the same situation in the near future when your battery has once again lost its charge and you may require yet another jump start. If that's the case, it means your battery is likely at the end of its life and the best option for you is to simply replace it with a new one.
That said, even a brand new battery can be discharged if you leave the lights on overnight by accident so it's a good idea to know exactly how to give your car a jump-start when necessary so that you can get your car going again and get the battery recharged so that it continues to function as normal.
As it happens there is more than one way to charge a car battery. Let's take a look at some of the easiest methods that can get you driving again as soon as possible.
Jump Starting Your Car with Another Car
This is undoubtedly the most common way to get your car jump-started and what most people think of when they hear the term. This method requires another car with a properly charged battery and the use of jumper cables.
The hardest part of getting your car jump-started by another car is often finding another driver willing to help you out with the problem. Since it will take a few minutes to get done properly you're going to have to rely on the kindness of a stranger which isn't always the easiest thing to pull off.
One thing to remember before getting your car boosted by another car is to ensure that you have good quality jumper cables. You should always have these in the trunk of your car because you don't necessarily want to rely on the stranger who's helping you out to have a pair as well. Keep in mind that you want to have good quality jumper cables because they're not all created equally. Some jumper cables are cheaply made and the wires inside the plastic covers can be very thin and poor quality when it comes to transmitting the charge. Likewise, a very long jumper cable is going to be far less efficient than a shorter one at transmitting the charge from one battery to another. It's best to keep a good quality pair of jumper cables in your trunk at all times as part of an emergency kit, just in case.
Step 1: To begin the process of charging your battery with another vehicle's battery make sure that your car is in park as is the donor car. Have both cars shut off so that you can attach one battery to the other. You want to attach the positive, red side of the jumper cable to the positive, red side of the terminal in your battery.
Step 2: Once you have positive attached to positive, you can attach the black, negative terminal to the donor battery. The other black terminal does not connect to your battery in your car. Instead, you want to clamp it on to an unpainted metal surface that isn't actually attached to the body. Just the frame of your vehicle will suffice for this particular job. Remember, do not attach the black, negative clamp to your battery.
Step 3: Now that the batteries are set up to transfer to charge you want to first start the vehicle that has the working battery and let the engine run for a couple of minutes. If you're in a parking lot getting a stranger to do this, they may want to rush the matter but try to allow at least 5 minutes for this to happen. Some people feel that two or three minutes is going to be good enough, but 5 minutes will be far more effective at transferring a decent charge into your dead battery.
Step 4: After a sufficient amount of time has passed you can now attempt to start your own engine. If your car is able to get started without any difficulty you can disconnect the cables in the reverse order that they were connected. So, first thing to do is disconnect the negative terminal that's attached to the frame of your vehicle, then detach the negative clamp from the donor battery. After that you can remove the positive cable from the good battery and finally take the positive cable off of your own battery. Making sure it's done in order will prevent any accidents from happening.
Step 5: The donor car is no longer needed if your engine is able to continue running at this point. So, you can thank your friend or the Good Samaritan who helped you out and let them go on their way. You're going to need to keep your engine running for a while however so you can have the alternator keep charging your battery. It's a good idea to wait at least 15 minutes to get a decent charge in your battery. You don't actually have to sit still this whole time; you can drive your vehicle while it's happening you just want to make sure you're not shutting the engine off at any point. Once you’ve driven your car around for a good 15 or 20 minutes your battery should have charged enough to keep it going.
If your car doesn't start up again after you've driven it around this long and then shut off the engine, then you should really consider going and buying yourself a new battery because it seems very likely that your battery is unable to hold a charge any longer.
How to Push Start Your Manual Transmission Car
If you saw the movie Little Miss Sunshine you might have seen this method of getting your vehicle going that is giving you trouble and not turning over but it only works if you have a manual transmission. You should really only try this if there's literally no way to get a jump-start because you're in the middle of nowhere and no one is around to help you. This is best done with a couple of people to give you a hand.
You want to be sure that your battery is actually dead before you try this method and the reason your car isn't starting is not due to some other problem. If you have a different issue than a dead battery, this likely won't be much help for you.
It’s best to give this a try on flat ground because you don't want to lose control of your vehicle going down the hill when you do this. You will have limited control of your vehicle until such time as it gets started again, so keep that in mind and make sure you're in a safe area before you give this a try.
Step 1: Put the key in the ignition to release the steering wheel so you're free to turn it. You won't have power steering at this point of course but you will be able to at least turn the wheel to some degree.
Step 2: You need to engage the engine at this point by shifting to 2nd gear. 2nd gear makes it easy to push your car, so it's the best choice for this particular job. If you can't shift into 2nd, 1st gear or 3rd gear will do it, but they won't be as easy.
Step 3: Engage your brake and clutch pedals. Hit the clutch with your left foot and brake with your right after you've released your parking brake. As you begin to release the brake, you're going to need to have a friend pushing your car. If you have two friends it will be even easier, but at least one person needs to be behind your vehicle giving it a push as you ease off the brake.
Step 4: Your friend is going to have to get you up to around 5 miles an hour for this to work if you're in second gear. At that point you can take your foot off the clutch and the crankshaft should connect with your transmission and force the engine to turn over for you. It's going to be a pretty rough start and you’ll get some jerking and sputtering out of your engine when this happens. Don't worry about that, it's normal.
Step 5: You need to be aware that your engine when it engages is going to attempt to turn the wheels faster than they're already turning. This is going to cause the steering wheel to jerk in your hands if you are not controlling it well. So, make sure you have a good grip and you're ready for this to happen. It's possible that the engine will not engage when you do this, so you'll need to brake, stop your car, and try it over again. It may take a few tries before you actually get this to work. Remember, 5 miles per hour is the minimum speed you need to be going but the faster you're going the more likely it is to work.
Step 6: Once you do have the engine engaged and your car is actually running you can put your foot back on the clutch and slow your car down until you're idling. Your alternator will be running at this point which means you are charging your battery. Just like when you get a boost from another car's battery, you're going to want to let your vehicle sit for a good 15 minutes or so to give your battery a decent charge. The longer you can let it run, the better off you're going to be. You don't actually have to sit still, you can drive around, just remember not to turn your engine off.
The Bottom Line
Batteries die all the time in vehicles, so jump-starting is something that most drivers are going to have to experience at least once or twice in their lives. These two methods are some of the easiest ways to get your car going again that don't involve actually having to call roadside assistance. An even better solution is to make sure you have a booster pack in your own trunk that takes the place of needing another car's battery. It works just the same as attaching your battery to another car's battery, but it can be done anytime, anywhere so long as you keep your battery pack charged before you head out on the road,
Remember to turn off any electronic components anytime you get out of your vehicle, and also keep an eye out for how long your battery has been in your car in the first place so that if it's getting towards the end of its life, you'll be aware and can get it swapped out before you get stranded somewhere.