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What’s a terminal post? How about a negative terminal post? Where do the black clamps go again? We’re explaining every step to jump-starting a car.

Be Ready in Case It Happens to You

Car on the side of the road
Car on the side of the road

It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a brand-new 2023 Lexus ES 350, a 2007 Honda Accord, or a 1985 Chevy Silverado. The battery in your vehicle could quit working and leave you on the side of the road. If you’re not in a dire situation, and you are in the position to call a friend or family member to help jump your car, then why not save some money by doing it yourself instead of calling a tow truck to come out?

Now, hopefully, this won’t happen whether it’s to you in your commuter car or your college-aged kid and his or her used car. If it does happen, hopefully, you’ve got cell service. Hopefully, it’s not in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully, the weather is nice.

Since you can’t rely entirely on hope, it’s best to be prepared. That’s why we’re going to walk you through how to jump-start a vehicle when the battery has died. There’s a lot of information out there on jump-starting a car, though. I’ve seen advice that’s as simple as four or five steps, and more detailed advice that expands to about 15 different steps. Regardless of how people choose to explain it, the process is the same. Take a look for yourself.

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

Mechanic wearing mechanics gloves - media.ford.com
Mechanic wearing mechanics gloves - media.ford.com

Jumper cables made our suggested list of the 7 Things You Need in Your Car. Obviously, you’re going to need these to reignite your battery. There are a handful of other items that will, or could, come in handy, too.

A pair of mechanics gloves is one of those things. Though many people don’t use them, a good pair of thick or rubber gloves can protect you from electrical or chemical hazards. They’ll also make it easier to grip the battery. Thicker mechanics’ gloves, but even a thinner pair is better than nothing. Clothing can sometimes be an option as well.

Prep Work

Car battery
Car battery

Before you can actually get started, make sure you know the basics: how to open your hood and where your battery is at. You’ll also need to know where the positive terminal and negative terminal are located on the car battery. You may have to remove a plastic covering on the battery so that the terminals can be connected to your jumper cables. If you don’t know some of those things, pull out the old owner’s manual.

I already mentioned putting on gloves, but don’t forget to remove your jewelry. Gold and metal rings can be good conductors of electricity.

One car jumpstarting another
One car jumpstarting another

You’ll be hooking your car up to another car with a pair of jumper cables, so you’ll need to park the other vehicle close to your own. The ideal situation is bumper-to-bumper, face-to-face. The vehicles shouldn’t be touching, though.

Once the new vehicle is in place, make sure the parking brake is applied, turn the accessories off (your air conditioner or heater, the radio, and any electronics that are plugged in), and then turn the engine off. Pop both hoods. It’s time to get to work.

Jump-Starting Your Car

Car battery with jumper cables connected
Car battery with jumper cables connected

You’ve got the hoods of both vehicles open, have your jumper cables ready, and have a pair of gloves on. Now what?

  1. Take the positive red clamp and attach it to the positive terminal of the car with the dead battery. Set the black clamp to the side for now.
  2. Then, take the other red clamp and connect it to the positive terminal of the car with the working battery.
  3. Next, take the black clamp and connect it to the vehicle with the working battery, too.
  4. Go back to the vehicle with the dead battery. Take the remaining black clamp and connect it to an unpainted piece of grounded metal. A bolt or nut, for example, that is not located near the battery is a fine choice for this.
  5. Get into the vehicle that has a working battery and start it up. Let this vehicle run by itself for a couple of minutes.
  6. Finally, get in your own vehicle and try to start your engine by reigniting that dead battery. It may take a few seconds to turn over. After all, your battery is pulling some energy from that running vehicle with the working battery.

If you’ve successfully started your car, then it’s mission accomplished for you! If not, then wait a few moments (sometimes minutes) and try it again.

After Jump-Starting Your Car

Driving on a highway
Driving on a highway

After your vehicle has successfully been jumped, it’s time to clean up, starting by unhooking the clamps. This is done in reverse order, though. You can close the hoods of both vehicles and continue on your way.

It’s best to keep your vehicle running for a little while after getting the jump, however. The alternator needs a chance to fully recharge your battery. Even if you’ve got a few stops left in your schedule, it’s best to make other arrangements. Do those errands another time, or call into work and figure out scheduling.

If your battery is really discharged, and you make a stop somewhere before you get home or to a mechanic, it may not start again under its own power. You don’t want to go through the process of jump-starting it again.

Sometimes components just stop working, but there are some ways to extend the life of your battery. You can get regular maintenance on your vehicle, unplug any unnecessary accessories (like a GPS, dash cam, etc.), and try to drive your car for at least 15 minutes each time you get in it. The shorter trips can drain your battery if it’s weak.

What if You Drive a Hybrid?

2022 Ford Escape PHEV - ford.com
2022 Ford Escape PHEV - ford.com

What do you do if you have a 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe hybrid or maybe a 2022 Ford Escape PHEV? You can jump-start a hybrid as well. Most of the process is the same but differs a little bit when connecting the jumper cables to the positive and negative terminals. You may need to power on (and then off) your external battery, too.

The 12-volt battery in many hybrids, like a Toyota Prius, is located in the back of the car, which won’t open with a dead battery. In that instance, there are charging ports up front, under the hood, that can be used for jumping a vehicle. When it comes to jump-starting a HEV or PHEV, it’s best to consult your owner’s manual to be sure you know where everything is located and that you’re doing it correctly.

More Car Maintenance Tips

You can always go deeper under the hood. Check out articles like Your Check Engine Light is On – Now What? and Everything You Need to Know About EV Charging. We’ve got a bunch of other helpful tips, tricks, and topics to discover, too. No matter the season, there’s something for everyone, like the Top 10 Tips to Winterize Your Car or How to Keep your Car Cool in the Summer.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

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