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How To Jump Start A Car The Right Way

How To Jump Start A Car The Right Way How To Jump Start A Car The Right Way

Why would you need to jump start a car?

Unless you are extremely lucky, at some time in your driving life you will have to cope with a flat battery and will need to know how to get your car started. As long as you don’t panic and can follow a simple procedure, you will be able to start your car as normal and sort out why your battery went flat later.

The battery

The car engine requires an electric spark to allow the fuel to combust and provide power to your wheels. Not only that but all warning lights, power steering, windscreen wipers, headlights, brake lights and indicator lights need electricity to work properly. Once the engine is running, all electricity is provided from a generator connected to the engine which also charges the battery.

The battery can be stored in various places on your vehicle depending on the make and model of your car, but usually for safety reasons it is situated in the engine compartment. Check your vehicle handbook for information regarding this.

The battery looks like a plastic box with two metal posts sticking up onto which connects two heavy duty electrical cables leading to the vehicle’s electrical system. One of the metal posts will be labelled ‘POS’ or ‘+’ or it will be larger than the negative terminal. The negative terminal will be labelled ‘NEG’ or ‘-‘.

As long as the generator continues to produce electricity and the battery continues to store the electricity produced, all is well. But what happens if the battery no longer has any electrical power stored inside? If there is no stored electricity, we say the “Battery is Flat” or has completely discharged. Once this happens, there is no longer any way to create the initial spark to start the engine.

What are jump leads or cables?

Jump leads or jump cables are used to connect your flat battery to a working battery. Basically you are transferring power from someone else’s battery into yours.

jump cables

Jump leads are insulated copper cables about 1 to 2 yards in length, with a heavy duty crocodile clip at either end. The cables come in pairs and are colour coded, one cable being ‘RED’ or ‘+’ (positive) while the other is ‘BLACK’ or ‘BLUE or ‘-’ (negative).

How to jump start a car

Just follow this simple procedure to get your engine working again.

1. Find someone helpful who is willing to allow you to connect their battery to yours.
2. Position the cars so the distance between both batteries is less than the length of your jump leads.
3. Turn off the ignition on both cars and put the gears into ‘neutral’ or ‘parking’ if it is an automatic transmission.
4. Engage the handbrake (or parking brake) in both vehicles so neither vehicle can accidentally move.
5. Clamp one end of the ‘red’ coded cable to the ‘positive’ terminal on your battery.
6. Clamp the other end of the ‘red’ coded cable to the ‘positive’ terminal on the other battery.
7. Clamp one end of the ‘black’ coded cable to the ‘negative’ terminal of the other battery.
8. Attach the other end of the ‘black’ coded cable to a piece of unpainted metal on your car’s chassis in the engine compartment. This is safer than connecting to the negative terminal on your battery.
9. NOTE: It is important that you connect the batteries together in this sequence or you might cause high current sparks which can cause damage.
10. Start the engine of the working vehicle and let the engine warm up for a few minutes.
11. Turn the ignition on your car and try to start the engine.
12. If nothing happens, check the cables are connected properly and try to start it again.
13. If your car still won’t start then your battery may be worn out and you will require a new one.
14. If the car starts, DO NOT under any circumstances turn your engine off.
15. Disconnect the jump cables in the reverse order to how you connected them.
16. Run your engine for a few minutes or better still, drive your car around for about 15 minutes to allow the battery to recharge.
17. Don’t forget to thank the kind person who helped you.

What happens if you haven’t got any jump leads?

If you have no jump leads or there is no one around to offer the use of their battery, you can try to start the car by getting the car moving and then engaging the gears. This is called ‘Bump Starting’ and takes some practice to get right. Unfortunately you will be unable to use this method if you have a vehicle with automatic transmission.

1. Position your vehicle on a slope or have someone prepared to give you a push.
2. Engage the parking brake.
3. Put the gears into neutral.
4. Turn on the ignition.
5. Engage the clutch
6. Put the vehicle into second gear.
7. With the clutch engaged, take off the parking brake and allow the car to freewheel down the slope.
8. When you are travelling at more than 5 mph release the clutch so the engine engages with the wheels.
9. The engine may splutter and judder for a few seconds but should eventually start.
10. Once the engine has started, press the accelerator to increase the engine revs to charge the battery.
11. Thank the person who has obliged with a push.
12. If the car does not start, then you may not have been freewheeling fast enough. Try again.

How to prevent having a faulty battery in the first place

For you to have a flat car battery, one of the following scenarios will have taken place:

  • You have accidentally discharged the electricity by leaving the lights on when parked (or something similar).
  • The belt connecting the engine to the generator has broken or is loose.
  • The battery has worn out and will not hold any electrical charge.
  • The battery terminals are corroded and there is a poor electrical connection between the battery and the electrical system.
  • A visual inspection will tell you which of these is the most likely cause of the problem. It doesn’t matter if you get the car working again, if the cause is not remedied then the battery will lose its charge again.
  • Car batteries have a finite lifespan and they should be changed every two to five years depending on the vehicle, battery type and climate.
  • Keep the terminals clean, use a wire brush to remove any corrosion and coat the terminals with Vaseline petroleum jelly for protection.
  • Have the charging belt checked and changed regularly.
  • Get in the habit of turning off all electrical switches in the car before you leave it unattended.
  • Regularly connect the battery to a mains charger to top up any loss in charge.

Cost of related items

ItemAverage price
Standard batteries $50 to $120
Premium batteries$100 to $250
Installation$10 to $100
Battery chargers$30 to $80
Jumper boxes$50 to $150
Jump leads$10 to $50

A jumper box is basically a sealed battery with jump leads already attached. You could always buy one and keep it in your car in case of emergencies.
You might consider subscribing to one of the roadside assistance companies who will get your vehicle started for you.


  • If either vehicle has an electronic ignition system, using jump leads may cause damage. Check your vehicle manual before using them.
  • When working on a car battery, wear acid splash proof safety glasses and protective gloves.
  • Always wash your hands before touching food.

Video Resource

To finish up

A flat car battery isn’t the end of the world. It is quite easy to get your car going again either by connecting to another working car or by connecting to a jumper box. If you have neither of these then it is possible to engage the gears of a freewheeling vehicle.

Try to store a set of jump cables or a jumper box in the trunk of your car in case of emergency.

If you don’t want to use any of these solutions, you can always subscribe to a motoring organisation that supplies ‘side of the road’ assistance to motorists.

Whatever method you use, look after your vehicle and enjoy your motoring experience.