Because it's going to happen, eventually

Guide to Life: Jump Start a Car


Winter is prime dead battery territory, and jump-starting during cold weather requires nearly twice as many cranking amps as its t-shirts-and-shorts counterpart. There’s also another, more worrisome issue to deal with: regardless of weather, most people go about their jump-starts incorrectly. Not on the edge of your seat? You should be. Being stranded is no joke, and neither is frying yourself to a crisp. We’ll assume you’ve been smart enough to keep functioning jumper cables in your trunk and someone has been kind enough to offer their car as a source of juice. With those in place, follow these simple steps to jump start your car correctly.


Locate the battery in the dead car. Don’t assume it’s under the hood. Some manufacturers place them in the trunk of the car. When in doubt, check the owner’s manual. Locate the battery in the car that will give the jump start.

Park the cars fairly close together so you’re not stressing the jumper cables. Under no circumstances should the cars touch, and never connect cables to a car that’s on. Make sure everything is shut off in both cars, including headlights, radio, A/C, etc. Nothing should be turned on in either vehicle.



  • Chase pow in the backcountry.
  • Perform dental surgery.
  • Arc weld a roll cage.
  • Teach high school chemistry.
  • Have a snowball fight in virtual reality.

If you have gloves and goggles, put them on before you perform a safety check of each car’s battery. Look for leaks or cracks or for any damage. If you find anything, stop and call a tow truck. Let a professional handle it.

If everything looks good, locate the battery terminals. Typically, positive is indicated by a positive (+) sign and by the color red. Negative is indicated by a negative sign (-) and by the color black. Don’t always go by color since plastic covers or battery terminal cables may have become discolored. Always look for the sign just to make sure.

If there’s any corrosion or buildup around the terminals, disconnect the cables from the terminals (typically with a wrench). If you don’t have gloves, find a rag so your hand doesn’t come in direct contact with metal. You can remove the corrosion with a wire brush or a cloth. This will help conductivity, which is sometimes the problem rather than the battery’s power. Re-attach the battery cables when finished.

It’s imperative that you don’t allow the cable clamps to touch one another after you begin connecting them to the battery. This could result in an arcing current and injury to you and/or damage to the cars. Remember, don’t rush. Your date will understand.

Connect the red clamp to the positive (+)/red terminal of the dead battery. Connect the other red clamp to the positive (+)/red terminal of the good battery. Connect the black clamp to the negative (-)/black terminal of the good battery. Connect the other black clamp to a piece of grounded, non-painted metal that’s connected to the engine on the dead car. Look for a nut or bolt or a shiny piece of metal (non-chrome). You’ll see a small spark when you make the connection if you’re making a good grounded connection. Do not attach the black clamp to the negative terminal of the dead battery, which could cause hydrogen gas from the battery to ignite.

Make sure none of the jumper cables drop into the engine compartment where moving components could snag or cut them. If this happens, shut off the running car immediately before you disconnect anything.

Get in the functioning car and start the engine. Allow it to idle for about five minutes. Do not rev the engine hard. You can hold down the throttle just above idle speed for around 30 seconds to a minute.

Try starting the car with the dead battery. If the dead car starts, remove the jumper cables in the reverse order you connected them (black clamp from dead car, black clamp from live car, red clamp from live car, red clamp from dead car). Leave the engine running for five minutes and then drive for about fifteen minutes so you can allow the alternator to charge the battery. Don’t just shut the car off and think you’ve got enough juice to start it again.

If the dead car doesn’t start, shut off the dead car’s engine and then check all connections to make sure they’re secure, then reconnect and try again based on the same procedure above. If you’ve tried twice and the dead car doesn’t start, you’re shit out of luck. Either your battery can no longer hold a charge, or your alternator needs to be replaced. Have your battery tested at a shop or auto parts store for free to determine what the issue is. Finally, if you haven’t done so already, call your grandmother/girlfriend/parole officer and explain your predicament. Apologize profusely.