There are lots of reasons that you might have to jump start your car. Your interior light may have drained the battery by being on all night, you might have forgotten to cut your headlights when going into a restaurant and when you came back out, your battery was dead.
So, you want to not only carry the right equipment to jump start your car, you also want to know how to use it, and a big part of it is understanding how the jumper cables fit onto your battery. But there are a few different types of jump starting equipment out there and that’s the first thing you should learn.
Types of Jump Starting Equipment
There are three basic types of jump starting equipment out there. The oldest – and probably still the most common – is the simple set of jumper cables. This connects one car battery to another so that a car with a dead battery can be “jump” started by a car that has juice and the alternator will recharge the dead battery once the engine is running.
The second type is the electric battery charger, which needs to be plugged in and generally takes anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to charge a battery so that a vehicle will start. Finally, there are portable jump starters that will fit in the palm of your hand and will jump start your car either via the battery cables or the car’s 9v connection.
How do Jumper Cables Work
The jumper cables (and the cables coming from both types of battery chargers) are what we are going to focus on today. Jumper cables have insulated cables running from exposed ends that clamp onto the battery posts or other surfaces. The middle part is shielded so that you can handle the jumper cables safely, as are the actual spring-loaded grips.
You want to take very good care never to touch any metal parts of the jumper cables when you are jump starting a car. The jumper cables allow electricity to flow from one (charged) car battery to the other (dead) one.
Connecting the Red Wire
Make sure that you have turned off the vehicle’s ignition on both of the cars that you are using. Also, make sure that the ends of the cables are not touching each other. You want to connect the red wires on both ends of the jumper cables to the positive battery pole on each vehicle. You can usually tell the positive post very easily.
It will be the one that is painted red or has a highly visible “+” sign. If you aren’t absolutely sure, check your vehicle’s owner manual. Make sure that the cables are clamped tightly onto the battery post and make sure that you remove any plastic covering on the battery beforehand.
Connecting the Ground
The other part of the jumper cable is called the ground, otherwise known as the black wire. The black wire should be placed onto the black (or “-“ post) on the battery post of the vehicle that has a charge (the one that will be running).
The other black end of the cable can be placed on the negative battery terminal of the car you are trying to start, but you can also place it anywhere that you can get a good connection with something metal on the car’s chassis.
Ensuring You Have a Good Connection
Once your portable charger has been hooked up, you want to make sure that you have a good connection. This means that you will have to visually inspect your work and make sure that the cables are clamped on tight and are not loose or ready to slip off. Next, you will want to start the car with the healthy battery.
You should notice a significant reduction in power when the jumper cables are connected. If you cannot tell, unhook the ground cable from the vehicle with the dead battery and then clamp it on again, listening for the reduction in power. If you hear it, you know that you have a good connection.
How to Jump Start Your Car
In order to jump start your car, you want to let the healthy vehicle run for a few minutes before attempting the jump start. Allow some juice to get into the battery so that you can turn it over a couple of times before stopping and waiting again.
When you feel that the car has been running long enough, get behind the wheel of the car with the dead battery and try turning the motor over. Hopefully, you will hear the engine crank and start the car. If there is no result when you turn the key, that means that the battery is still dead and you need to wait longer for the battery to get some charge.
How to Buy Jumper Cables
When it comes to buying jumper cables, there are only a few things that you want to keep in mind. First, make sure that they are long enough to easily reach from one vehicle to another. You don’t want to have to park cars bumper to bumper (a very bad idea when you are jump starting) in order to get cables to reach.
Second, make sure that there is enough insulation to protect you along the wires and on the clamps themselves. Third, and perhaps the most important, make sure you get a cable that is thick enough. The thickness of the cables is measured in on a gauge scale. The lower the number is, the thicker the cable is and the more power will flow through. Make sure to read our guide on the best heavy duty jumper cables to get an idea of what cables would best fit your car. Finally, make sure that the clamps are tight, but not so tight that you are unable to easily open them to clamp onto the battery.
Proper Storage of Jumper Cables
Finally, make sure that you store your jumper cables properly. Keep them coiled in one spot to prevent tangling and ensure they cannot get wet or rusted and that you don’t get grease or other substances on either the clamps or the wire. The best way to store jumper cables is in a small bag or in a plastic case in the trunk of your vehicle.