When it comes to jump starting your car, you need to be as informed as possible. There are several different types of jump starters out there and each one works a little differently. You’ll want to know what safety precautions to take, and the risks that come with jump starting a car, as well as how to avoid common pitfalls that many car owners make when they jump start for the first time.
Let’s start by looking at the general safety precautions and then move on to the differences between jump starters and what you need to know to use them.
The first thing to be aware of are some basic safety precautions. Jump starting your car – whether you are using jumper cables or a portable starter – can be dangerous unless you take the proper safety steps. When connecting high power cables to a battery there are always chances for electric sparks to form and they can ignite any gas vapors. So, while any engine will smell like petrol or diesel, make sure that the smell is not so high that it indicates the air is saturated by gas. A simple rule of thumb is that if you start coughing or chocking because of the smell, than you need to leave the car with the hood open to aerate for 10 minutes before doing anything else.
To begin with, make sure that the ignition is off in the car you are trying to start and that your jump starter is in the off position. Make sure that there is enough rubber insulation covering the parts of the jump starter that you are going to need to touch and position the unit securely near the battery – somewhere it has no chance of falling over accidentally. Finally, make sure that the cables attached to your jump starter are long enough to easily reach the battery without any danger of pulling off because of the tension.
The Risks of Jump Starting Your Car
Of course, there are a few risks that come from jump starting a vehicle. The two main risks are causing damage to your vehicle and causing injury to yourself. Observing basic safety precautions will minimize these risks but you still need to know what can happen. For example, if you were to touch the metal part of the jump starter (the part that attaches to the battery) while it is turned on, you stand the risk of electrical shock or burns.
If you attach the cables the wrong way to your car, you risk doing serious damage to your car or causing a battery explosion. Luckily most modern jump starters and even some jump starter cables have something called polarity protection. That means they will warn you and even stop working if you connect the wrong pole. The polarity of a car’s battery, by the way, refers to the plus and minus signs you will see on any car’s battery right next to the poles. The positive pole, the one marked by a plus, will always be connected to red cables, and the negative terminal, marked by a minus, will always be connected to black cables.
Types of Jump Starters
The next thing to understand is what jump starters are on the market and what the differences are between them. First of all, there are basic jumper cables, which are not a jump starter unit, but still serve the same purpose. There are also battery chargers, which generally plug into the wall, and finally, there are jump starters, which are small and are often called mini jump starters because of their compact size.
Connecting the Red Wire
The first thing that you will do is connect the red wire to the positive battery terminal. Make sure that you do not have any sort of plastic covering on the battery terminals and then carefully pick up the red cable.
There should be backup identifying marks like plus (+) or minus (-) signs on the positive and negative battery terminals respectively. Connect the red wire to the positive battery terminal, checking your owner’s manual if you aren’t absolutely certain which one is positive.
Connecting the Ground
The next thing that you are going to do is connect the ground cable. The ground cable is almost always black and has a negative sign. Again, check the owner’s manual of your vehicle if you aren’t sure. Some car manufacturers will have a cable running straight from the negative terminal, somewhere further in front in the engine bay. They do this to allow you to more easily connect to that negative terminal if you need to jump start the car.
Using a 12-Volt Connection
In some cases, you will not be using terminals at all. Instead, your jump starter might have a 12 volt connection that you will plug into your car’s cigarette light (12 volt plug). Sometimes, this requires waiting for a short period of time before you can start the car, but it is actually a much safer approach than connecting anything to the battery cables. What you are doing in this case is that you are actually charging the car’s battery through the cigarette lighter. The power trickling through that port is fairly faint so make sure you allow at least half an hour before you attempt to turn over the car. During that time you should make sure that the radio, lights and heater are all off. You should also make sure that the 12 volt is powered. On some cars that means turning the key in the ignition until you hear the first click.
Starting the Vehicle
So, once you have your cables connected, and your jump starter has been turned on (the indicator dial should go down when the cables are connected properly to show a drain on the starter’s battery) you can turn the key and start the ignition of the vehicle.
If you used a twelve volt connection instead of cables you may have to wait up to an hour first. If your dash lights come on when you turn the key, it is probably a good indication that you can try turning the car over. If there is no response, allow it to charge for a few minutes; same with a slow crank.
Recharging the Jump Starter
You should make sure that you recharge your jump starter every time you use it and even if you do not use it, you still should recharge it every month or so. It is possible that the battery might drain from the unit being stored in your vehicle and you want it to be fully functional when your battery actually does go dead. Just plug it into the wall and allow it to charge completely. Many jump starters will have an indicator showing the charge.
If you are using the jump starter and still cannot get your vehicle to turn over, then check the cables and ensure that they are tight. Move your ground cable from the battery post or its current location to another steel part of the chassis. Make sure that your jump starter actually has a charge as well. If none of this works, you might have to replace your vehicle battery or the problem may be somewhere else entirely. Don’t continually try to jump start if it is clear you aren’t having success because you may do damage to your vehicle.