One of the most useful skills you can learn in your driving ˝career˝ is how to use jumper cables.
Sooner or later you will find yourself in a situation where your car battery will ˝die˝on you. In this situation, knowing how to use jumper cables will mean the difference between getting out of a tight spot in a matter of minutes or being left stranded and helpless.
As this article will show you, it’s a simple procedure that demands some basic knowledge and a little attention.
If you’re not in the mood for reading you can watch a video tutorial on our YouTube channel or at the end of this article.
HOW TO USE JUMPER CABLES-STEP-BY-STEP PROCEDURE
The usual scenario when it comes to using jumper cables is that you first have to find another car with a good battery. We’ll call it a donor car.
Another option is a spare battery. So when the car battery runs flat, let’s say in front of your household and you happen to have one, you can use it for jump-starting instead of having to search for another car.
But since you already have a good battery at hand the logical thing to do is to replace the battery altogether and solve the problem permanently on the spot. If you want to see how to do this, click here for a separate article on this topic or here for a video tutorial.
Also, if you’re interested in other methods of jump-starting a car you can read this article.
The first mentioned situation is much more common and we’ll focus on that one. So once you’ve managed to find someone willing to help follow the next steps:
1. PARK BOTH CARS AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE WHILE MAINTAINING A SAFE DISTANCE. ACTIVATE THE HANDBRAKE
Knowing the car battery position on both cars is a plus (left, right, the upper, lower side of the engine bay, or perhaps in the trunk). This way you can immediately position both cars for jump-starting.
I’m mentioning this because lots of people oversee this fact, park the cars, raise the hoods and then conclude that the jumper cables can’t reach both batteries.
Get as close as you can but maintain a safe distance. When using jumper cables you should have enough workspace in order to avoid tripping or accidentally pulling off the cables with your body while moving around.
This is also a safety precaution so that the cars don’t accidentally hit each other or the person that’s using the jumper cables doesn’t get injured.
Once parked, activate the handbrake as an additional safety precaution. Better safe than sorry.
2. UNTANGLE THE CABLES-SEPARATE THEM FROM ONE ANOTHER
Jumper cables tend to get tangled, however neatly you may place them.
Make sure that one cable is separated from the other before using it.
If they’re all tangled up, you can get confused about what’s what and the length of the cables shorten. This can lead to reverse connecting or a cable clamp accidentally falling off the battery terminal.
3. PLUS GOES ON PLUS AND MINUS GOES ON MINUS!!!
(Note: to avoid confusion, the upper picture shows jump-starting using a spare car battery. Here the proper connection is perhaps seen best)
This is the golden rule if you want to properly learn how to use jumper cables.
You may ask yourself why so many exclamations mark when this sounds so obvious.
Well, the most common mistake people make when they don’t know how to use jumper cables is reverse connecting (plus to minus and minus to plus).
Avoid this at all costs. Reverse connecting can cause serious damage to the electric and electronic components of both cars.
Remember that the red cable is plus (+) and the black cable is minus (-). This is standard almost everywhere in the world and whatever kind of cables you buy.
4. CONNECT THE RED JUMPER CABLE TO THE PLUS BATTERY TERMINAL OF YOUR CAR AND THEN TO THE PLUS TERMINAL OF THE OTHER CAR- PLUS (+) TO PLUS (+)
When connecting jumper cables, best do it one cable at a time.
So, first, connect the red cable to the battery terminal on your car and then on the donor car.
This way you’re safe both from reverse connecting and causing an accidental short circuit.
Otherwise, if you connect both cables to one battery you’ll end up with two cable clamps in your hands that are under voltage. A moment of inattention or tripping on something can cause the connection of clamps and boom…..you’ve caused a short circuit.
5. CONNECT THE BLACK MINUS JUMPER CABLE TO THE MINUS BATTERY TERMINAL OF YOUR CAR AND THEN TO THE MINUS TERMINAL OF THE OTHER CAR-MINUS (-) TO MINUS (-).
So, exactly the same as with the red cable.
When making the last connection to the battery terminal you may experience a small spark.
This is because the electric circuit is now closed and because your battery is depleted.
Don’t worry, this is normal. Just make sure you haven’t reverse connected the cables.
6. MAKE SURE THE CONNECTIONS ARE TIGHT
Check that the jumper cable clamps are not loose and that they have a firm grip on the battery terminals.
This is important for two reasons:
Good conductivity between two batteries: this is a key factor and it will mean the difference between successfully starting the car or not.
It will prevent the cable clamps from accidentally falling on each other and causing an accidental short-circuit.
7. TELL THE DRIVER OF THE DONOR CAR TO START THEIR ENGINE AND SLIGHTLY REVV UP THE ENGINE (TO ABOUT 2000 RPMS)
Starting the engine and revving it up gives some extra electricity (while the engine is off the voltage is about 12,5 volts but when the engine is running it’s about 14.5 volts).
To simplify, you get more power. This gives a much better effect when your car battery is totally depleted or you have to do some extra cranking.
If you’re reluctant to jump start with the engine on (lack of experience, you’re bothered by the engine noise or else) try without it. If your battery has some ˝juice˝left in it and the car starts at a moment’s notice it may start this way.
8. GET IN YOUR CAR AND TRY STARTING THE ENGINE
If everything is done well, the engine should start without any problems.
Once the engine is running, leave it like that for at least 15 minutes. It will take some time for the alternator to recharge the battery so you can start again. Avoid immediately turning on big electric consumers like the headlights, air conditioning, or else.
9. TELL THE DRIVER OF THE DONOR CAR TO TURN OFF THE ENGINE
The moment you’ve started your engine, tell the driver of the donor car to turn theirs off.
10. DISCONNECT THE JUMPER CABLES
AGAIN: ONE CABLE AT A TIME!
Best plus (+) cable first: take the clamp off of one car then the other
Next minus(-) cable: again from one car and then the other
Once more, this is the best way of avoiding an accidental short circuit and causing serious damage to either car.
And that’s it. Don’t forget to pack the jumper cables back in the car and thank the driver that was kind enough to help you.
These steps may seem a bit complicated but in real-time, it’s done in a couple of minutes. The bigger problem is sometimes to find someone who will help you.
HOW TO CONNECT JUMPER CABLES DIAGRAM
As mentioned this is the most common mistake: connecting the plus battery terminal from one car to the minus of the other car.
It seems unlikely, but given enough confusion and lack of experience, it can certainly happen.
This is why keeping a cool head and knowing how to use jumper cables properly is of the utmost importance.
The consequences of this may be as serious as causing damage to the alternator or even to the ECU unit to both yours and the donor’s car. This goes double for modern cars which are packed with sensitive electronic components.
Not properly connecting the cable clamps
This will cause a weak or non-existent contact between two batteries.
People tend to put the clamps on so they only have a visual grip, so to say.
It’s very important that the clamp grasps the battery terminal and clamp with strength and as much surface as possible.
You’ll best recognize making this mistake by noticing a small spark between the cable clamp and battery terminal when trying to start the car.
Taking off both jumper cables form one car and then the other
Always follow the previously explained procedure and you’ll be out of harm’s way regarding this mistake.
Lack of experience, seeing this whole procedure as complicated, or being reluctant but having to do it all leads to confusion.
The confusion then leads to mistakes which lead to more problems and lost time.
I know that finding yourself in a situation where you’re stranded on a parking lot or on the side of the road and begging around for help may seem aggravating or perhaps humiliating.
All that tension caused by a sudden problem, the possibility of being stranded, perhaps your family is in the car…..not a nice situation.
At this moment, just cool down and see this as a fact of life, just like any other problem. Instead of panicking and worrying, start searching for another driver that’s willing to give a helping hand.
After that grab the cables and go through the whole procedure calmly and with a clear head. This is why properly knowing how to use jumper cables is essential.
Take your time. As mentioned the whole procedure takes only a couple of minutes.
Rushing the whole procedure, just like confusion, may cause costly mistakes or even worse, trouble to the driver that is helping you out.
Reverse connecting is the usual mistake when hurrying.
So, take your time. Slower means faster in this case.
It’s best, if possible to do the whole procedure by yourself. Even if the driver of the donor car offers help.
The offer maybe with the best intentions but two people using jumper cables at the same time dramatically increases the possibility of a mistake.
Also, the working space is reduced increasing the possibility of bumping into each other, accidentally pulling off one of the cables, or else.
Some drivers may be outright rude or be worried that you don’t damage their car so they will insist that they work with the jumper cables.
This is not bad under the circumstance that he/she is capable of this operation. If he/she is, no problem. The main point is to get out of a tight spot.
If not, better say thanks and try to find someone else in order to avoid damage.
Make learning how to use jumper cables mandatory. Especially since it’s easy to learn and may get you out of car trouble.
Always have a pair of jumper cables in your car. They don’t take up much space, they don’t weigh a ton and they usually have a neat little purse so they won’t disturb the interior of your trunk.
When buying jumper cables, make sure that they are quality made. This mainly means cables with good sturdy clamps that will have a good grip and proper diameter copper wiring inside the cable insulation.
Also, make sure that they have enough length (about 2 meters) so you have no problems reaching the other car.
Otherwise, you may have jumper cables for show and tell and not for jump-starting.
And finally, one more great reason for knowing how to use jumper cables and having them in your car: the possibility of helping other drivers on the road.
The relief, happiness, and gratitude from the troubled side (in most cases) are priceless. Not to mention the fact that you’re praised for knowing this skill.
So, I hope this article helps and gets you out of trouble and that you’ll be able to successfully jump-start your car this way.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO ATTACH JUMPER CABLES VIDEO