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How to Jump Start A Car

Published Sat August 7, 2021

Has this ever happened to you? You jump into the driver’s seat of your car, in a rush to get your kids to school and yourself to work. You turn the key and get ready to zoom away—but as you turn your ignition, nothing happens. A few clicks or stray sputters of your engine, maybe. But other than that? Nothing.


You probably know good and well what’s happened here. It’s a dead battery, and for some drivers, it means an automatic call to your roadside assistance company.


But actually, if you have the right equipment and a little bit of knowledge, you can fix this problem all by yourself—jumping your engine and getting back on the road in no time flat.

1. How To Jump Start A Car Battery The Right Way

Car Battery Dead?


It has probably happened to you before.You go to turn your ignition, and nothing happens. Maybe you hear a few clicks. Another dead car battery? You need to fix this and get your vehicle back on the road – fast. If you are prepared, you already have a good set of jumper cables in your car. Now all you need to do is to learn how to jump start a car battery.




Choosing the Right Jumper Cables

You don’t need many tools to jump a car battery. First, you must find a functioning car to use for the jump-start. Make sure that both car owners are comfortable opening the hood and identifying the battery and battery terminals. Jumper cables are the most popular tool used to jump start cars because they are inexpensive and easy to store. Jumper cables usually come in a variety of lengths, ranging from 10-20 feet. Some people think longer cables are better so that you do not have to move a car with a dead battery. But, while longer cables provide convenience, they may lose power as the longer the cable, the farther the energy has to travel. The gauge of the cable denotes the strength of the cables. The lower the gauge, the thicker the cables and the stronger they are. Gauge six is a standard size for jumper cables.


Safety First

You should consider all safety risks before performing any basic maintenance or repair on your car. First, make sure that small children are in a safe area away from the engine while you are establishing how to jump a dead car battery. Take a moment to read the manual of your car. Some vehicles require extra steps in order to have a successful jump. If you’re unsure of what to do, contact your local Meineke Car Care Center for advice. Assuming that your car will permit a jump, you should be careful to prevent dangerous electric shocks. When you handle the jumper cables, be aware that their function is to transmit electrical current from one car to another. Once one end of the jumper cables is connected to a car, do not touch the metal clamps to anything but the appropriate target. It’s also recommended that you wear a pair of protective glasses in case sparks go flying into the air.


How to Jump a Car Battery

2. What if Your Car Battery Won’t Hold a Charge, or Keeps Dying?

Let’s say for a moment that you successfully get your car battery jumped, and are able to make it to your destination. But then, the next time you try to start your engine, you experience the same problems—clicks, sputters, all the telltale sign of a dead battery.


If your battery “dies” twice in a row like that, it simply means that it didn’t successfully hold its charge the first time. There are several potential causes to consider.


The Causes of a Failed Charge


Some of the most common reasons why a battery won’t hold its charge include:


– You’ve left your lights on—or some other accessory that draws battery power—even when the car hasn’t been running.
– Even while you were driving the car, the battery wasn’t recharging. This is a mechanical problem, and something you’ll want to discuss with the service pros at Meineke.
– You simply didn’t drive the car around for very long once you jumped it; remember, you’ll want to keep the engine running for at least a few minutes to ensure it builds a decent charge. Spending about 20 minutes driving around town is ideal.
– There is some sort of a parasitic electrical drain on the battery—more likely than not caused by a bad alternator.
– The battery is simply very old, and no longer capable of holding a charge for very long. If this is the case, you’ll need to replace it. That’s something we can do for you at Meineke.


These are not the only potential causes of your battery woes, but they represent the most likely scenarios.


Diagnosing the Problem


To determine which of these scenarios you’re dealing with, here are a few troubleshooting tips.


1. First, simply turn on your headlights. If they come on with their normal brightness, your problem is probably a bad starter or poor wiring—not the battery itself. If the lights do not come on at all, or if they’re dimmer than normal, then the problem is more likely with the battery.
2. Next, test the voltage of your battery. To do this, get a voltmeter and connect the red lead to the positive terminal and the black lead to the negative terminal. Hopefully, you’ll get a reading of over 12.6 volts, showing a fully charged battery—but if not, there’s definitely an issue with the battery being poorly charged.
3. From there, consider the condition of the battery itself. Does it look obviously corroded or worn out? Is it more than four years old? If so, then the simplest solution may be to have the battery replaced.
4. Finally, consider whether the problem is your alternator. If you detect cracking or fraying in the alternator cables, that’s an obvious sign that something’s off. And if you jump start the car only for the battery to quickly lose its charge and the engine to stall, that’s suggestive of an alternator issue.


These are some effective ways to figure out why your battery won’t hold a charge—but what if it won’t jumpstart at all? If you followed our step-by-step guide and your engine still won’t turn, there could be a number of potential reasons.

3. Why Won’t Your Engine Jumpstart?

If your efforts to jumpstart the battery don’t go anywhere, it’s likely for one of these reasons:


1. First, it may be that the terminals on your car battery need a deep cleaning. We’ll offer some tips for this in just a moment!
2. Your battery may simply be very old, and beyond the point at which it can be repaired—in which case, of course, it will need to be replaced.
3. Finally, note that there could be another mechanical problem somewhere in the vehicle, such as blown fuses or a bad alternator. A Meineke service technician can help diagnose and fix any of these problems.

4. How to Clean a Car Battery

How to clean a car battery


If you have an old battery or a mechanical failing, that’s probably going to require intervention from an automotive specialist. But if the problem is simply that the terminals on your battery need to be cleaned, that’s something you can do yourself.


Here’s what you need to do to make sure your battery terminals are spotless:

  1. First and foremost, turn off your engine. While cleaning the terminals is a fairly straightforward DIY project, there is still a slight risk of injury. You can avert this risk simply by making sure you have the engine turned off while you work.
  2. Next, loosen the nut holding your negative cable in place; you’ll likely need a wrench for this. Detach the cable from the post. Then, follow the same steps with the positive cable.
  3. Take just a moment to visually inspect your car battery. Specifically, look for any fissures or cracks. If you see any, that means there’s a problem with your car battery that you probably won’t be able to fix on your own; more likely than not, you’re looking at the need for a battery replacement.
  4. You’ll also want to look at the cables and clamps themselves. Again, what you’re looking for is very obvious evidence of wear and tear. If your cables or clamps have big rips or tears, you’ll probably need to have them replaced. These things really can’t be mended.
  5. Assuming you don’t see any of these obvious signs of wear and tear, you’ll want to mix your cleaning solution—one tablespoon of baking soda into one cup of water. Mix ‘em up thoroughly, then dip an old toothbrush into the mixture.
  6. Use the toothbrush to scrub away any signs of corrosion you see on your battery terminals. Don’t be afraid to really scour thoroughly to get things squeaky clean. You may have to soak your toothbrush in the baking soda mixture a couple of times as you keep scrubbing away.
  7. When you finish, use a spray bottle with cool water to rinse off any residue. It is imperative to make sure all baking soda and corrosion are washed away. Then, use an old rag or towel to pat the battery and clamps completely dry.
  8. Use a little bit of petroleum jelly to lubricate the terminals.
  9. Reattach the cables to their correct terminals.


That’s the basic guide to cleaning your battery terminals—but here’s an alternate approach: If you’re on the go and don’t have access to the above supplies, see if you can find a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi somewhere, and pour it over the terminals. Let it sit for two or three minutes, then rinse your battery clean with cool water. Note: You’ll want to follow the same basic safety steps we outlined above, including turning off your engine and detaching the cables.


If you can’t start your car, read our step-by-step guide with pictures on how to jump start a car battery, it may be helpful! 

5. How to Prevent Your Battery from Dying

Of course, it’s optimal to keep your battery from dying at all. This isn’t always possible—eventually, every battery dies out—but there are some things you can do to prolong your battery life for as long as possible.


  1. For starters, make sure you make regular battery tests part of your routine maintenance. When you take your vehicle to Meineke for an oil change and tire rotation, also ask them to check the battery life, and to let you know when it’s time to think about a replacement.
  2. Protect your battery from extreme weather. Garage it during the winter or summer, whenever possible—and if it’s not possible, consider an insulated blanker to keep your battery safe.
  3. If you’re going out of town and won’t be driving the car for a few weeks, see if a friend can come rev it up and take it around the block once or twice, ensuring that the battery stays charged.
  4. Of course, you also want to double and triple check to be sure you aren’t leaving lights or appliances on when the vehicle isn’t running—these are major drains on the battery life.

Battery life is something you can extend through regular, preventative maintenance. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment for a battery test, we invite you to reach out to your nearest Meineke service location today. Ask us how we can help you keep your vehicle battery in good working order!