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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.
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.
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.
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.
Park the functioning car so that the vehicles face each other, preferably only about 18 inches apart, but never touching each other. For automatic transmission cars, put the vehicle in park; for a manual transmission, set the vehicle to neutral. Set the parking brakes on both, so neither car moves unexpectedly.
Both cars should be turned off, with keys removed. Set down the jumper cables on the ground, making sure the clamps do not touch each other.
Open the hood to both cars, and locate the batteries (refer to the owner’s manual for battery location) and battery terminals. Usually, the two terminals on each battery will be covered in red or black, with a + or – sign on top. Look at the batteries and make sure that you can identify which is positive, and which is negative. This distinction is crucial to the success of your jump. If the battery
terminals are dirty, wipe them off with a rag or wire brush.
Attach the red, positive cable clamp to the positive (+) battery terminal of the dead battery. You want a solid connection to the battery terminal, which may require some initial wiggling of the clamps
Attach the red, positive cable clamp on the
other side of the jumper cables to the
functioning vehicle’s positive (+) battery
Connect the black, negative cable clamp to the working battery’s negative (-) battery terminal.
Walk over to the car with the dead battery. Do not connect the black, negative cable clamp to the dead battery. Instead, attach that clamp to an unpainted, metal part of the car such as a shiny, clean nut on the engine block. This will help ensure a safe jump.
Now you’re ready to attempt the jump-start. Follow the instructions below to find out how and how long to charge your car’s dead battery:
Start the working vehicle. Wait a minute or so. Depending on the age of the battery and how long since it died, you may need to let the car run for a minute or two to get the jump to work.
Try starting the dead car. If the car doesn't start, allow the working vehicle to charge the battery for an additional minute or two before attempting again.
In some instances, slightly revving the engine of the working car while charging the dead battery may help.
Once the dead car is running, you may disconnect the jumper cables, starting with the black, negative cable clamps. Do not let the clamps touch each other while any part of the cables is still attached to a car.
Now, take a short drive. This will allow the battery to build up a charge. This driving allows the vehicle’s alternator to charge the battery and ensures that your vehicle does not die again once you turn it off.
If the jump fails to start your car after a few short attempts, or if the car starts but then dies again, you have some other issues you need to address. Most batteries are rated to last 4-6 years. If your battery is old, you may need to replace it. If the battery should be working well, you should consider other possible problems with other components, including:
When you do not know what is wrong, your best bet is to take the car in to your local Meineke Car Care Center for service and repair. Many centers conveniently offer free battery inspections and diagnostic scans and can help you understand your vehicle’s issues.
Dealing with a dead car battery is a pain. Luckily, getting your car working again is not terribly difficult. By following these instructions, using your jumper cables sensibly, practicing safety and addressing other potential concerns, your car will run better, be safer, and last longer. For professional advice and assistance,
talk to your local mechanic at your neighborhood Meineke Car Care Center.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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!