How To Jump-Start a Car Back to Life

Sometimes, car batteries die—but most of the time, all you need to jolt it back to life is a working car and some jumper cables. Here's how to jump-start a car battery.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
To jump-start your battery, you’ll need a pair of jumper cables and another car.
If your car battery suddenly dies on you, there’s no need to fear—this article will walk you through how to jump-start your car’s battery and get you back on the road.
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Read on to learn more about jump-starting your car battery.
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Jump-start your car’s battery

Now, to get your car’s battery charged up and ready to go, you’ll need a good pair of jumper cables, and another car with a battery that's still kicking.

1. Unleash your jumper cables

In order to unleash your jumper cables, you’ll need to have a pair in the first place. They can be purchased at car specialty shops, big-box stores, and large online retailers, and tend to run from anywhere between $10 to $70.
If you don’t own a pair of cables, you’ll either need to call roadside assistance or rely on a friendly passerby who is willing to help and has the requisite equipment.

2. Get the dead car and the helper car ready

Once you’ve found another driver willing to help you jumpstart your dead battery with their car, the first thing to do is position both cars facing each other with hoods open, roughly 18 or so inches apart.
Make sure both cars are in park or neutral, as no one wants a dead zombie car wreaking havoc all over the place. Engage the parking brake to ensure the unfortunate aforementioned situation does not happen.

3. Attach the cables

With hoods open, find the batteries in both cars and take note of the terminals, or the parts of the battery that you’ll be attaching the jumper cables to, with one exception, as will be detailed below.
First, attach one end of the red positive (+) clamp to the positive (+) terminal on your car’s dead battery. Now, attach the other end of the same cable to the operational car’s positive (+) terminal. Got it?
Good. Now, take the black negative cable and attach one negative (-) clamp to the negative (-) terminal of the working car. Attach the other end of the same cable to a bare metal surface within the deceased car’s engine bay**.
Key Takeaway Regarding jumper cables, the red cable is the positive (+) cable, and the black cable is the negative (-) one.

4. Jump it!

So, with cables attached, start the live car and let it run for a few minutes (patience, young car doctor) before trying to start the dead car.
If the dead car is still...dead, let the operational car run for a few more minutes—this will help charge up the dead battery to a point where it should start the car.
Now, if the dead car still won’t start, try revving the engine of the working car, as that may further juice the dead battery to the point where it starts.
Key Takeaway Allow the working car to run for a few minutes before trying to start the car with the dead battery.

5. Remove the cables

Once you’ve brought your dead car back to life and it’s running (away from the white light, thankfully), it is safe to remove the jumper cables, starting with the black negative clamps—make sure the ends do not touch.
Remove the red cables as well, ends not touching, and close the hood.
With your resuscitated car running, now drive it for roughly 15-20 minutes, in order for the battery to build up a good charge. If you turn the car off too soon after the battery’s been jump-started, the battery might die again.
Key Takeaway When removing jumper cables after a successful jumpstart, remove the black clamps first, then the red ones, and make sure the clamps do not touch each other.
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If your dead battery won’t charge, even with a jump-start

If a jump-start won’t jolt your battery back to life, you could be dealing with another issue, such as a
damaged alternator
, or your battery might be past its best before date.
Car batteries typically last between four and six years, so if your car is approaching that age, it might be a good idea to visit your mechanic and
buy a new battery
Sometimes, a mechanical issue, such as a malfunctioning alternator, can drain power away from the battery, causing it to die before its time. This is another issue your mechanic can look into if you’re repeatedly having trouble with a dead battery.
Another common culprit of a dead car battery is a light or accessory left on after the car has been turned off. If left for a long period of time, say overnight, you might have trouble starting your car in the morning.

How a car battery dies

A car battery can meet its end in many ways, but the most common ways are a light or component left on when the car is turned off, extreme weather that can weaken the battery, or not starting your car for a long period of time.
But dealing with a dead battery is done in two ways: jump-starting it with an assist from a live car, or calling in
roadside assistance
when your car goes code blue.

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Frequently asked questions about jump-starting

Will a dead car battery recharge itself?

No, a dead battery cannot charge itself. A dead battery needs a charge from an outside source (such as a live car) before the dead battery’s alternator kicks in and begins transferring power from the battery into the car’s electrical structure.

Can a car battery be too dead to jump-start?

No, a car battery cannot be too dead to jump-start. If a car is not successfully jump-starting, it means there is another mechanical failure at play.
Check with a mechanic to figure out the problem—you might have a broken alternator or need a new battery entirely.
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