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Jump-Start a Dead Car Battery

How to bring your car back to life.

So, you get in your car, put the key in the ignition, turn it, and nothing happens except a weird clicking noise. Guess what? Your battery might be dead. Here's what you can do to get moving again.

Find a friend.

Call someone for help. Or, if you're at school, the mall or somewhere else where you're likely to find someone you know, ask for help. You need a second car with a good battery to give your car a jump. But don't just go up to a total stranger.

Locate some jumper cables.

These are a good thing to have in your trunk, but if you don't have them, find a friend who does. Make sure they're in good shape, with no fraying or bare wires.

Get your cars close together.

The cables have to reach from the dead battery to the good one, so pull up the good car alongside yours. Don't let them touch, though. That would be bad. Seriously.

Turn everything off.

This includes radios, A/C, heat, vents, turn signals, headlights, flashers, etc. No electric stuff going at all. But, if it's pitch black and you need the headlights to see what you're doing, that's okay.

Here's the tricky part.

These steps have to be done in this order, or it won't work.

  • Squeeze open the clamp and attach the red jumper cable to the positive terminal on the good car's battery — sometimes it's marked with a "+" sign or a red mark.
  • Attach the other red jumper cable to the positive terminal of your car's battery.
  • Attach the black jumper cable to the negative terminal of the good battery — sometimes it's marked with a "-" sign or a black mark.
  • Attach the remaining black cable to a metal surface on your car, as far away from the battery as possible. This "grounds" the car. Avoid any moving parts in the engine.
  • Remember red goes to red and black goes to black, or positive always goes to positive and negative always goes to negative. Never cross the two — you might be shocked by the results.

Start your engines! One by one!

Start the good car first, and let it run for several minutes. Then, start your car. After a minute or two, remove the cables in the reverse order that they were attached. Let your car run for a few minutes before driving, so it has time to charge up a little.

What if it doesn't work?

Sometimes, the terminals on your battery can be a little corroded. The metal from the clamps have to be touching the metal of the terminal, so you might need to grind it back and forth a little bit to get rid of the gunk. If that doesn't work, it could be a bigger problem such as a blown starter. If the first few tries don't work, call a tow truck.

Hit the road.

You should be ready to go after a couple of minutes. Try to drive your car for about 15 minutes to keep charging the battery.

In the future ...

Make sure you have jumper cables in your trunk, in case this ever happens again. And check with your parents to see if you have access to roadside assistance through your car insurance or auto club. And if your battery died because it's old — not because you left your lights on — get a replacement. It could save you a lot of headaches.

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