Safe Use of Jumper Cables


Category : Public Safety, Law Enforcement

If it's happened to you, and most likely it has, then you know just what an awful, helpless feeling it is when your car battery dies on you. A dead battery can turn a good day into a challenging one - and affect your whole schedule.

Maybe you left your headlights on, or perhaps an overhead lamp in the car, or even the radio running too long while sitting in your car eating lunch. And to make matters worse, a dead car battery in the cold, winter months makes it that much worse.

OK, so you turn the key only to learn the battery is dead. Now what? You need a jump. Hopefully you carry jumper cables in the trunk of your car for just such a situation. If not, you'll have to rely on the generosity of a friend, family member, or even a helpful stranger.

In order to attempt to start your car, you'll need a pair of jumper cables and a working vehicle. If you haven't yet had to jump a car, or if you've relied on someone else to do it for you, then you probably don't know exactly how to use jumper cables. That's why we're here to help.

We've created seven, easy-to-follow steps to show you how to use jumper cables and get you back up and running in no time.

Step 1

First, position the working vehicle near the non-working vehicle so that it’s aligned in a way that the two batteries are close together, allowing the jumper cables to reach both batteries. 

Place both vehicles in either park or neutral and shut off the ignition to both so that you avoid potential damage to their electrical systems. You can also apply the parking brakes of both vehicles as well. Now it’s time to connect the jumper cables.

Step 2

Be sure to connect the jumper cables in the proper order. The battery has a positive terminal and a negative terminal, while the jumper cables have a red clip and a black clip. The red clip is positive and the black clip is negative. Positive (red) always attaches to positive (red), while negative (black) always attaches to negative (black).

Attach a red clip to the positive terminal on the disabled vehicle’s battery. You’ll know the positive terminal by the letters “POS” or by a “+” symbol.

Step 3

Pay attention here -- because this is where things can get a bit tricky. Attach one of the black (negative) clips to the negative terminal on the operational vehicle. However, do not connect the other black clip to the negative terminal on the disabled vehicle's battery.

Instead, attach the second black clip to the disabled vehicle's engine block. In other words, attach it to a piece of exposed metal that's not too near the battery.

Why is this necessary? Because attaching the second black clip to the disabled vehicle's negative terminal can potentially change the voltage of the circuit which you're creating, thus causing all sorts of electrical issues, with blown fuses most probable and an exploding battery an outside possibility.

Step 4

You've properly connected the jumper cables in the correct order and you're now ready to jump the battery. First, start the operational vehicle and let it run for a minute or two.

Then try starting the disabled vehicle. Hopefully we have success and it starts on the first try. If not, double check to ensure the cables are connected correctly and let the operational vehicle run for 

about five minutes. Try again. If it doesn't start now, then the battery might be beyond saving and you'll likely need a tow and a new battery.

Step 5

Ideally, you will be up and running at this point. If so, leave the newly operational vehicle running. Do not shut off the engine, as the battery needs time to charge back up.

Step 6

To disconnect the cables, first remove the negative cable from the now operational vehicle's engine block, and then remove the rest of the clips. This can be done while both cars are running.

Step 7

As mentioned above, the battery needs to charge back up so you'll want to drive it around for at least 15 minutes in order to give it the necessary time to get some juice before shutting it off again.

 Other questions to consider

Be aware that if either vehicle – either the operational or disabled – has a fully electronic ignition system or is an alternatively fueled vehicle, then using jumper cables may actually cause damage to that vehicle's ignition system. Instead, you'll need to use what's called a jump box, which is basically a small car battery that comes with a set of jumper cables to jump the car. Connect the jumper cables which are attached to the jump box to your battery and press the start button on your vehicle. Again – read your Owner's Manual in advance and prepare for the situation.

One of the most frequently asked questions is how many amps does it take to jump-start a vehicle. Jump starters generally range from 300 – 3000 amps, but most models that everyday folks need to worry about are between 400 – 600 amps.

The other question that people have is whether jump-starting a car can damage it. In short, yes, that is a real possibility, although not very common.

We're not talking about damaging a car if the jumper cables are hooked up incorrectly, but rather if simply attempting a jump can damage the car. This usually comes up in relation to the age of the vehicles, as well as how drained the batteries are.

Prepare an Emergency Roadside Assistance Kit

Now that you know the required steps and are an expert at how to use jumper cables, make sure you always have a pair at the ready when you, a loved one, or anyone else may need them.


A good Emergency Roadside Assistance Kit should include: 10-ga/8' pair of jumper cables, emergency flares, a flashlight, batteries, a multi-tool, duct tape, and thermal blanket, as well as first aid products and other helpful items (See BLOG on Emergency Kit Preparation)

Preparation is key and knowledge is power. With these helpful tips combined with our handy emergency kit and your ability to take control in an unfortunate situation, you'll be back on the road before you know it.

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