Getting Jumped By Your Neighbor

No, not like that. A quick how-to guide on jumping your car.

Red is positive, black is negative. Red is positive, black is… an unpainted metal surface?

Having your car battery die is an extremely frustrating experience, especially if you aren’t in the comfort of your own driveway. With a little context, and some jumper cables, the instruction above will get you moving the next time you accidentally leave your car lights on. Here’s a best-case hypothetical story on the proper way to jump a car with cables:

You’re in the car in your driveway waiting to take your daughter to soccer practice.


A reedy, endless chugging sound fills the car as you try to start the engine, with dismal results. Your battery is dead. Luckily your neighbor loves jumping cars and he sees this whole thing going down from his perch on his lawnmower. Over he comes with his car and his cables, ready to restore your battery.

First, he shuts his car off (your car isn’t starting, but make sure the ignition is off and the vehicle is in park anyway). He throws on his parking brake for good measure.

Next, he starts connecting the cables. On his battery, he puts the red clip on the positive terminal (if it’s not labeled with a “pos” or a “+” you can safely assume it’s the larger of the two terminals) and the black clip on the negative terminal.

After he connects the cables to his living battery, he goes to work on yours. He connects the red clip, again, to the positive terminal on your dead battery. Then he clamps the other black clip onto an unpainted metal portion of your car. “On the car with the dead battery” your neighbor says “red clip goes on positive, black clip goes on unpainted metal.” You nod at the reiteration, it’s all making sense to you now.

Now that you’re hooked up, your neighbor instructs you to go start your vehicle.

It roars to life!

You thank your neighbor. “If that didn’t work” he says, “I could have just run my engine for five minutes and that would have done the trick.”

“Good to know” you say, getting in your car.

Now that’s a happy hypothetical ending. Having the engine running charges the battery, so drive for at least 10-15 minutes before turning the engine off. This will ensure the battery has a chance to charge back up before you need it to start your car again. If your car doesn’t start again the next time you’re looking to head out, it may be time to have that battery looked at and replaced.

If you’ve never jumped your car before, make sure to give the owner’s manual a once-over. Any extra steps or important information on the jumping of your vehicle should be in that manual. Make sure the jumping cable clips never touch each other, especially while one end is connected to a battery. If you want to be extra prepared, you can pick up a pair of emergency jumper cables for twenty dollars (or less).

Stay safe and happy driving!

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