How To Jump Start a Car

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 11, 2008 · 127 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills

You’re walking out of your apartment and notice a good looking gal with the hood of her car open, looking at the engine with desperation. You go over and ask what’s wrong. The car battery is dead, and she’s late for class. She asks you if you can give her jump. You look down at the ground, kick some rocks, and offer to call AAA instead.

You have no clue how to jump start a car.

Every man should know how to jump start a dead car battery. You never know when you’ll need this knowledge to aid a stranded damsel in distress or help yourself. While jumping a dead battery is super simple, you’d be surprised by the number of men who have no idea how to do it. Even if a man has learned how to jump start a car before, it can be easy to forget what cables go where. Positive on negative? Ground the positive cable on the car with the good battery? Red cable is negative?

To help you avoid looking like a putz when asked to jump start a car and to help prevent you from shocking the hell out of yourself when you do it, here’s the rundown on how to jump start a dead car battery.

How to Tell if Your Battery Is Dead

Before you try jump starting a car, you need to determine that the battery is the reason the car isn’t starting up. If you turn the ignition and hear the engine cranking, a dead battery isn’t your problem and jump starting it won’t do a darn thing. However, if you turn the key and the car does absolutely nothing, then there’s a good chance you have a dead battery on your hands and jumping it may be your ticket to getting back on the road.

How to Jump Start a Car with Cables

Note: You should always carry jumper cables in your car with you. You never know when you’re going to need them.

Don’t be this guy

1. Make sure both cars are turned off.

2. Connect one end of the red (positive) jumper cable to the positive terminal on the stalled battery.

3. Then connect the other red (positive) cable clamp to the positive terminal of the good battery.

4. Connect one end of the black (negative) jumper cable to the negative terminal of the good battery.

5. Then connect the other black (negative) cable to a clean, unpainted metal surface under the disabled car’s hood. Somewhere on the engine block is a good place. Unless you want to see flying sparks and a possible explosion, do not connect the negative cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery, .

6. Start the car that’s doing the jumping, and allow it to run for about 2 to 3 minutes before starting the dead car.
7. Remove cables in reverse order.
8. Keep the jumped car running for at least 30 minutes to give the battery sufficient time to recharge itself.

And you’re done. Give yourself a pat on the back for a manly job well done.

Unfortunately, jumper cables will not bring inanimate objects to life. Including hot model women you build in your lab.


The hardest part of the job is simply remembering where to put each cable. Many a man has broken out in a sweat wondering if he is about to make a wrong move and toast himself to a crisp. Here’s the good news: It’s probably impossible to electrocute yourself from jump starting a car. The battery might give you a big shock, but the voltage is too low to penetrate your skin and put you down for the count.

But no one wants to be on the receiving end of a zap, no matter how mild. So come up with a mnemonic device to help you remember which color goes where. I personally think: red=blood=life=positive/black=death=negative.

How to Jump Start a Car Without Cables

If you have a standard transmission car, you can jump start that bad boy without using cables. Here’s how you do it:

1. Find a stretch of clear downhill road.

2. Fully depress the clutch and put the car in first gear.

3. Turn the ignition to on.

4. Take your foot off the brake and start rolling down the hill, leaving the clutch fully depressed.

5. Coast down the hill until you reach 5 or 7 miles per hour.

6. Release the clutch quickly. You should feel the engine turn and start. If it doesn’t start the first time, depress the clutch and release it again.

7. If you don’t have a hill, get some of your buddies to give you a push and follow the steps above.

Got a story to share about when knowing how to jump start a car came in handy? Were you able to help a little old lady? Did you have to do it in subzero weather in the complete dark? Drop a line in the comment box and share it with us.

{ 126 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Elle December 17, 2012 at 9:05 am

Thank you so much for these clear directions, with pictures.

Although I am not a manly man, instead being a womanly woman, I was forced to assume this role (oh for an accent circumflex to throw over the “o”) this morning. Although terrified, with the help of my daughter, I was able to carry out this procedure.

Normal life resumes.

102 Julian Knight December 31, 2012 at 10:35 am

Hi, pretty good instructions thanks.

Just one thing though – although a car battery will not electrocute you, it CAN and WILL give you some VERY serious, even life-threatening burns. This is because there is very little RESISTANCE in a car battery, it can deliver all of it’s power very quickly. A shorted car battery makes a very effective electric fire albeit for a short time, it is more than enough to burn out the car wiring and plenty to burn your skin off.

Don’t take risks, remove metal jewelry before messing with the battery and take your time.

103 Kamron January 9, 2013 at 11:02 am

I drove my car for weeks with a useless starter, all I did was park it on a clear slope (its manual).

104 Chris January 24, 2013 at 12:46 am

Yeah, I dunno whose idea it is to put the black clamp onto a metal surface under the hood and not the battery cause that does not work. I had to clamp it on the negative end of the dead battery or else Id be stuck there. I didn’t see any sparks fly. Spare yourself the time. just do it the regular way of going positive to positive and negative to negative.

105 Jules Pillars January 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I recently (1-22-13) had to jump my car, I used the above mentioned positive to positive, negative to metal, my Taurus did not start, negative to negative, sat for another 6-10 minutes, started up.

106 Dan C January 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm

The reason to do negative to metal is to keep the spark (from the final connection) away from the battery which could cause it to explode sending skin melting sulfuric acid in your face and eyes. most of the metal in your car is grounded so its the same as attaching the cable to the battery without the danger of blowing it up. Make sure the metal isnt painted, just try a couple different places until you get a good connection.

107 JRam January 28, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Actually Dan, if you connect the negative end to the battery instead of the metal surface (electric ground) you can damage the car.

When you step on the gas pedal of the good car, the voltage in the battery terminals increases from 12V to 15V because the alternator kicks in. This could damage the car’s computer or burn a fuse, which you would later have to replace.

Also, when you jump start a manual transmision car, you do it on 2nd shift, not 1st. And you have to turn the key all the way and let go SLOWLY of the clutch. You can also do it going in reverse, but you need to be a very skilled driver.

108 Al February 20, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Well thank you AoM for great instructions. However I am still docked points because I did not consult the guide first and fried my set of cables, having my fiances car running when I started the process. I know how stupid I was, only wirking with Jump Boxes at work. A 20 dollar waste and life lesson learned. Thanks again!

109 Brandt February 22, 2013 at 8:18 pm

To Jules with the Taurus, the reason it didn’t jump off with the cable connected to metal under the hood is that you probably didn’t have a good connection. That connection must be to a solid, unpainted surface (bare metal). If you can find a bolt fastened to the body of the car, and it has gunk and paint on it, use the cable connection to scrape it off.

110 Jesse S February 25, 2013 at 1:17 pm

It’s a good Idea to mention that not all jumper cables are created equally. If you have a heavy-duty vehicle that draws heavy duty power on start-up, heavy gauge cables are needed. A jenky set of bargain basement cables can easily overheat if used in too demanding a situation. Same goes for the vehicle donating the electrons. Don’t expect someone’s Festiva to effectively jump your cement truck.

111 Evan J February 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Thank you JRam – never bump start in a low gear unless you don’t mind if you twist off a drive shaft or watch the whole transmission fall out behind you. My ’71 Dodge stalls all the time when cold and I don’t want to keep the (manual) choke out, so usually it’s just a quick out and in with the clutch in 2nd or 3rd (or 4th if it stalls while I still have some speed). If you’re battery’s totally dead, you might have to spin the alternator for a while, so you’ll need to do it in a higher gear unless you have some strong friends pushing or a nice hill to help you out.

112 Old o April 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Good Ground, Bad Block, Reds Together.

113 soma April 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Very good description of steps,very clear and easy to follow.

114 nick June 11, 2013 at 6:02 am

just so everyone is 100% clear…#5 when you clamp it to an unpainted piece of metal…it has to be a part connected to your frame(thus your tires)…aluminum or sheet metal will not work. the black is your ground and passing the connection through to the tires grounds your car.

115 Jer August 16, 2013 at 12:13 pm

It’s been said already by JRam and Evan, but it bears repeating. If you’re popping the clutch to start your car, do it in 2nd gear, and just barely feather the gas a little. I’ve seen guys crack gears popping too aggressively in 1st.

116 Luke September 15, 2013 at 5:05 am

Use 2nd gear if roll starting a car!!!
Cannot stress this enough, 1st gear will spin the engine too fast if you get the car up to a decent speed. Use 1st only if you have limited space and are push starting it.

117 Christina September 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Thank you! I just jumped started my car on my own using my mother’s car, I’d never done this before. Positive to positive, negative on the good battery and negative to ground on my stalled car. Worked like a charm. :)

118 Matt October 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I had to park my stick-shift ’98 Ford Escort for about a month on any hill I could find so that I could bump start it. It was always awkward explaining it to any passengers I offered rides to. Turns out that the cable on my negative terminal was corroded about 80% of the way through the cable. Enough to run the car but not enough to start the car off the battery.

119 Matt October 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm

My dad and I had to jump-start our family’s minivan using a set of borrowed jumper cables. I hooked up my end, red to positive, black to negative. Without double checking my dad’s side, he tried starting the minivan. All of a sudden the insulation on the cables started smoking and melting all over the cars. Turns out my dad is an idiot and flipped the black and red on the dead minivan. He effectively wired two car batteries in series with no resistance!!!

120 Nick October 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Sorry nick, but just as a point of clarification, connecting the ground to the metal surface does not complete the circuit with the actual ground that the car is sitting on. Connecting the black (ground) cable to the engine block is recommended in the article because the engine block is directly grounded to the battery through a grounding strap, effectively completing the electric circuit. The car is not grounded to the earth through the tires. The tires are made of rubber, and they are filled with air, making them GREAT insulators, not conductors. It takes about 20,000V just to fire a spark plug across a 1/8″ gap of air, so imagine the voltage necessary to jump the 3-4 inch air gap alone, then add in the resistance of the tires. Sorry for the rant, I just thought it might be useful to know why you actually connect the cable to a certain point. Also, as long as the surface the ground cable you are connecting to is unpainted BARE metal, it will work. You can see most aftermarket sound systems that are housed in the trunk are grounded to the trunk floor, which is nothing more than sheet metal, albeit a spot with the paint sanded away. Cheers.

121 Phil January 1, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Returned from vacation to a dead battery. This tutorial was a lifesaver. Worked perfectly!

122 Shreyas B January 3, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Thanks for this article! My fiancee’s battery just died after a few days of leaving it in the chilly Midwest weather we’re having. I got the car up and running, and all is well!

123 dan January 4, 2014 at 11:52 am

Only holds true if both vehicles are negative ground. If one is positive ground all the connections must be made at the battery.

124 arunan January 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm

My Acura MDXs manual asked me to use the special grounding clamp right in the front center of the hood in front of the engine for the negative end. Always consult your manual in case you aren’t sure. in my case I couldn’t find any unpainted metallic parts exposed :)..

125 Cynthia February 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Thanks! Having forgotten the connection order since my unreliable car days, your website helped me, my two daughters and their two friends (all 16) jump start the friends’ old car with our truck. My daughters connected the leads and later asked why they don’t teach this in driver’s ed.

126 Ryan March 9, 2014 at 11:23 am

Connecting the negative to a metal part of the car has never worked for me — always had to just connect it (carefully) to the negative end of the dead battery. Yeah, it sparks a little, but the alternative is to sit there with a dead car and wonder why doing it the “right” way just won’t freakin’ work!

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