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Jump Starting Your Car

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On: Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 10:56AM | By: Peter C Sessler

Jump Starting Your Car

This seems like a no-brainer topic to cover—jump starting your car—but there is more to jump starting than meets the eye. And this topic is especially relevant in cold weather, since winter is the most common time to give or to get a jump start simply because the cold reduces the battery's efficiency.

It's a good idea to carry a set of jumper cables in the trunk; you never know when you'll need a jump and conversely, you never know when you'll be able to help someone out.

The question of what type of cables to use is very important. Avoid cheapie type cables because they aren't worth it. The rule of thumb when shopping for cables is to get the thickest ones you can afford. Cables are measured by how thick their copper wiring is. A zero gauge cable is the best, but for all practical purposes, almost impossible to find. It's really thick—it is the same gauge as welding cable.

The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wiring is. So, stay away from anything that's eight or higher numerically. What happens if you use cheap cables? The most common consequence is that the cables won't conduct enough electricity, and will get very hot.

Another factor that affects cable efficiency is length. The longer the cable the less efficient it is. So if you want to get a 20-foot long set of cables, you really have to get ones with the lowest-gauge number available.

Now that you're ready to jump start a car, remember that it is possible to cause a battery explosion when you attach the cables to the battery. Batteries give off hydrogen as they discharge. Although I have never had a battery explode on me, it has happened to my brother. It took a few weeks for his eyebrows to grow back.

You can avoid or minimize the possibility of an explosion by attaching the cables in the proper order. Before you do so, turn off all lights and accessories on the car needing a jump, and turn the ignition off on the car giving the boost.

Attach one cable end to the positive side of the battery of the car needing a jump. That terminal will have a "+" on the battery. Sometimes the terminal end might get cruddy and that can be enough to stop the flow of electricity. If this is the case, clamp the cable end on the terminal and turn it a few times back and forth to wear a small grove. This gets rid of the crud and it's especially a good idea to do this on side terminal batteries, most commonly used with GM cars. Side terminal batteries are generally a pain because, depending on the car, it can be really difficult to reach the battery terminals.

Next, attach the other end of the cable to the "+" terminal of the battery of the booster car. Again, make sure you have a good connection. Now take the other cable and attach it to the negative, marked "-" terminal of the booster car.

The last and final connection is to attach the other end of the "-" cable to the car needing a boost. Wherever you attach it, there'll be a spark as the circuit is completed. Here, most authorities will tell you to attach it to some part on the engine that is not painted, such as a bolt or a bracket. Sometimes this works, but many times it doesn't. I usually just attach it to the negative side of the battery, knowing that I am tempting fate with an explosion.

Now turn on the booster car and let it idle for a minute or two. Next, start the dead car. If its battery died because the lights were left on, it should start right away. If the car has been sitting for some time, it might take a few cranks before it starts. In any case, don't keep cranking and cranking if the car doesn't turn in a reasonable time.

Once the car has started, disconnect the battery cables in the reverse order, making sure that any dangling cables don't hit a fan or other moving engine part.

Turn on the lights of the car that needed a jump—this will put a load on the alternator. The alternator will then generate more electricity and, therefore, charge the battery a little bit quicker. Drive the car at least ten miles to charge the battery. The proper way, though, is to let the battery charge overnight on a battery charger.

What if the car that was boosted soon dies out after being jumped? A probable cause is a bad alternator, especially if the lights were dim to begin with. Cars are designed so that the alternator powers the car's accessories and lights, not the battery, after the engine has been turned on. The battery is there to just turn the starter motor. Although I've never tried it, you can turn a car on and then disconnect the battery cables and the car will still run because it is running off of the alternator.

Sometimes cleaning badly corroded cables is enough to get an engine going without needing a boost, so it's important to keep the battery terminals and cable ends clean. Make it a part of your normal maintenance schedule.


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