Every car should have a pair of jumper cables in the trunk. And everyone who drives a car should know how to use them. Even though we all hope we’ll never wind up stranded on the side of the road with a dead battery, it’s best to prepare for the worst by familiarizing yourself with the process.
There are different kinds of jumper cables, and you can buy a pair inexpensively in most any store. However, if you buy the cheapest you can find, you get the minimal quality you’re paying for – in other words, not much.
For best results, buy jumper cables that are least 15 feet long – 20 to 25 feet long is better. The longer the cable, the more flexibility you have and the more convenient the process of jumping a car will be.
The next thing to consider is the size of the cable. Cables have different ratings regarding the amount of current they can carry – the heavier the cable, the more current it can carry. This means that if the first person to happen by to offer you a jump is a truck driver, you won’t have to worry about his larger battery frying your jumper cables.
The other consideration you should make when purchasing jumper cables is the type of clamps at the end of the cables. They should be large, well insulated and have a fairly heavy spring. The clamps themselves should have teeth that come together completely and firmly so that you can successfully attach them to any type of battery, from large top-post truck batteries to the smaller side-mounted battery terminals of some sports cars.
Some cables come in coils, while some come on reels and others just come attached to a piece of cardboard. These considerations matter little when you’re purchasing jumper cables. What you need to consider is length, current carrying capacity of the cables, and quality of the clamps at the end. No one who has needed them has ever said, “I wish I had spent less money on my jumper cables.” These are one of those purchases where quality matters – spending a little more to purchase good equipment is a good idea here.
When it comes time to use the cables, separate the clamps so that none of them are touching. Some people like to take one of the clamps and clamp it on to the cable below the other clamp at the same end – a handy trick, but not necessary. You can also use what is affectionately called the “Buddy method,” as in, “Here Buddy, hold these apart while I work with the other end.” If you have an extra set of hands – and you surely will – this is probably your best bet.
It doesn’t matter whether you begin connecting the cables with the car that has the dead battery (DB) or the car with the live battery (LB). Just let the colors be your guide. Connect the red clamp to the red post of the battery. If you can’t find a red post, look for a plus sign. If you can’t find a red post or a plus sign, you need a mechanic. Connect the black clamp to the black post of the battery. If you can’t find a black post, look for a minus sign. Again, if you can’t find a black post or a minus sign, you need a mechanic. Hooking the jumper cable up to the wrong post can fry your alternator, which is both expensive and inconvenient.
Once all four clamps have been properly connected, start the car with the LB if it’s not already running. Then, wait for a few minutes and try to start the car with the DB. If it doesn’t start, wait a few more minutes and try again. If the car with the DB doesn’t start after three of four tries, it probably won’t and you need a mechanic.
To disconnect the jumper cables, reverse the process you used to connect the cables. Remember to use the Buddy method again and keep the clamps from touching. Return the jumper cables to your trunk and lavish your appreciation on the Good Samaritan who stopped to help you.
Finally, there’s one small thing you need to be aware of. Batteries can explode. This is rare and typically only happens if a battery is leaking, cracked or otherwise damaged. A quick visual inspection of both batteries in question should tell you if this is the case. If you follow these instructions, using jumper cables is generally safe and simple.