How to Boost Your Car Like a Pro: Step-by-Step Guide
Batteries live a sad and lonely life, and they can suddenly die for a variety of reasons. When your battery dies, you can figure those reasons out later with the help of a battery and charging system inspection from your favorite technician.
For now, you need a boost.
Below, we’ll detail the steps to safely boosting your car without getting zapped, some tips and tricks to make boosting a dead battery even easier and safer, and some advice that can help keep you from ever needing a boost at all.
Before we get started, here are some other great resources at Canada Drives:
- Ultimate Car Battery Guide: How to Charge, Maintain, Replace, and more
- How Much Does a Replacement Car Battery Cost?
- 3 Signs That You Need a New Car Battery
- How to Prevent Your Car Battery from Dying This Winter
Step 1: Get situated
First thing’s first: if you don’t already, you’re going to need to know where your vehicle keeps its battery, and how to get to it. You can find this information in your owner’s manual, or if your smartphone is handy, search on Google or YouTube for the name of your vehicle and the words ‘battery location’ for helpful photos or videos.
Some vehicles put their batteries in weird places, like under a seat or inside of their floor. If your car’s battery is in a weird place, it probably has remote-mounted jump-start terminals under the hood, which are connected to the battery.
The full scoop is in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
Remember—all cars are different, and the car, truck or SUV you’re driving may have very specific instructions for boosting its battery. Incorrectly boosting your car’s battery can cause damage that’s not covered by warranty.
Translation? It’s important to know how to do it properly. Once again? Read the manual.
Oh, and you’ll need some jumper cables, too. Get a good set, as cheap ones can corrode or suffer from poor durability of their wiring insulation, shortening their lifespan.
With your jumper cables handy, you’ll also need a donor vehicle with a healthy battery to lend you some juice. Whether you ask a passerby or call a friend for help, note the length of your jumper cables, the location of their battery connections, and the space around you.
Sometimes, boosting your car requires some creative parking, depending on where the battery died.
You’ll need to open the hood of your car, and you may want to engage your hazard lights or an emergency flare, depending on where you’re parked.
With the vehicles in position, engines turned off and the surrounding area safe, you’re ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Making connections
Now, locate the positive and negative terminals on your dead battery. If your car’s dead battery is somewhere weird, note the location of the positive and negative connection points you tracked down in Step 1.
These are connected to the battery, and hooking up to these points is the same thing as connecting to the battery itself.
Remember that positive terminals are marked with a + and usually identified with red color. Negative terminals or connection points are black in color.
The main reason to identify the negative battery terminal is to make sure you know the difference between it, and the positive one. Avoid hooking up to the negative terminal of either battery, using grounding points instead.
These are anything made of conductive metal that’s connected to the frame of the vehicle. An exhaust manifold bolt (watch for heat), or engine mount bolt can make a good ground. Pick one that’s a good distance away from the battery, just to be safe.
You can find information about grounding points for your specific vehicle in your owner’s manual, or with a quick web search.
Finally, eliminate potentially dangerous metal contact points like large earrings, bracelets, and other jewellry.
Move on to Step 3 once you’ve removed metal contact points from your body, and identified and accessed the required terminals and grounding points on each vehicle, double checking the instructions in your owner's manual.
Step 3: Positive terminals
Look at your jumper cables, and identify the red wires and clamps, and the black wires and clamps.
Take one red clamp and connect it to the positive (red) terminal of the recently-deceased battery (or the equivalent connection point), being sure to make a good connection with a little wiggle of the cable clamp.
With that positive connection made, take the other red clamp and connect it to the positive (red) terminal of the donor vehicle’s battery, in the same way.
Move to Step 4 once both positive connections are made safely.
Step 4: Negative terminals
Now, you have two negative cable clamps that need to be connected.
At this point, take care that neither black cable clamp contacts any metal object accidentally, including other cable clamps. Take care to keep the remaining black cable clamps away from one another, and other metal objects, when making the final connections, below.
Connect the negative (black) cable clamp to the negative (black) terminal on the donor vehicle’s battery. With a secure connection, take the single remaining clamp and carefully connect it to the ground you identified in Step 2, likely on or near the disabled vehicle’s engine block.
Handle the final connection carefully, avoiding contact with other metal surfaces. As you connect to the ground, you may see or hear slight sparking from the cable clamp, or hear the clicking of relays and switches within the vehicle as power begins to flow.
Proceed to Step 5 once all four cable clamps are properly secured into their respective positions.
Step 5: Fire up the donor vehicle
Now, it’s time to start the engine of the donor vehicle—ensuring that its alternator is charging its battery so there’s enough juice to go around.
With all connections secure and the donor vehicle’s engine running, move to Step 6.
Step 6: Fire up your engine
Hop back into your car and start the engine. It may be slow to crank, or struggle. In any case, avoid running the starter motor for more than a few seconds at a time before allowing it to cool down. If it takes several tries to crank over your engine, be sure to avoid overheating the starter motor, which can cause permanent damage.
Once your engine is up and running, proceed to Step 7.
Step 7: Wrap-up
Remove all cables in the reverse order from above and store them. Close your vehicle’s hood, but keep the engine running. That’s it– you’re boosted.
Just be sure to go for a good long drive, which can help recharge your vehicle’s battery. Before you switch your engine off again, consider parking at home, or in an area where you can quickly summon help if your battery dies a second time.
Consider scheduling an appointment to have your vehicle’s battery and charging system inspected professionally, which can reveal potential trouble that might leave you stranded again. Remember, a fresh and healthy battery can eliminate a lot of trouble in modern cars.
No jump cables nor donor car? No problem – consider a portable booster pack
A portable booster pack is a great thing to keep in your car for a variety of reasons–including its ability to boost multiple dead batteries without the need for a set of jumper cables or a donor vehicle.
You can find a portable booster pack at your favorite local retailer for about $100-200, depending on the battery size and functionality you’re after. Even smaller units can be recharged at home, and carried in your car or truck where they store enough electricity to boost several batteries, or recharge numerous smartphones, tablets and electronic devices.
Larger booster packs come with upgrades like tire inflators, built-in radios and lighting, and more.
If you need to boost your car on the move, a booster pack makes it quick and easy, since the battery and jumper cables are built in. Just avoid storing a booster pack in your vehicle when it’s extremely hot or cold, as this can reduce the lifespan of its battery.
Booster packs also make it safer to boost your car, since they come with built in circuitry that prevents damage and danger caused by accidentally hooking things up incorrectly.
3 tips for a healthy car battery
Making sure your battery is healthy is a great way to avoid unpleasant surprises and no-start situations. Here are 3 tips to help keep your battery in tip top shape, and extend its lifespan and reliability.
1. Keep your terminal clean
Batteries often require occasional cleaning to remove deposits that can build up over time on their terminals. These deposits often look like salty crud, and are slightly conductive–meaning they can slowly drain your battery over time. Keeping your battery terminals clean can give it a longer and more reliable life.
2. Drive your car
An increase in working from home means an increase in cars sitting for extended periods unused. This is bad news for your vehicle’s battery, which is recharged by driving your car. If your vehicle regularly sits for extended periods, or if your drives are typically short and infrequent, your battery is at extended risk of trouble. The solution? Be sure to go for a good drive about once a week. It’s good for your car, and its battery.
3. Trickle charge
Many drivers use a trickle charger as often as possible when they know their vehicle will be sitting unused for an extended period. Popular with owners of seasonal-use or occasional-use vehicles, the trickle charger can be hooked up to your battery in moments, and plugged into a nearby power outlet.
A trickle charger conditions your battery and maintains its charge–ensuring the battery is topped up and ready for action when you are. Using a trickle charger whenever you’ll be parking your car for more than a few days can add years to the life of its battery.
We’ve outlined a step-by-step guide to boost your car battery with jumper cables. And it’s actually not as intimidating as it may appear at first. But it’s important to do it correctly, or risk damaging your battery.
For those times your buddy isn’t around to jump your car, or you’re missing booster cables, a portable booster pack for a couple hundred bucks or less is a great solution (just don’t keep in the vehicle on those colder days and nights).
Aside from that, it’s also important to do your own diligence before the battery dies on you, by keeping the terminals clean from corrosion, ensuring your ride gets out for a drive more frequently, and perhaps invest in a trickle charger if you know your car won’t be hitting the road for extended periods.
Good luck! And remember, you can do this like the pro we know you are. If not, it might just be your battery. Below are eight signs your car battery is toast or damaged.