Adulting 101: How to jumpstart a car – or not

Friday, February 1, 2019by  PEMCO Insurance

young woman holding jumper cables.It's one of those things you feel like you SHOULD  know how to do. But is jumpstarting your car's dead battery an essential skill?

Nope, says PEMCO's Claims team.

Jumpstarting a car is dangerous for you, your car, and people standing nearby if you don't know what you're doing. Our best advice: Leave it to a professional mechanic. Flying sparks and battery acid (from exploding batteries, typically during jumpstarting) are significant causes of eye injuries in the United States, right up there with household chemicals and workshop or yard debris.

"If you're the least bit unsure, just call for help," said veteran PEMCO safety expert, Jim Skogman. "You can buy basic roadside assistance from PEMCO* or, if you want extra perks like a travel agency, sign up with AAA. Then, as long as you have cellphone service, an expert is always a call away."

Still, if you're determined to check off "Knowing how to jumpstart a car" as a life skill, here are 12 basic steps to keep you * mostly * safe.

*PEMCO's Towing & Emergency Road Service is a low-cost, add-on coverage that gives you benefits like jumpstarting, flat tire changes, gas (if you run out) and emergency towing for about $10 per year, per vehicle, if you opt for $100 in towing reimbursement. You can add it as long as you have Bodily Injury and Comprehensive coverages on your cars. Call 800-GO-PEMCO or ask your local PEMCO agent for details.


Print and keep in your glove compartment.

How to jumpstart a dead car battery

Always defer to your owner's manual instructions.

(And did you know … You CAN jump a dead hybrid or use it to start a conventional engine – but how to do it varies from hybrid to hybrid, so the manual is a must!)


  1. Make sure a dead battery is really the problem – likely, if the engine won't crank (or cranks weakly) and the accessories don't work.
  2. Park the disabled car and a booster car hood-to-hood or side-by-side, but not touching. Turn off the ignition switch and accessories in both cars, put them in "Park" or neutral, and set the emergency brakes.
  3. Shield your eyes with safety glasses, wear gloves, and to avoid a shock hazard, remove jewelry including rings and watches.
  4. Start at "RED DEAD." Clip one end of the red jumper cable to the red positive (+) post of the dead battery. If the posts are corroded, clean them first with a wire brush or post cleaner.
  5. Connect "RED LIVE." Clip the other end of the red jumper cable to the red positive (+) post of the booster battery. Take care not to let cables dangle in either engine compartment, potentially becoming entangled in belts or other moving parts.
  6. Connect "BLACK LIVE." Clip one end of the black cable to the black negative (-) post of the booster battery.
  7. Finally, connect "BLACK DEAD ENGINE BLOCK." Clip the other end of the black cable to an unpainted, relatively clean part of the engine block or frame of the disabled car. DON'T CLIP IT TO THE BATTERY! It may create a spark, so choose a bolt or bracket away from the battery, fuel or wiring. Also, avoid the exhaust manifold or other parts that get hot.
  8. Start the booster car and let it idle for a few minutes to feed current to the dead battery.
  9. Turn the ignition key of the disabled car. If it doesn't start within seconds, stop cranking and jiggle each cable end. You might have a bad connection.
  10. Try starting the dead car again. Once it starts, let the cars idle together for a few minutes. (If the disabled car still doesn't start, it's time for a tow.)
  11. Remove each cable end in the reverse order that you attached them. Take care not to touch the metal ends of the cable and don't let them touch each other.
  12. Drive your jumped car for at least 20 minutes to help the battery charge. Then connect it to a battery charger to fully revive it.

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