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Car Sense

How to Jump-Start a Car

There’s never a convenient time to find out your car battery is dead.

While batteries typically last five years (depending on use and price), that time can fly by quickly – even faster if you accidentally left your headlights on overnight.

Fortunately, a simple jump-start to the battery can revive your vehicle, but it’s important to know the proper steps. Connecting the jumper cables the wrong way could cause a spark – and since flammable gases might be present in the engine around the battery, even a small spark could cause a fire.

The process of recharging your car’s battery is fairly easy. Here are seven simple steps to help get you and your car going again.

  1. Make sure it’s your battery. There are a variety of reasons why your car won’t start. Before you attempt to recharge a battery, check it out. Most car batteries have a code date that tells you how old it is. If you can’t find the code, some common signs that your battery is dead or about to die include:
    • You turn the key and you hear a clicking, but no engine turnover
    • Headlights are dim when the engine isn’t on
    • Your engine cranks slowly before starting
    • You see cracks or a chalky white substance on your battery

    If your car battery looks damaged or is leaking anything, contact your mechanic. It might not be safe to recharge it.  

  2. If you’ve concluded it is the battery, find someone with jumper cables and a car.
  3. Park the working car adjacent to the stalled vehicle. Put the emergency brakes on both vehicles and make sure they are both turned off. Your jumper cables should be able to easily reach both car batteries. If not, try to park a little closer but make sure there is room for you to fit in between.
  4. Identify the positive and negative terminals. Also known as the + and – sides of the battery.
  5. Connect the cables. Be sure to connect like charges first. The red part of the cable attaches to the + end of the battery of both cars. The black attaches to the – terminal of the good battery car and any grounded metal of the bad battery car. Ground metal can include any unpainted metal under the hood of the vehicle.
  6. Start the car. Start the car with the working battery. Let it idle for 1 to 3 minutes. Depending how drained the battery is, it may take longer.
  7. Try to start the stalled car. It may not start up immediately, so be patient and wait a little longer for the other car to help it recharge. Once the car does start, keep it idle so the accelerator can also help charge it. Revving the engine slightly can also help.
  8. Remove the cables. Take off the cables in reverse order from how you put them on. Be sure you don’t let the red and black ends touch while removing them from the battery terminals.

You should be good to drive – but if you tend to recharge your battery frequently, that may be a sign it’s on its last life.  Visit your mechanic or an auto parts store to test your battery and see if you are in need of a new one.

One more thing

If you’re stranded on the side of the road… does your current auto insurance go the distance?

Relax: When you’re with ERIE, you can add Roadside Service* to your auto policy for only about $5 per vehicle. Learn more about Roadside Service and how it works. That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind knowing you have roadside assistance if your car has a flat tire, a dead battery, a breakdown or simply runs out of gas.

Find a local ERIE agent to get a customized auto insurance quote.

*This program does not cover accident-related towing.

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ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.


The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of October 2018 and may be changed at any time. 


Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 


The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia, New York and Wisconsin.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 


Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.


Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.