Nothing beats jumping in your car turning the key in the ignition and then realizing that whatever you had planned for the day is about to be canceled, or at least seriously curtailed. Your battery is dead. You either hear nothing or a bunch of ticking noises, and you start desperately looking around the car to see what you can blame. A rogue car door opening itself and draining the battery via the courtesy light is my usual first suspect.
You go through the usual stages of grief and then look for a solution. You need one of two things, jumper cables (jump leads) or one of those nice battery packs. I don’t have a battery pack and I know literally no one with a battery pack.
Not long ago I finally purchased some decent leads. Rather unsurprisingly you get what you pay for with jumper cables. A cheap set of achingly thin wire strands, sporting a pair of desperate looking crocodile clips, might cut the mustard if you are trying to power your Christmas tree lights for a moment, but they will fall short when it comes to getting you on the move.
Get with the Gauges
Jumper cables come in ‘Guage’ sizes, usually 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 gauge. In order to confuse the mechanical novice, someone decided to decrease the gauge as the cable gets thicker. A 2 Gauge is the thickest, at the other end we have a much thinner 10 Gauge. These gauges are like drinking straws, the bigger they are the more juice you can suck out of someone else’s nicely charged battery and dump into your own flat one. Here is my somewhat vague rule of thumb – stick to a 2, 4 or 6 gauge. If you have a big truck opt for the 2, smaller truck, SUV maybe a 4 gauge and a smaller car can suffice with a 6 quite happily. Remember, this is to start your vehicle. If someone else needs your help, and they have a big truck, they will love you if you open your trunk and get out 2 gauge jumper cables. The moral of the story is don’t skimp too much, the thicker the cable, the lower the gauge, the easier to get juice from one vehicle to another. Whilst you’re at it, grab a cable bag and some gloves. Might as well look like a pro.
Now that you have made your buying decision the whole shebang is pretty much going to sit in your truck gathering dust. And then, one day, you’ll be very, very pleased with your purchase. Let’s pretend today is that day.
It’s Show Time
So, your car will not start. You’re pretty sure it is the battery. You have called your spouse, friend, colleague, partner and they have turned up with their vehicle and a nice juicy battery. What next? Here is my idiot’s guide:
- Safety. ensure you and the two vehicles are in a safe location.
- Ensure the ignition of both vehicles is OFF.
- How long are your cables? it is safe to say that you need to park the working vehicle close enough to your broken vehicle for the cables to reach from their battery to yours. If your cables are long enough you can park side by side, shorter cables may require cars being parked nose to nose. The cars should not be touching.
- Whip out your shiny new cables, show them to your friend and ask them to admire the nice thick gauge you purchased. They will be impressed.
- Open the hood of both vehicles. Find the batteries and the battery terminals. Determine which terminals are positive (often red) and which terminals are negative (often black). You may have to lift a small cover on one or both of the terminals to expose the metal clamp and stud.
You are now ready to rock. Don’t screw this next bit up, I did once and it killed my vehicles computer. A $300 mistake for me, it could cost a lot more depending on your make and model.
The order you attach the cables is important as is the location you clamp them to.
- Pick a RED clamp from your jumper cables. Attach that clamp to the positive terminal of the WORKING vehicles battery.
- Take the other end of the RED lead and place that clamp on the positive terminal of the BROKEN vehicle battery.
- All good so far? Nice!
- Pick a BLACK clamp from your jumper cables. Attach that clamp to the negative terminal of the WORKING vehicles battery.
- Now take the final BLACK clamp and place that onto an earthing point of the BROKEN vehicle. An unpainted part of the engine or chassis.
Your leads should all now be in place.
- Start the WORKING vehicle and let it idle for a minute or two.
- Now start the BROKEN vehicle.
- Allow both vehicles to run for around ten minutes.
- You should not remove the cables whilst the vehicles are running, which is why we run the vehicles for a while. We want to charge the broken battery a little before we turn the engine off and disconnect.
- Turn off the vehicles.
- Remove the cables in the reverse order to which they were connected. Don’t let the clamps touch each other whilst removing.
After the cables are disconnected try the broken vehicle. It should fire up nicely. If it does, then keep it idling and go for a drive to recharge the battery.