Have you ever been in a situation when you needed to get to work or an important meeting, but your car wouldn’t start? We have, and I’m guessing it’ll eventually happen to you if it hasn’t already. When such a situation arises, chances are that a dead or weak battery is the culprit.
There are a number of reasons why batteries can weaken and fail.
A few common ones include:
• Leaving headlights, interior lights, flashers, and the radio on when the car isn’t running.
• Using the air conditioner when the car is not running.
• Not starting a car for long periods of time (e.g., while it’s in storage).
• Lack of battery maintenance (e.g., not keeping terminals clean).
• Failure of the diode bridge or voltage regulator in the alternator; the alternator charges the battery when the car is running.
• Low air temperature, which causes batteries to freeze.
What to do when your battery dies:
The most common way to deal with a dead battery is by jump-starting it. All you need to jump-start a car is a set of jumper cables and another car (the “rescue” car) with a functional battery. Keep in mind that you should never try to jump-start a car if its battery is cracked and is visibly leaking acid.
Jump-starting a car involves a number of steps:
Step 1: Park the “rescue” car and the car with the dead battery nose-to-nose, or side-by-side facing the same direction. Connect one end of the positive cables to the positive terminal on the “rescue” car’s battery, and the other end to the positive terminal on the dead battery. (Note that the positive cable is usually red; the negative cable usually black.)
Step 2: Connect one end of the negative cable to the negative terminal on the “rescue” car’s battery, and the other end to a non-moving, grounded part of the dead car’s engine bay — we recommend the engine manifold, as it is generally unpainted and a good location for the clamp.
Step 3: Start the “rescue” car and allow it to run for a few minutes (5 minutes or so); doing so will allow its battery to recharge the dead battery.
Step 4: With the rescue car running, attempt to start the car with the dead battery; if the car doesn’t start, repeat step 3.
If the car with the dead battery starts, allow its engine to run for at least five full minutes so that the alternator can recharge the battery. Disconnect the jumper cables from both cars in the reverse order in which you connected them. Make sure that you don’t let any of the cables’ extremities touch, as it may create a spark.
Massively important safety note: Never connect both negative and positive cables at the same time while you are holding them. Unless you’d like the entire voltage of the car coursing through your body, don’t do it. Also, refrain from touching the negative and positive knobs with your hands/fingers/extremities. We know it’s tempting, but you don’t want to be an auto kebab.
What To Have Handy:
It’s always a good idea to keep jumper cables in your car. They can prove useful in the event that your car needs a jump-start, or in cases where you may need to jump-start someone else’s vehicle. Jumper cables cost approximately $10, and should be available at any automotive supply store. They come in different lengths, but a 12-foot cable is fairly standard.
You may also want to keep a voltmeter in your car to test its battery. Voltmeters typically run about $15, and are also available at auto parts stores.
At home, it’s always a good idea to have an AC charger handy. You can use such a device when your car’s battery dies or becomes too weak to start the car. Like jumper cables and voltmeters, chargers are available where car parts are sold, and prices start at $40.