Roadside assistance is like insurance — you pay for it, it’s sometimes necessary for safe driving, but you really hope you’ll never need to use it. From flat tires to keys locked inside cars to dead batteries, most roadside assistance calls are entirely avoidable.
Yet, battery boosting is the second-most common reason why drivers make roadside assistance calls. Additionally, 20% of battery boosts occur outside of the peak driving period, from April to November. That’s because car batteries actually work better when you drive them frequently.
There’s another myth busted!
In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to maintain your car’s battery, extend its lifespan, and jump start your own car with just a few items.
How to Jump Start a Car in Five Easy Steps
Despite your best efforts, it’s too easy to find yourself stranded at the side of a road or in a parking lot. Many people are uncertain about jump starting their vehicles, but you only need to know the technique and use the right cables to do it yourself.
What You Need to Jump Start a Car
- A set of jumper cables
- A power source (such as another vehicle’s battery or a portable jump battery)
Step #1: Protect the Donor Battery
If you can find a generous passerby who is willing to help you jump start your car, you should take precautions to protect their battery. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure the voltage system of the donor battery matches the dead battery. A 6V should only rely on another 6V, not a 12V.
- Connect the alligator clips correctly (see bleow).
- Make sure the donor battery isn’t low. To do this, simply check the donor vehicle’s headlights. They should be bright and steady, not dim or flickering.
Step #2: Ready the Cars
To ready the cars, put them both in PARK and turn off the ignitions. Put on the parking brake for added precaution. Open the hoods of both vehicles.
Step #2: Connect the Jumper Cables
There is a specific order to connecting the jumper cables:
- First, attach the red, or positive, alligator clip to the positive terminal on the battery of the DEAD car
- Second, connect the other red clip to the positive terminal of the DONOR car
- Third, clip the black, or negative, head to the negative terminal of the DONOR car
- Finally, connect the second black clip to an unpainted metal part of the dead car that is not directly next to the battery. A handy spot is the metal stand used to hold the hood open.
ATTENTION: NEVER attach the black negative clip to the battery terminal in the DEAD car. Doing so may damage the battery or car and could even cause an explosion.
Step #4: Perform the Jump Start
Start the donor car first. This allows the battery to supply power to your vehicle’s dead battery. Idle the donor car for a few minutes.
Step #5: Run the Post-Jump Start Process
It’s time to test your efforts. The first step is to check the interior light of your vehicle (the car that needs a jump start). If it goes on, you may have enough power at this point. If not, keep waiting.
Start the vehicle with the weak battery and let it run for 10 to 20 minutes.
When ready, unclip the cables in reverse order. This means:
- Remove the black clip from the unpainted metal of the re-energized car.
- Remove the black clip from the battery terminal in the re-energized car.
- Remove the red clip from the battery terminal in the donor’s car.
- Remove the red clip attached to the re-energized car’s battery terminal.
How to Maintain a Car Battery When It’s Not In Use
Learning how to jump start a car is an extremely useful skill to have. Like changing a tire, all you need is the right equipment and the knowhow to pull it off like a pro.
Ideally, you never want to experience that sort of emergency. And there are ways to avoid a dead or drained battery. With a few precautions, you can maintain your car’s battery and even extend its life.
To start, you should avoid the common issues that cause a “downed” battery. These include:
- Leaving the lights on when the ignition is off
- Using a defective charging system
- Not using your car for days or weeks at a time
- Loose or unfastened battery and cables
- Corrosion around the terminals
- Extreme temperatures
What is the Average Car Battery Life?
The average car battery can last you between two to five years. The weather plays a significant role in the precise longevity of your battery, as does the age of your car. If you purchase a used car, it may have an older battery that the previous owner failed to replace, so make sure to inspect your battery on a yearly basis.
What are the Signs of a Low or Failing Battery?
Drivers who end up on the side of the road with a dead car battery are usually surprised to find themselves in that situation. But, you can avoid a similar issue by simply paying attention to the telltale signs of a failing battery.
Look for the following warning signs:
- When you idle, your headlights look dim, but then brighten once you run the engine
- The starter turns slowly and the car barely starts
- You can hear a clicking sound when you turn the key
- You need to press on the gas pedal in order to bring the car to life
Five Ways to Extend Your Car’s Battery Life
Extending your car’s battery life is like performing preventative maintenance on any other aspect of your vehicle. Consistent inspections, coupled with a few timely habits, can ensure you’re never stranded on the side of the road with a drained battery.
1) Replace at the Right Time
Three to four years is a good time to consider replacing the battery. Even if there’s no other signs like corrosion or loose cables, the three- or four-year mark should be a staple for replacing your battery to avoid being stranded on side of the road without power.
2) Check Acid Levels
If your battery is non-maintenance-free with removable filler caps, you can top off it off with some distilled water. Your battery has acid levels that you need to check every six months. When the battery charge is below 80%, you might see signs of acid stratification. This is when electrolytes (the water and acid mixture in the cells of the battery) sit at the bottom, leaving the top bare. Use clean, distilled water to revive the electrolyte levels in your battery.
3) Protect the Battery Pack
It’s surprising how much of a difference a clean battery can make. Dirt and debris that sits on your car’s battery could easily get into the cells and cause corrosion. To protect the battery pack and extend its lifespan, you can use an ammonia-based cleaner and a wire brush to clean the top and around the terminals.
4) Drive Strategically and Frequently
It might not seem logical at first, but a car’s battery actually operates better when you drive frequently and for longer periods. Just like fuel efficiency is higher when you get on the highway, rather than stop and start in traffic, a car’s battery needs time to warm up and keep going. If you can, lump your “errands” together in one day so you’re using your car for a longer time.
5) Don’t Idle Too Long
Idling without using the ignition is fine when you want to warm up your car in cold weather. However, don’t keep it stalled for a long time. This can drain the car’s battery, which is designed to work at optimal levels when driving.
While it’s not exactly a “survival” skill, learning to jump start your car is clearly a very handy technique to master. Even better, it means you won’t have to rely on and wait for roadside assistance.
DriveSafe Online knows that safe driving means driving defensively on the road and caring for your vehicle off the road. An online defensive driving course can teach you how to be a safer driver and car owner. Plus, you could be eligible to save up to 10% off on your car insurance each year just for completing a driver improvement program. Learn more about handling and maintaining your car—and saving money—at DriveSafe Online.