The first automobile drivers started their cars by turning a hand-crank at the front of the car. This method worked, but often proved inconvenient and dangerous. Patented in 1903, the electric starter soon gained popularity and first became available on mass-produced cars nine years later. Owners of the 1912 Cadillac were the first frustrated drivers to experience dead batteries. Drivers still deal with dead batteries, but at least many drivers now have jumper cables.

The Electric Starter System

Rather than cranking a car by hand, modern automobiles start by turning the key in the ignition switch. This activates an electric starter motor that cranks the engine with ease, unless the battery is dead. Drivers can tell when their car has a dead battery because the engine either cranks very slowly or makes a discouraging clicking sound when they turn the key. Sometimes a car with a dead battery does nothing. When this happens, you might actually wish you had a hand crank.

Causes of a Dead Battery

Dead batteries traditionally occur when a driver leaves their headlights or parking lights on after parking their car at night. Batteries also die when people sit in their car listening to the radio too long or when they plug their computer into the cigarette lighter and use it too long. Cold weather adversely affects car batteries, especially as they age, often resulting in a dead battery. Failures in a car’s electrical system, such as a bad alternator or worn-out battery, also can lead to a dead battery. Although many reasons exist for a dead battery, most drivers do not care why the battery is dead; they just want to solve the problem. Most drivers should try a jump start first.

Jump-Start Theory

The time-tested solution to a dead battery--called a jump start--involves connecting the terminals of a battery in a working car to the terminals of another car’s dead battery. This allows affected drivers to start their car using the power of another. Assuming the charging system of the dead-battery car still works, the battery will recharge while the engine runs. Drivers unsure of the reason for the dead battery should have their dealer check out their car’s electrical system.

Jump-Starting a Car

Drivers who need a jump start need (1) a working car and (2) a set of jumper cables. Although drivers can often find someone with a working car, they cannot always find a set of jumper cables. After stranding drivers for a century, dead batteries still catch drivers without jumper cables. Drivers who do not have a set of jumper cables can visit the Rivertown Buick GMC parts department to buy a set. For now, let’s assume you have a set of jumper cables.

Jumper cables consist of two thick wires (often orange) with large alligator clamps at either end. Each end features one red and one black alligator clamp. Attach the red lamp to the positive (+) terminal on both batteries. Older batteries can leak acid creating a flammable gas, so drivers should connect the black clamp to bare metal inside the engine compartment if their battery is fairly old. This keeps any spark away from the battery, which is safer. Drivers certain of no risk of fire can connect the black clamp to the negative (-) terminal on the battery. Start the car that works and then start the car with the dead battery.

  • Always connect red clamps to the (+) terminals and black clamps to bare metal under the hood or to the (-) terminals.
  • After connecting the clamps to a battery, never allow the clamps to touch. Also, never let either of the red clamps contact the frame of either car.
  • Do not turn the car with the dead battery off after jump-starting. If properly working, the car’s alternator will recharge the battery, but it takes longer than just a minute or two. If possible, drivers should bring the car to our dealership to have the battery recharged and electrical system checked.

Jump-Starting Without Another Car

Dealership service departments often have special jump-start packs available. These contain small batteries that attach to car batteries like jumper cables, giving drivers the ability to jump-start their car without jumper cables and another car. Car owners should check with a service technician to ensure they buy a unit with enough power to start their make and model.

If you ever forget these tips for how to jump-start your car, check your vehicle owner’s manual--there are almost always directions for jump-starting your vehicle in it. If you need assistance, call Rivertown Buick GMC’s service department--we're here to help.