Jumpstart your vehicle the right way

With many of us not using our cars as much as usual or with students having left their cars at university during lockdown, being left stranded with a flat car battery is a real possibility – even if you drive the most modern of cars.

As they say prevention is better than cure. It is good practice to start your car every 5 days or so and let it run for about 5 minutes. Moving the car backwards and forwards a few meters is also good for the tyres and oil seals on the car. It’s important that you are sure of how to correctly jumpstart your vehicle correctly, says Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).

“While the jumpstarting procedure is relatively standard for all vehicles on the road
today, jump / boost starting can cause serious damage to a vehicle’s electrical systems and or computer if done incorrectly. It’s therefore important to first consult the owner’s manual for any specific boost starting instructions, as well as to ensure that the different locations are identified for the jumpstart terminals in your car.

In many modern cars these terminals are placed at strategic areas of the vehicle due to the battery being fitted in awkward locations.” Once the terminals are located and jumper cables are on hand, he advises lining up the Donor car, as close as possible to the vehicle with the flat battery. Next, before you connect the cables make sure both cars’ handbrakes are up, that the gear selector is in Neutral or Park position, and that both cars ignitions are in the off position and the cars are not touching each other in any way.

“It’s important to remember that over 300 Amps goes through the jumper battery cables at the time of starting the vehicle with the flat battery and the momentary variation in amperage and voltage can seriously damage on board equipment. To prevent this happening, make sure all headlights, indicators, car radios and air conditioners are off and cell phones are unplugged. Also unplug all accessories from cigarette lighters and other power sockets from both cars and again ensure the ignition is in the off position until jumper cables are hooked up,” he explains.

Ranft says it’s good to take some time to familiarise yourself with the Positive (+ RED) and Negative (- BLACK) terminals of both car batteries so you know exactly which one is which. All batteries are clearly marked, so if you can’t find it, it’s probably under caked-on corrosion around the terminals. He suggests wiping off any dust or battery acid corrosion that may have formed over time.

However, he warns that if the battery is cracked and gas or liquid is leaking out, you should not go any further. “If you try to jump start the battery with a crack in it, it could explode from the light sparks that occur as the jumper cable connection is made. This is due to gas that is escaping from within the battery from the crack, not to mention acid that could leak from the battery damaging the paint in your car’s engine bay. We recommend you bite the bullet and rather go buy another battery.”

But if all seems well, simply clean off any corrosion around the dead battery terminals and if you have tools, loosen the cables from the battery terminals, clean them off with warm water and Bicarbonate of Soda, sandpaper or file with anything abrasive the inners of the cable terminals and the battery terminals until shiny, replace the cable terminals and retighten them. Corroded posts prevent full power from getting in and out of the vehicle battery through the cable terminals.

Now you’re ready to connect the car battery jumper cables. Usually the Positive
battery cable is red or orange, and the Negative, or ground cable is black – but
always check and double check yourself before connecting the final jumper cable just to be sure, he stresses.

Remember that the cables must be connected in the correct order for safety
reasons. Do the following:

  • First connect one positive end of the jumper cable to the positive terminal of
    the dead cars battery.
  • Then connect the other positive end of the jumper cable to the positive
    terminal of the good car battery.
  • Next connect the one negative end of the jumper cable to the negative
    terminal of the good battery.
  • Finally, connect the other negative end of the jumper cable to a shiny nut or bolt, preferable directly on the engine of the flat battery vehicle.  You should always connect the negative cable clamp to the vehicle with the dead battery last, and to the engine as recommended, away from the battery to best avoid unnecessary sparks close to the battery that could cause the battery to possibly explode.
  •  Once the two vehicles are hooked up, wait a minute or two before starting the flat vehicle. Once the jumpstarted vehicle is running, leave the two vehicles connected, again for a minute or two while at the same time switching the headlights back on and running the interior fan which will stabilise the electrical system.  You can now safely remove the cables in the reverse order that you connected them.

“We recommend it is always safer to follow this process by checking the electrical system with an accredited service technician, particularly if you suspect the vehicle battery went flat, not due to it laying idle so long but rather because your vehicle may have something slowly draining power from the vehicle. This could be something like a faulty alarm or tracker system, a glove compartment, boot light or interior light not switching off, or the charging system may need testing to ensure the alternator is charging the battery sufficiently. It may at the end of the day just be time to go and have your battery tested which is common in winter,” Ranft concludes.