This is one instance you don’t want to channel Angus “Mac” MacGyver.
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So you want to know how to start a car with a dead battery without another car? Well, fine sir or madame, hold your horses. Unless your car has a manual transmission, you’re dreaming the impossible dream. While jump-starting a car is a simple skill, you’ll need a back-up plan for when you’re out in the sticks with no cables, no jump box, and not another human/car insight.
Some MacGyvers in the audience may swear the battery-on-battery method (don’t ask) is perfectly safe, but if your automatic-transmission car’s battery is dead, and you’re without jumper cables, you’ve got two options: grab the portable jump-starter you’ve got stowed in your car, or call a tow truck or the AAA for battery service.
But let’s say you’ve got a standard-shift and you’re game to push-start your car. We’re going to show you how to do it safely, and give you some other options just in case it’s not your battery that’s the problem after all. To get you back on the road and roaring off into the sunset, The Drive’s crack How-To team is here to help you jump start your car without another car, when at all possible. Got your running shoes on?
Estimated Time Needed: 30 minutes
Skill Level: Intermediate
Vehicle System: Electrical
It’s important to remember you should never attempt to jump-start a car with a damaged battery, which can catch fire or even explode. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure you keep your skin spotless and your heart thrumming to Rhythm Nation’s beat.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
Everything You’ll Need
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
- A couple of friends (or helpful strangers) if push-starting
- A jump starter
- A charged cellphone
Here’s How to Start a Car With a Dead Battery Without Another Car
Let’s do this!
Push-starting, also known as pop- and/or bump-starting, is a method of resurrection by which the engine is spun to life by force instead of a battery-powered starter. You’ll need a short, flat distance of street or a slight incline and a strapping friend or two to do the pushing.
- Direct your friends to the rear of the car and have them get ready to push.
- Hop into the driver’s seat and turn the ignition to “on.”
- With the parking brake still engaged, push the clutch in and shift to second gear. First gear isn’t recommended as it may cause the car to buck harshly.
- Press the brake pedal and release the parking brake.
- Release the brake and have your friends start pushing.
- At around 5 mph, release the clutch abruptly. The engine may sputter or buck slightly as the engine engages.
- If the engine starts, you’re all done!
- If it doesn’t, repeat the process at a higher speed..
- If it still doesn’t start, your problem isn’t the battery.
Utilizing a Jump-Start Box
Jump boxes are essentially small portable batteries with jumper cables attached. They also use software to prevent voltage spikes that can damage your car’s electrical system, so they’re safer than jumper cables. Some come with onboard safety lights, AC outlets, and USB ports to charge your phone. They’re also inexpensive and available at hardware, auto parts, and online stores. For all they can do, it’s worth getting one to keep in the car in case of emergencies.
Here’s how to use one:
- Make sure your jump-starter is fully charged.
- If not, plug it in and charge as directed.
- Most new jump-starters come with integrated cables, but if not, connect your own cables to the proper (positive and negative) posts on the jump starter.
- Connect the red clamp to the positive post (+ symbol or red cover) of the dead battery.
- Connect the black clamp to an unpainted, grounded metal surface somewhere on the vehicle’s frame.
- Once everything is connected, turn the jump-starter on as directed.
- After a minute or two, start the car.
- If the engine doesn’t start, let sit for a few minutes to give the battery time to charge and try again.
- The car started? Fantastic.
- Turn off the jump-starter’s power switch.
- Remove the clamps in reverse order; black clamp from the grounded surface, red clamp from the dead battery.
- It’s a good idea to recharge the jump-starter after every start.
- You’re done, congrats!
Call For Roadside Assistance
Roadside assistance is often built into your car or motorcycle’s insurance plan, although you’ll have to check your specific coverage—roadside assistance phone numbers are usually printed on your insurance card.
Local towing services will have jump-starters for dead-battery situations.
- Find the tow service’s number either on your insurance card or with your phone. AAA Roadside Assistance
- Call that number.
- Wait for roadside assistance.
- Prepare small talk for your meeting with the service tech, (e.g. the weather, your favorite sports team’s victory, why you deserve that raise, etc.)
- Find a crisp $5 bill, or even a crumpled one, for a tip to show your appreciation. Always keep a few fives on you, grampa always said.
- They’ve arrived? Huzzah, you’re done!
These methods are only to be used when you’re in mortal danger, and it’s riskier to not start your car than try these, (e.g. evacuating a war zone, running from zombies, if you’re terrified of small birds and there’s a flock of parakeets descending upon you, Seinfeld announced a one-time-only cast reunion and it starts in twenty minutes, or if The Drive’s Mike Spinelli has decided to streak down 5th Ave and you, unfortunately, have a front-row seat.)
(We’re sorry for that last visual—Ed.)
- If you have a spare 12V battery from your portable drill, you can, carefully, tape two large screws to the battery’s terminals and then attach jumper cables to the drill’s battery and then the car.
- Don’t do this.
- Don’t do this either.
The Mike Tyson
- Do we really have to say “Don’t do this”?
Pro Tips To Start Your Car Without Another Car
Here are The Drive’s pro tips for starting your car’s dead battery without another car.
- If the dead-battery car doesn’t start after a few attempts, try reconnecting the battery cables, as they may just be loose.
- If the dead-battery car doesn’t start after a few attempts, inspect your cables for splits and cuts.