Give yourself a boost

Here’s how to get that battery back in action — safely

By Jens Nielsen

We discussed ways help avoid dead batteries in a recent article. If you do need to boost your vehicle however, it’s important to do it in a safe manner.

People tend to think of boosting as primarily as a winter thing. However, it’s also common in summer months when people leave stereos on at the lake with coolers plugged in.

Your first step would be finding out if you currently have some form of roadside assistance coverage on your vehicle. You likely do, in addition to the factory warranty, with a newer vehicle. You may also have coverage through Associations like Canadian Automotive Association or BCAA. One of your credit cards may offer the coverage as well. Take the time right now to find out if you do, and put the phone number in your phone, or write it down on the inside flap of your owner’s manual. That way if the need ever does come up, you can just call and someone will come and boost your vehicle for you. This would also help if you ever needed the vehicle towed.

To be prepared in event that you don’t have roadside assistance coverage or may be out of cell range, make sure you have a set of booster cables in your car. They should be in good condition and free of rust and corrosion with no exposed wires. Don’t use electrical tape or duct tape to cover exposed wires. Replace the cables if the wires are exposed. I would also recommend you buy quality booster cables under 3.5 metres long.

It can be dangerous when boosting a vehicle. Keep a pair of protective googles and some gloves in your vehicle. Car batteries contain lead and sulfuric acid. A battery leak or explosion can cause serious acid burns. Your eyes are particularly vulnerable if a battery explosion happens. It’s one of the reasons that repair shops have eye-wash stations in their shops.

Here are the steps to follow to safely jump-start a vehicle:

First, check the battery for corrosion, cracks or loose terminal connections.

Check that neither the battery nor the engine coolant is frozen. Never try to boost a vehicle in either case.

Don’t smoke or use anything that may cause a spark when under the hood or boosting your battery.

Have the vehicle that will be boosting you pull in from the front or side as close as possible. Never stand in between the two vehicles, especially if one is in gear. There have been instances here in the Yukon where a car was rear-ended while boosting another vehicle and the person standing between them had their legs crushed.

Be careful to hook the cable clamps up properly and in the right order. Red always goes to positive which is usually identified as + or POS. Black always goes to negative which is usually identified as – or NEG.

Have both vehicles shut off and start by connecting the red clamp to the positive terminal on the vehicle needing a boost. Then connect the other red clamp to the positive terminal on the other vehicle. Next connect the black clamp to the negative terminal on the other car, then the other black clamp to the negative terminal on the vehicle needing the boost. Sometimes batteries are in tight spots or not even in the engine compartment. Check the owner’s manual. There may be locations under the hood other than on the battery specifically for boosting or charging. They will still be labeled as positive and negative.

Once the cables are safely and securely connected, start up the booster vehicle doing and let it run for a few minutes before trying to start the dead vehicle. Revving the boosting engine a bit may help if the battery is really dead.

If the cables get hot or you see smoke or sparks, something is wrong. Stop immediately and seek professional help.

Once the vehicle that needed boosting is running, remove the cables in the reverse order you used to hook them up. Don’t let the disconnected ends to touch each other while the clamps on the other end of the cable are hooked up to the other vehicle.

Remember that boosting a battery and letting the engine run will not fully charge the battery. Even going on a long drive will not do it. You must get the battery on a battery charger and fully charge it. If you can’t identify why your battery went dead (say, you left the lights on), have the battery and charging system checked by a shop.

Catch Driving with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, or on Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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