A Non-Techy Guide on How to Jump Start a Car on Vacation

In the realm of automotive troubleshooting, a dead battery stands as one of the most common culprits behind unresponsive vehicles. This issue can happen to both seasoned drivers and newcomers alike, often at the least opportune moments.

Fortunately, knowing how to jump start a car, coupled with a basic understanding and the right tools, makes addressing a dead battery a straightforward and manageable task, especially while on vacation.

Quick Intro to Car Jumping

Jump starting a vehicle revolves around the principle of using an external power source, typically another vehicle with a functioning battery or a portable jump starter, to aid in starting a car with a drained or dead battery.

Understanding how to jump start a car involves connecting jumper cables in a specific sequence between the two vehicles or the dead vehicle and a car jump starter. By doing so, the healthy battery can provide the necessary boost to crank the engine and bring the dead one back to life.

It’s essential to approach this process with caution and precision, ensuring the effectiveness of the jump start and the safety of all individuals involved.

Good jumper cables and portable car jumpers are relatively cheap; they don’t require much storage space and come in very handy in certain situations. They can be quite useful travel accessories if you like to travel with a car or RV.

How To Jump Start a Car Using Jumper Cables

Two cars being doing jump start to revive dead battery’s
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

If you find yourself stranded on a family vacation with a dead battery, this guide will come in handy to get you back out on the road quickly. 

In this case, to jump start a car with a dead battery, you need another vehicle with a working battery and a pair of jumper cables.


Safety First: Park a car with a good battery next to the car with a dead battery – be absolutely sure that they are NOT touching themselves.

Ensure both cars are turned off. Put both cars in ‘Park’ or ‘Neutral’ and set the parking brakes. Wear safety gloves and goggles if you have them.

Connect Red Clamp to Dead Battery: Connect one of the red (positive) jumper cable alligator clamps to the positive battery terminal of the dead battery. The positive terminal usually has a “+” sign or a red cover.

Connect the Other Red Clamp to Good Battery: Connect the other red (positive) clamp to the positive terminal of the good battery of the other car.

Connect Black Clamp to Good Battery: Connect one of the black (negative) clamps to the negative terminal (usually “-” sign) of the good battery.

Connect the Other Black Clamp to a Ground Point: Instead of connecting it to the dead battery’s negative terminal, connect the second black alligator clamp to a bare metal part of the dead car, away from the battery. This could be a shiny, clean nut or other metal part on the engine block or the car’s chassis.

If you can’t find one, connect the second black clamp to the dead battery’s negative terminal; just be aware that any sparks could ignite any hydrogen present – a very low possibility, especially with sealed AGM batteries, but safety first.

Check the cables for 5-10 seconds. If they start to get very warm or even start smoking, disconnect them immediately – you have connected them incorrectly and practically created a short circuit of two 12V low-impedance batteries.

Start the Donor Car: Start the vehicle with a good battery and let it run for a few minutes. During these minutes, some charge will transfer to the dead battery and create a so-called “surface charge” that will aid in cranking the engine.

Start the Dead Car: Try starting the car with the dead battery. If it doesn’t start immediately, wait a few more minutes and try again.

Disconnect Cables: Once the car with the dead battery is running, disconnect the jumper cables in reverse order – first, remove the black alligator clamp from the previously dead car’s ground point (or negative battery terminal).

Keep the Jump-Started Car Running: Drive the jump-started car around for at least 30-60 minutes to charge its battery. Even when the engine is idling, the discharged battery will be recharged, but driving the car around ensures that the engine revs faster, speeding the charging.

Jump-Starting a Car Using a Portable Jump Starter

Two road assistant workers in towing service trying to start car engine with jump starter and energy station with air compressor.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

If you are heading out on a road trip or traveling in an RV, it is a really good idea to carry a portable jump starter. 

In this case, to jump start a car with a dead battery, you need a charged portable car jump starter.


Safety First: Ensure the car is turned off and set the parking brake. If available, wear safety gloves and goggles.

Connect the Clamps: Connect the red (positive) clamp from the jump starter to the positive (“+”) terminal of the dead battery. Connect the black (negative) clamp to the negative (“-“) terminal.

Note: Many modern portable jump starters feature so-called spark-proof technology that decreases sparks’ danger. Nonetheless, safety comes first.

Turn On the Jump Starter: Switch it on or activate it as per its instructions. Most jump starters will analyze the battery first, and when the green starting LED turns on, proceed with another step.

Start the Car: Try to crank the engine, but only once. If it doesn’t work, wait 30-60 seconds (or as recommended by the jump starter manufacturer) and try to crank the engine again. If it doesn’t work, check the instructions – jump starters store energy for 15-20 attempts, but they overheat easily, and after 1-2 attempts, one has to let them cool down.

Disconnect the Jump Starter: After cranking the engine, turn off the jump starter before disconnecting the clamps. Remove them in the reverse order you attached them (start with the negative clamp).

Keep the Car Running: Once it’s running, let it idle for a few minutes. Then, drive the car around for 30 to 60 minutes to recharge the battery.

Safety Reminder: Always read the instructions of any device you’re using and follow safety guidelines. Avoid touching the metal parts of the clamps together, and be wary of any sparks when connecting.

Also, while jumper cables can be held in a car year-long, most portable car jumpers have batteries that are sensitive to cold and hot weather and should not be kept in the car during very cold winters and during the summer heat.

Car Jump Starting Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ

What to do when the car battery is dead and the jump starter battery is empty?

Jump starters are versatile gadgets that often double as a power bank, LED flashlight, solar charger, etc.

If the portable jump starter is needed, but its battery is empty, try to recharge it using the dead car’s battery using the car’s 12V cigarette lighter port.

Note: If the car battery is unable to crank the engine, it may still have enough charge to recharge the portable car jumper battery enough to be able to crank the engine. For example, a 12V 70Ah battery discharged down to 80% DoD (Depth of Discharge) still holds ~14Ah of charge (~168 Wh of energy). It probably cannot crank the engine, but it can recharge the 3.7V 10-20Ah (37-74 Wh) lithium battery found in portable car jump starter easily, which, after all, doesn’t have to be recharged to 100% to be able to crank the engine.

After cranking the engine, let the engine run for at least 30-60 minutes to recharge the car’s battery. Also, recharge the car jump starter, just in case.

What to do when the car makes a clicking noise when trying to crank the engine?

If the car makes a clicking noise when cranking the engine, the battery is almost dead – it is still strong enough to try to engage the engine starter but not strong enough to make the engine spin.

You must jump-start your car using either a car with a good battery or a portable car jump starter.

What to do when the battery in winter is unable to crank the engine, jump starter is not available, and there is nobody to help?

First, check if the lights, multimedia/radio, or similar devices are on – turn everything off.

Second, check the battery contacts – if required, clean the corrosion and check if the battery cables have firm connections. If not, tighten them again.

Let the battery rest for a few minutes, and try to crank the engine. If it doesn’t help, continue as follows:

If you have a lithium starting battery, the built-in Battery Management System (BMS) may have disconnected the battery to prevent any damage due to freezing temperatures – in that case, try to warm the battery above freezing temperatures, but be absolutely sure to keep the battery away from too warm objects.

Note: Too hot objects or liquids may damage the battery and cause the BMS to disconnect the battery due to too high temperatures.

If you have a lead-acid battery, try to warm it as well; just be sure to keep it always upright to prevent battery acid spills.

With cold temperatures, chemical reactions slow down, and batteries lose their ability to crank the engine.

Warming the battery from, for example, -4°F (-20°C) to 32°F (0°C), and especially to 80°F (27°C), may significantly increase the battery’s cranking ability. For example, lead-acid batteries cranking abilities are often described using Cold Cranking Amps (CCA), Cranking Amps/Marine Cranking Amps (CA/MCA), and Hot Cranking Amps (HCA), and they increase with the increase in temperature:

  • CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) – measured at -4°F (-20°C).
  • CA/MCA (Cranking Amps/Marine Cranking Amps) – measured at 32°F (0°C): MCA ≈ CCA * 1.25
  • HCA (Hot Cranking Amps) – measured at 80°F (27°C): HCA ≈ MCA * 1.333 ≈ CCA * 1.666

Can I jump-start a dead car using a deep-cycle marine or solar battery?

Yes, but not directly. Connect the deep-cycle battery to the dead battery using jumper cables for a few minutes and let some charge from the good battery transfer to the dead battery.

After a few minutes, disconnect the deep-cycle battery and try to crank the engine – the newly built “surface charge” in a previously dead battery is usually enough for one good crank.

If the engine doesn’t crank, repeat the process, doubling the charge transfer time.

To prevent your car battery from dying when the most inconvenient, keep the parasite loads to a minimum and always be sure that lights, radio, and other loads are turned off when the engine is not running for a longer period.

If your car battery dies when it is most inconvenient, and it usually does, stay calm, figure out how to jump-start a car, and go to the nearest service to check the battery and the car’s electrical system. Again, better safe than sorry.


photo of Mateo Bernadic

Mateo has a Master's Degree in Electronics since 1997., with a strong background in IT Sciences, Physics, Math, and Chemistry.
After working for decades as IT System Admin and Architect (MCSA/MCSE) for various companies and as a blogger in free time, in 2021, Patrick turned to blogging as a full-time job.
BatteryEquivalents.com started as a hobby project due to a large amount of misinformation found on the Internet regarding batteries and everything related to them.