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Dead Car Battery? 11 Easy Steps to Make It Work Again

Last Updated: 30 Apr 2019

What do we do when we find out that car batteries die? When you try to start your engine and only to realize – “That’s it. My battery died.” Even when we know that one can indeed jumpstart a vehicle oneself, we still call a mechanic and patiently wait for our savior. It’s a convenient option, but not always an available one. Picture yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, with a limited supply of water, without a stable phone connection and without any idea of how close the nearest mechanic is or how to start a dead car. Even when that is very unlikely to happen to you, it’s still best to know what to do when your car battery dies.

Top Reasons Why Car Batteries Die

If we want to understand this issue fully, it makes sense to know why car batteries die in the first place. Here are the top 5 reasons:

  • Time. Just like any other batteries, car accumulator units have a lifespan upon which they’re just dead. Of course, this lifespan will differ depending on the weather in your area and your car’s activity, but the usual is three to five years. It’s especially necessary to keep in mind when you’re driving a used vehicle.
  • Weather. Everybody knows that batteries die faster in cold weather. It doesn’t even have to be Artic cold for you to notice how unit efficiency drops. You can’t improve the weather, but you can prepare for it. Keep an eye on the symptoms of soon-to-die accumulators and replace them timely, but more on those symptoms later on.
  • Corrosion. The acid used in cell units is corrosive. Corrosion blocks contacts between batteries and alternators, which prevents auto from starting. You can see this corrosion with a naked eye – it’s those blue-green growths on cell terminals. Alternatively, it may look like a white powdery substance, like dandruff. You’d better carefully wipe it away with a dry rug or with a stiff wire brush.
  • Human factor. Every driver has caught themselves forgetting to switch off the headlights more than once. It drives your car out of battery sooner than it would otherwise. This is the most common reason why car batteries die.
  • Parasites. Those, of course, aren’t literal organisms eating up batteries. It’s a term used to describe some spare parts that are poorly compatible. For example, a bad alternator or a broken fuse are both electric parasites that drain accumulators even when the weather is fine, and you’re sure all the lights are off.

How to Know If Your Car Cell Is Dead

There are a few ways how to know if your car battery is dead or soon to die. These symptoms, however, may have alternative causes like faulty wires or fuses. Keep that in mind and only assume that you have a dead battery if you spot several symptoms at once. Here’s what happens when a car battery dies:

  • Ignition doesn’t work, obviously
  • You start the ignition and can hear the starter motor, but nothing happens
  • A door doesn’t chime when you insert the keys
  • Dome lights don’t switch on when you open the door
  • Headlights are dim or don’t turn on, radio too
  • Cell unit always needs a jumpstart in the morning but works fine throughout the day (because parasites are draining it overnight)

How Long Does a Battery Take to Charge Fully

The first apparent solution upon the realization that “my battery died” is, of course, to charge it. However, this may turn out too time-consuming, especially when you need to drive somewhere now. Usually, cells hold 48 amps. A usual charger gives 2-4 amps per hour, so you’ll need about 24 hours to charge your car fully. There are also industrial chargers that can do the job in “only” 12 hours. As you can see, a jumpstart is a more immediate solution.

Jumpstarting Your Car Battery

STEP 1. Park Two Cars Face to Face

Park any working car so that it faces the one that needs jumpstarting with a jump starter. Naturally, they must not touch each other; the ultimate distance between them is 18 inches. If a car has a manual transmission, set it to neutral; for automatic transmission – parking. This applies to both cars involved.

STEP 2. Make Sure Both Cars Are Off

Both cars must be entirely off: lights, radio, etc. Remove the keys, too. Lay jumper cables on the ground. Make sure that their clams don’t touch each other.

STEP 3. Connect Jumper Cables

Open both cars’ hoods. Find the batteries and their terminals; if you can’t find them at once, look it up in the manual. Usually, the terminals will be red and black and/or have a plus and a minus written on them. If there are no plus-minus signs and you’re not sure which one is positive and which one is negative, refer to the manual. If there are signs of corrosion (or any other dirt) on the terminals, carefully wipe them with a dry cloth or a wire brush.

Connect One Positive Clamp of a Jumper Cable to a Red Terminal of the Receiver Unit

The red cable clamp usually stands for positive. Connect it to the positive (red/plus) terminal of the car out of battery. While connecting, wiggle the clamp a bit to adjust it solidly.

Connect Other Positive Clamp of a Jumper Cable to a Red Terminal of a Donor Unit

On the other side of the jump cable, connect the red clamp to the red/plus terminal of the working car’s battery. Adjust it solidly.

Connect the Negative Clamp of the Jumper Cable to a Black Terminal of a Donor Battery

On the same side of the jumper cable as in the previous step, connect the black clamp to the black/minus terminal of the working car’s cell. Adjust it solidly.

Connect the Negative Clamp of the Jumper Cable to a Neutral Bolt on the Receiver Car’s Engine Block

As you walk back to a dead vehicle, do NOT connect the remaining black clamp to the receiver car unit’s black/minus terminal. Instead, to ensure a safe and successful jumpstart, connect it to a neutral nut or bolt. There should be a shiny, unpainted part on an engine block for this purpose. Adjust it solidly.

STEP 4. Ignite Your Donor Car and Wait a Little

Ignite the working car and wait. Depending on batteries’ age and capacity, the waiting time may be anywhere between a few seconds and 1-2 minutes.

STEP 5. Try Igniting the Receiver Car

Upon your waiting, try igniting the car out of battery. It should start. If it doesn’t, wait for another minute or two and try again.

STEP 6. If Not Working, Try to Rev Donor Auto Engine

If the dead auto still doesn’t start, try to rev the working vehicle’s engine while the jumper cable is still connected. Revving the working auto’s engine may be necessary to kickstart the process.

STEP 7. Disconnect Jumper Cables, First Black/Minus Clamps Then Red/Plus

Once you’ve made sure that the dead auto is no longer dead, you may disconnect the jumper cable. Start with the black/minus clamps. It doesn’t matter whether you start with donor or receiver vehicle. Then, disconnect red/plus clamps. Auto order is, once again, irrelevant. Take care that neither of the clamps touch each other while either of them is still connected to a unit terminal.

STEP 8. Give Formerly Dead Car a Little Drive

Once you’ve disconnected the jumper cable and made sure that your formerly dead auto is up and running, give it a little drive. This is necessary to let the alternator charge your battery a little bit more so that it doesn’t die once again any time soon.

What If Jumpstart Doesn’t Help

The jumpstart must help start your dead vehicle after one attempt, 2-3 tops. If that doesn’t happen and an auto keeps dying, how to fix a dead car battery then? Well, no use to keep trying. When jumpstart doesn’t work, it means that there are other problems with your vehicle. For example, if your battery is more than 5-6 years old, then no jumpstart will help it. You need to replace it.

With newer batteries, there may be more reasons why car batteries die. We’ve briefly touched upon earlier: they include other components being faulty – wiring, fuses, alternator, ignition switch, starter connection or corrosion.

Either way, if jumpstart doesn’t help, then your only way how to fix a dead car battery is to take your car to a mechanic. Luckily, most respectable car mechanics offer free inspection and diagnostics today. Mechanics should be able to find out and explain what to do when your car battery dies, what exactly needs fixing right now, and how.

Staying Safe: Making Sure Batteries Stay Charged

There’s no convenient time for a “my battery died” moment, and such situations are always less than enjoyable. We know what happens when a car battery dies and why it happens. There are, however, tips on how to prolong their lifespan:

  • Routine checks. Even when you know that batteries aren’t supposed to last over 3-5 (in rare instances, 6) years, it’s still a considerable span. That’s why, after three years of service, run it through tests regularly. Having your own tester is not the only way how to know if your car battery is dead. Whenever you go to a mechanic for something routine, like a tire change, they should be able to test batteries as well – often, for free. They should also be able to tell you what to do when your car battery dies and when it might happen.
  • Safeguarding from extreme weather. Keep your auto in a garage whenever you’re not using it. If you can’t have heating and air conditioning in your garage, a budget solution is to cover batteries with an insulated blanket when you’re not driving.
  • Exercises. Try not to let your auto stand parked without any action for too long. If you have to go out of town for a vacation or a business trip for a couple of weeks, find a friend who could come over every couple of days and rev your engine for a while. They might even drive your auto a little bit. This should keep batteries charged at all times, so you didn’t have to trouble yourself with how to start a dead car when you return.
  • Doublechecks. As we have mentioned, leaving your headlights on is a common cause of batteries draining before their time. That always happens when car battery dies (or, more precisely, before). So, always doublecheck all the lights, radio, etc.
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