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Drivers… Start Your Engines!

    Starting and Jump Starting Tips

         Written By Archie Varone of A and J Auto Maintenance Center


It seems like winter is ready to chill us to the bone.  When it does, venturing out to work or play still brings with it a bit of apprehension each time we start our cars.  Well, if you’re like me, the less anxiety we have, the better.  Having a reliable vehicle that starts without question is no accident.  It takes planning and a little knowledge.  I hope some of these tips will get you where you’re going when you want to get there!


The Starting System

    How does it work you ask?  Well when you turn the key to the start position, a rod or cylinder slides a spring loaded ignition switch against itself to make a temporary connection to the starter solenoid.  If you own a stick shift transmission, a clutch switch interrupts the flow if it’s not fully depressed.  In an automatic transmission you must be in park or neutral.  Now that we’re past all that, the current from the ignition switch goes to the starter solenoid (another kind of switch).  Some are connected directly to the starter motor, and other are in the engine compartment.  Either way, its job is to take a large amount of current from the battery and send it to the starter motor.  If all goes well the engine turns at approximately 150-200 rpms.  And then if the rest of the systems are ok, the car starts!!!

    Well if that was too much information, simply understand that in order to start your car, all those parts have to be in good working order.  So have them checked regularly by a competent service technician at a reputable repair shop.  


    What to do when it goes wrong!

    If you turn the key and hear nothing, don’t panic.  Be sure the car is fully in park or neutral. Be sure the carpet mat is not bunched up under the clutch pedal, and check to see if your lights are as bright as normal.  If all that is good, you may have a flat spot in your starter. (This next tip saved one of my customers a towing bill last week).  A flat spot is a burned spot inside the starter motor.  A tap or shock with a hammer or tire iron to the outside of the starter body could get the internal parts to move away from the burned spot.  If successful, the car will start. Then drive it directly to the repair shop.  Oh yeah – be careful not to hit anything but the starter body since there are wires, hoses, and other fragile parts around the starter.


    If you hear a clicking sound…

    …and the dash lights go dim, you may have a weak battery.  If you have the time you could turn off everything and let the battery recover for 1-2 hours. If the battery is good, the chemical reaction inside could restore enough energy to start the car and then the charging system will finish charging the battery.  In cold temperatures this may take a lot longer.  

    If you don’t have time to wait

    You will have to jump start the car.  Jump starting a vehicle is a relatively simple procedure.  It is also relatively dangerous and relatively damaging to electrical systems and computers if done improperly.  Now with that said, there is an easy and safe way to jump start a dead battery. 

    The safety rules

    1. A dead battery emits sulfuric acid gas.  It is heavier than air.  It comes from the vents on top of the battery and will accumulate around the bottom of the battery.  This gas is highly explosive.  In the right conditions a spark could ignite the gas and cause the battery to explode.

    2. To avoid sparks, never hook up both jumper cables to the dead battery.

    3. Do not try to jumpstart a battery that is frozen or bulged on the outside.  This battery is more likely to explode.

    4. Do not smoke around dead batteries.

    5. Keep spectators and children away from the jump starting area.

    6. Do not be in a rush and walk through this procedure ahead of time at home so that in a pinch you’re ready and confident.


    Step 1. Get both vehicles nose-to-nose or side-by-side at least 6 feet apart.

    Step 2. Lay out the cables so none of the clamps are touching.  Have the other driver hold one side apart while you hold the other side apart.

    Step 3. Starting with the dead battery, connect the red (positive) cable clamp to the positive post of the battery (some cars have the battery hidden but provide a positive terminal well marked under the hood).

    Step 4. Connect the black (negative) clamp to an unpainted metal or aluminum engine bracket away from the battery.  This step is critical for safety.  If you put both clamps on the dead battery you increase the chance of explosion and injury.

    Step 5. Now get away from the dead battery and go over to the other car.  With the other car not running, connect the red and black clamps to the good battery.

    Step 6. Be sure the jumper cables are clear of any moving parts.  With every one clear of both engine compartments, start the car with the good battery.  Increase engine RPM slightly by holding the gas pedal.  Allow the vehicle’s alternator to charge the dead battery for 3-5 minutes (A really dead battery may need longer).

    Step 7.  Start your engine! Once you feel your car start running smoothly, go over to the car that gave you the jump and disconnect the cables from that car first.  Then disconnect the cables from the car that was jumped by taking the black (negative) clamp off first then the red (positive) clamp.  Store your cables clean and dry in a protective bag in the trunk.

    Step8.  Don’t turn off your car for at least 15-20 minutes.  This will give your car’s charging system time to recharge the battery.  If the battery is old or you are unsure why the battery went dead, drive the car to the repair shop and have it all checked out.

                If you don’t already own a good set of jumper cables, remember to get the best set you can.  You get what you pay for.  The larger the copper core is the more effective they will be.

    As your go out each day to work or play remember, you will test the maintenance of your vehicle.  It doesn’t care what time you need to be at work or what time the kids are done with practice.  If you don’t keep that car in great shape it will let you know.  Educate yourself as much as possible about maintenance and emergency repairs, and you can go about your day with a lot less stress and on time.