Car batteries aren’t thought of often, but when your car fails to start, it is best to know how you can fix the problem without a mechanic. There are several ways you can charge your car battery, but safety is of number one concern with electrical components. Here’s how to charge your car battery the right way.
You may be on the side of the road or just the work parking lot. You put your keys in the ignition, turn the key, and….nothing.
The car isn’t turning over, and you’re stuck with a car that can’t perform the one task you need it to.
Before you call a tow truck or need a mechanic on-site, it’s probably best to try to jump-start the car and charge the battery enough to operate the alternator. Quite often, the battery is drained because lights were left on or a device was plugged in for just a bit too long.
Charging your car battery, which executed properly, is one of the safest and most common car repair jobs. However, electricity is no joke. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, you can accidentally complete a circuit with your body in it, causing electrocutions, battery explosions, and even death.
Don’t be foolish, and never attempt a repair on your car without the fullest of confidence in the procedure. Don’t attempt repairs of electrical components without proper protection from the elements as well.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to charge your car battery most safely and effectively.
Knowing precisely why and how the car battery contributes to the lack of ignition is going to be key to a proper repair. While a car that refuses to start can stem from the battery, the alternator, various sensors, and other aspects of the car can also be the problem. Knowing what a dead battery looks like and sounds like will also help you narrow down your troubleshooting.
Car batteries are essentially kick-starters for your car. When you turn the key in the ignition, power is given from the battery to a smaller electrical motor in the car. This motor helps to trigger the spark plugs in the main motor, which sets the fuel ablaze and begins to rotate the pistons.
These rotating pistons then continue autonomously after “catching,” which is the most common explanation for the sounds you hear when your car is cranking up. Once the car is started, the battery is no longer needed, and an alternator in the car recharges the battery using power from the main engine.
In short—your battery needs to carry enough of a charge to power the electric motor and spark plugs enough to ignite the fuel and fire up the pistons. As you can see, there are several places in that process where things can and do go wrong.
How it should be done?
If the car doesn’t crank quickly and fails to “catch” so to speak, then your alternator may be going bad and failing to recharge the battery. If the car cranks as usual but never catches, the problem could come from a sensor. Of course, hybrid and electric vehicles will have different processes for their batteries, but in most gas-powered cars, this is the standard.
The battery can only provide electricity to the electric motor (also referred to as a starter or starter motor) if a circuit is completed. A circuit, in this case, is essentially a direct metal connection between the battery and the starter motor. This connection needs to be flowing in the right direction, which is why negative and positive terminals exist.
There are some other smaller details with batteries and a myriad of ways you can maintain proper battery safety, but in general—never give your circuit a reason to connect to you. Here are a few general tips:
Getting your battery to start charging often means using a secondary vehicle and jumping the car. In this method, you charge the battery enough to crank the engine, and then allow the alternator to charge the battery. Remember, if your battery constantly needs jumping, it has most likely reached the end of its lifespan.
When jumping a car, the key is to form a complete circuit between your car battery and that of another car’s. This way, the battery with charge can transfer that power over to yours and help you jump off your car.
To start, turn both cars completely off, and disconnect as many electrical devices that may be using the car’s battery as possible. This includes the A/C, radio, and any lights.
Using a pair of jumper cables, start by connecting the positive (red) cable to the positive terminal of the dead battery. A good way to remember which terminal connect first is to remember: “red is dead.” Always start with this terminal on this battery.
Next, attach the remaining positive terminal to the second battery. From this point forward, do not touch any metal to yourself or any metal on the car. There is one exception to this rule, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Next, connect the negative (black) cable to the good battery. Common sense would tell you that the last remaining step is to connect the last cable to the dead battery, but attempting to do so is very dangerous and would likely damage the battery.
Instead, take the last cable and attach it to any unpainted metal under the hood of the car with the dead battery. This metal needs to be a part of the car’s frame and will act as a ground to the completed circuit.
Once completed, turn on the car with the good battery and allow the circuit to charge for a few minutes. Charging a car battery takes a considerable amount of time, so be patient and allow the system to do its thing.
After this amount of time, the car with the dead battery should turn over. Once it turns, disconnect each cable in reverse order to how you placed them. First, disconnect the ground, then negative and positive terminals on the good battery, and finally, the positive terminal on the bad battery.
That’s it! Knowing how to charge your car battery in this manner is perhaps one of the most useful car repairs you can perform with little risk and great reward. However, if your car battery dies and there isn’t another car in sight, there is still a way to charge your battery by yourself, with a little piece of equipment called a jump starter.
Jumpstarters work but cutting out the need for a second vehicle, and are themselves small batteries that need to be charged. These devices hold their charge for a long time, so they can be stored in your car and used when the time is right.
Using a jump starter is very much like jump-starting a car with another battery. Connect the positive terminal to the car battery while the starter and the car are both off. Then, connect the negative clamp to an unpainted section of the car’s frame below the hood to ground the circuit.
Unlike with a second car battery, you won’t need to wait several minutes for the car to charge. In fact, the jump starter is designed to give its maximum amount of electric energy as the car is started, so go ahead and crank the car once everything is connected.
Should the car fail to start, wait two minutes for the jump starter to recharge for the next attempt?
This can be attempted a few more times as necessary, but always remember to crank the car for 5 seconds or less.
Either of the above methods will allow you to charge your battery and hopefully, start your car.
Should the battery not start, the issue could either be the many components involved in starting the car we mentioned earlier, or even just a completely dead battery.
Many auto parts shops will check your battery for free, so if you’re dealing with startup issues on your car, head to the local shop and get your battery checked. Car batteries should last up to four years, so if you cannot remember the last time you replaced your battery, it just may be time to go ahead and buy a new one.
We hope we’ve given you a clear understanding of how to charge your car battery, whether you’re doing so with a second vehicle or a personal device. Remember to always consult a mechanic whenever you experience an issue with your car that you’ve never dealt with before, and utilize proper precaution when tampering with the electronic components of your vehicle.
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