Jump-Starting a Car with Cables: Are red & black colors negative or positive?

You might have heard about jump-starting a car with cables if you are driving one. But do you know how to do it when the need arises? The chance of knowing what to do is slim, especially if you don’t have much knowledge of car mechanics.

jumper cables

Let us assume you are in a situation where your car will not start. Your initial thoughts may include a dead battery. However, you noticed the electrical and lights systems are still up. It might need a little push to get back to speed.

Now, you need at least the minimum knowledge to do this. You are in luck. In this article, we will walk through each step of the way.

How to attach jumper cables

The battery in your car is an important part of your vehicle. It enables most of its features, such as starting it up. Most cars run on diesel or gasoline, depending on the engine type and a few other things. These engines use an SLI battery – for starting, lighting, & ignition.

The primary use is for engine ignition. Other parts, such as radio and lights, are also provided power. When your engine is up, the majority of the power comes from the alternator. Kick-starting the car is the primary function of the battery. Without it, your vehicle is pretty useless. If your vehicle fails to run, the battery is likely the culprit. There are a few things that can cause it. The following are only some of the reasons:

  • Extended use of lights
  • Cold weather
  • Faulty battery
  • The battery is beyond its lifespan

Regardless of the reason, jump-starting your vehicle can answer your problem. If it is, you can save some money. If your car has some issues, jump-starting it may be the only way to bring it to the nearest automobile shop. A few tools and a bit of knowledge to jump-start is what you will need. Before even trying, take your time to read about it. You would not want to do something you are not 100% sure about.

How to Prepare

Preparing starts by reading the instructions or guide manual of your vehicle. If you do not have it on hand, try searching for it over the internet. There may be a specific section dedicated to jump-starting your engine. This part is important because some manufacturers do not recommend doing it. Some manufacturers also have dedicated instructions for jump-starting the unit.

Vehicle’s Battery

You also should know where to find the battery in your car. Most vehicles have it in front, usually under the hood. It’s close to the engine. Some modern cars have it somewhere else, such as in the trunk. Should this be the case, you will find dedicated terminals for jump-starting.

Battery Terminals

Take a good look at it and locate the negative and positive terminals. You should see a minus sign for the negative terminal and a plus sign for the positive terminal. Knowing and being sure is important, so you know to connect the batteries properly. It is also to avoid any accidents from happening.

Jumper Cables

Next are the jumper cables. One set should have one black and one red jumper cable. Having two red or black jumper cables will technically still work, but you should avoid it. 

So what is the importance of having different colors in the jumper cables? It is for easier identification of where to attach each one. You do not want to end up connecting it to the wrong terminal.

All electrical systems will have electrical energy flowing from the negative to the positive terminal. The energy flows through the wires, which you will be attaching. Along the way, it provides power to the starter. It triggers your car to start up. For jump-starting to work, be sure to connect to the correct terminals.

You should attach the black cable to the negative terminal and the red cable to the positive terminal. Be mindful not to attach anything to the jumper cable clamps aside from the terminals where they are supposed.

Jump-start using another vehicle or a portable jump starter

You have the option to jump-start using a portable jump starter or another vehicle. To begin, ensure all things involved are off. To be sure, we recommend removing your keys from the ignition. 

Keep flammable materials away, as this may start a fire. Fires, sparks, and even explosions are uncommon when jump-starting a vehicle, but it is a possibility. Vehicles come with high electrical voltages, so safety is really a top priority. The batteries have high voltages.

A portable jump starter, jump box, or battery pack is usually small enough to carry on your car. You can keep it in the trunk or glove box. After purchasing one, take time reading through the instructions manual as this may vary. You cannot store some of these packs in an environment with high temperatures.

Before starting the process, ensure the portable jump starter is off. In the same way, your vehicle should also be off. Most of these portable units come with one black and red clamp hard wired to the tool. Keep the wires separate to avoid unwanted sparks from happening. Connect the red clamp to the positive terminal and the black clamp to an unpainted metal piece, typically your car’s frame or chassis. Remember, the vehicle and jump-starter should both be off. Follow the exact order when connecting the cables to avoid accidents along the process. Sparking could cause an explosion or fire, so beware. 

Using a jumper cable to jump-start a car with another car

Maybe you are traveling as a group, and one of the cars need a jump-start. You can connect jumper cables between two cars. There are a few things to keep in mind.

The first thing to do is to find the battery for each car. It may be under the hood with the engine or in the trunk. Park them near each other so you can connect the jumper cables. No parts of the car should be touching the other, as this may result in unprecedented problems. If it comes in contact with any part, it may experience a disruption in the electrical current flow.

When beginning the process, both cars must be powered off and parked. Take a look at the terminal and note the negative and positive sides. Attach the jumper cables. The red wire attaches to the positive terminal on each battery, while the black wire attaches to the negative terminal. One end of the black wire should be grounded and the other end attached to the battery.

Here is a guide on the safest order of attaching your jumper cables.

  1. Locate the dead battery’s positive terminal and attach one red jumper wire.
  2. Using the same wire’s other end, connect it to the positive terminal of the live car battery.
  3. Connect one black jumper wire to the negative terminal of the live car battery.
  4. Using the other end of the same wire, clamp to an unpainted part on the car with a dead battery. Do not attach it to the dead battery’s negative terminal. 

Some guides will say it is okay to attach the negative jumper wire clamp to the dead battery. However, this increases the likelihood of an explosion or fire. If possible, look for an unpainted part away from the battery to decrease the chances of sparks igniting.

Once this is all set, switch on the vehicle with the live battery. It will immediately charge the dead battery. Sometimes, you can start the car right away. Otherwise, you will need to wait for a couple of minutes to an hour. Once your engine starts up, allow it to run for a few minutes to allow the electrical current to flow. At this time, attempt to start the other car. When turning your key, hold for a few seconds only. It may not work on the first try, so you may have to do it a couple more times. If everything is successful, your car will start.

Although your car is up and running, you may want to head to the nearest automobile shop to have your vehicle checked by an expert. It may only be temporarily okay after the jump-start. 

The last step of the process is disconnecting the jumper wires. You should perform this in the reverse order of connecting the wires. Do not let the cables touch anything until everything is disconnected. Below is a summary of the order you should be following:

  1. Remove the black jumper clamp from the receiver of the jump-start.
  2. Remove the black jumper wire clamp from the negative terminal of the source battery.
  3. Remove the red jumper wire clamp from the positive terminal of the source battery.
  4. Remove the red jumper wire clamp from the receiving car.

Give yourself a pat on the back because you have successfully jump-started your vehicle! If it did not work, your car could have a more serious issue.

Where to ground jumper cables?

You can ground your jumper cable on an unpainted part of your vehicle. What is the significance of grounding? It minimizes the risk of sparks near the battery, which could cause it to explode. Keep in mind one end of the ground cable has to be connected to the battery’s negative terminal. 

Positive and negative on a battery: Which side is positive? 

When you look at a battery, you will see two terminals. They’re often on opposite sides. Attaching a jumper cable to the wrong terminal will mess up your vehicle, so manufacturers make it easy to identify the negative and positive terminals.

Do battery manufacturers color code the terminals? Not all the time! The color red indicates a positive terminal, while black indicates a negative terminal. These colors are typically on the protective cover.

What if there are no colors, or everything is black? The batteries have a minus or plus sign embossed into the case. A plus sign indicates the positive terminal where the red clamp should be attached. On the other hand, a minus sign indicates the negative terminal where the black clamp should be attached.

Even with color codings in place, always double-check with the embossed sign. Color-coded covers can easily swap by mistake. 

Is red positive or negative?

The red cable is positive, so it should attach to the terminal with the plus (+) sign. Double-check everything before making any attachments. The red cable might come in different shades, depending on the manufacturer and a few other things.

Is black negative or positive?

The black cable means negative, so it should only be attached to a negative terminal with the minus (-) sign. If you ever encounter having two black jumper cables, do not attempt connecting these. The wires and a portion of the clamp should be black. There may be slight variations depending on the manufacturer. 

Below is a step-by-step guide to jump-starting your car. We recommend taking note of these steps for easy reference in the future. 

How to jump-start a car battery with jumper cables

  1. Locate Jumper Wires / Jump Leads / Jumper Cables

    You will need a vehicle with an okay battery and a set of these jumper cables. If you do not have one yet, you can go to your nearest automobile store or gas station to purchase one for yourself. It should come in handy for you when the need arises. 

  2. Park the car with a charged battery right beside or near the one with a discharged battery

    It is unlikely you can move the car with a discharged battery. Instead, park the car with a healthy battery close to or next to the one you need to jump-start. The cables should reach each of the car’s batteries. Switch off the engines and open the trunks or hoods. Some have it in the trunk, while most are under the hood. 

  3. Locate the Positive and Negative Terminals

    A battery always has two terminals – a positive and a negative. Your jumper cables also have one negative and positive. Red corresponds to positive, while black is negative. Never interchange these. attaching jumper cables

  4. Identify a ground for the dead battery

    A metal ground in a car is typically a portion without any paint. Identify its location as you will need it in the next step. 

  5. Attach the positive/red jumper cable to the positive terminal

    Connect the positive/red cable clamp to the dead battery’s positive terminal.jumper cables being attached

  6. Attach the other positive/red jumper cable

    Now, attach the red/positive cable clamp to the charged battery’s terminal. 

  7. Connect the negative/black jumper cable to the negative terminal.

    Connect the negative/black cable clamp to the negative terminal of the charged battery. 

  8. Attach the other negative/black jumper cable to the ground.

    In this step, you need to keep bare in mind to attach it to the ground. Use any metal surface without a layer of paint. It should be the last connection you need. 

  9. Start the car with a dead battery.

    Now is the moment of truth. First, ignite the car with a charged battery, followed by the other one. There should be a one to two minutes intervals.

    If the car ignites, remove the wires in the reverse order. Otherwise, wait for a few minutes and repeat step nine. 

FAQ

jumper cable
How do you know which side of a battery is positive?

The side with a plus (+) indicates positive. 

Is a positive terminal on the left or right?

It depends on how you are looking at it. The best way to identify is to check the signs. Minus (-) for the negative terminal, while plus (+) for the positive one.

How long does it take to jump a car?

There are no fixed minutes on how long it takes to jump-start a vehicle because this depends on a few things. Ideally, it should not take more than five minutes once all the necessary cables are attached. If your car does not start after five minutes, there may be a more serious concern. If this is the case, take it to the nearest automobile shop as soon as possible. Otherwise, request for home service. 

How long should you run the car after jumping to recharge the battery?

Assuming the jump-start was successful, you should run your car’s engine for a few minutes. During this time, it should be idle. To get a significant charge amount, allow your car to run for 15 to 30 minutes. There are other things to consider, such as but not limited to the battery size and condition.

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