The next time you are in a situation where you are tempted to jump start a car using your car as the savoir, don’t do it. The upside is not worth the risk. Here’s why.
Dead Batteries Are Part of Life
Anyone who owns a car long enough will be confronted with a dead battery. Batteries all die eventually, and very few of us change them proactively before the trouble results in us sitting behind the wheel with the familiar “Click Click Click” and no engine turning. The instinct the person in the dead car has is to immediately ask the closest human with an operable car for a jump start. It’s in our nature. If you are the person with the running car, here is why you should decline.
Before we begin, if this jump start will save the life of a future President, of help to save humanity for another day or two, by all means, be a hero. Short of that, our suggestion is to take other options.
Jump-Starting A Car Comes With Risk
Unless you are a mechanic and have a vehicle you are willing to sacrifice, our suggestion is not to jump-start a car with your running car. The folks at Car Talk* know a thing or two about cars. The brothers that hosted the PBS show for much of the last century started out scientists from MIT and then ran a successful auto repair business for many decades. They have a handy Car Talk guide for jump-starting. It begins with not one, not two, but three warnings for folks considering jump-starting a car. Worried yet?
If not, you should be. Learn from Stewart Fip, a Car Talk Community member, who jump-started one of his own cars with another he owns. Shortly after, Stewart’s infotainment screen on the vehicle had some problems. Here is what he reports, “A series of columns of dashes scrolling through the screen. Looks like The Matrix! Additionally, the speakers make a popping sound every 5-10 seconds. I removed the fuse for the radio and replaced it with another, same result. Removing the fuse does stop the popping sound in the speakers though, which seems obvious. Incidentally, this behavior persists after the ignition is turned off, it’s just that the display is not back-lit.”
Messing up a jump start can happen to even experienced vehicle owners doing their best to keep both vehicles safe.
Instead Of a Jump Start Do One Of These Two Things
So, how can you manage to live in a world where you can’t use a perfectly functioning vehicle to help one that is not working? Well, there are really two options. First up, you can call for roadside assistance. Every new vehicle comes with roadside assistance. Dealers and automakers give away this feature because the folks who sold you the vehicle will later attempt to sell you that service when your free period ends. Here’s a little secret you may not know. The AAA network is behind the scenes of many of these manufacturers’ roadside assistance programs. So, you call the number on your RAV4’s manual, but it’s the same guy in the same truck that will be saving AAA members all day long.
So, we are fans of AAA. The big difference is that AAA is not tied to a specific vehicle. It is a personal membership and you can help anyone you like with it. A stranger. Your wife. Your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or heck, all of the above. Or yourself. That is the beauty of AAA. It is always there for YOU, not your specific car.
AAA techs are savvy. They don’t show up and connect the jumper cables to the truck they drove up in. Rather, they will use a jump starter. A little box with a battery that can start the stranded car. AAA will also offer a diagnosis on why the dead car is dead. Is it just a bad battery, or is the alternator? The answer has a $400 difference.
You yourself can buy one of those jump starter boxes for short money on the World Wide Web and keep it at home, or at your shop, or your remote cabin. Anyplace you want to help people. We don’t suggest keeping it in your car though. Batteries in a trunk can cause trouble.
So, 764 words into this story will remind you that you can certainly jump-start a car in a dire emergency. It works great in movies. Almost every time you attempt to jump-start a car with your running car it will work. But there does exist the chance that you will be the next Stewart Fip. You can decide your own fate. Are you going to do the easy thing and help jump a car? Or are you going to call roadside assistance? Tell us in the comments below.
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career to chase his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin
Image by John Goreham. Re-use with permission only.