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Is it safe to jump-start a car battery?

Tara Baukus Mello
Tara Baukus Mello

Dear Driving for Dollars,
I took my car to college with me this year. I'm not driving it that much and sometimes my battery goes dead. My dad got me a set of jumper cables, but I'm afraid to jump the car myself. I saw someone do it once and there were sparks. Is it really smart to jump-start a car if I don't know what I'm doing?
-- Amber

Dear Amber,
To take your question literally, no it's not safe to jump-start your car battery if you don't know what you are doing. But it is pretty easy to educate yourself.

The owner's manual for most cars has instructions on using jumper cables or you can watch an instructional video online, such as the DIY Garage at AutoZone.com. The most important thing to remember is not to allow the red and black cables to touch each other when connecting them to the batteries. That can cause a spark like the one you observed. Also, make sure the ignition is off for both cars and that all accessories such as the radio and climate control are also off. Lastly, in cold weather, check to make sure that the battery isn't frozen.

Be sure to educate yourself on the process fully in advance and place a pair of gloves and eye protection in your trunk, so you feel comfortable when you need to actually jump-start a car.

Keep in mind that many cars cannot be driven for long periods without the battery going dead if the battery is weak, so your battery may need to be replaced if this is a continuing problem. Take your car to an auto parts store or a trusted mechanic and ask them to test your battery. It's better to replace a weak battery in advance so that you are not stuck at a time when you really need your car.

If you're buying a new car, look for the best auto loans at Bankrate.com.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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