Friday, August 31, 2007

How to start a car with a dead battery

We've all been there. You arrive to your car, turn the key, and hear nothing. Perhaps a clicking sound if you're lucky. Either way, your car battery is dead and this is wholly bad for what ever plans you had to drive some where.

Last night, as we were leaving the pool, two young guys had just this problem. I thought they had it handled, pushing the car apparently to get it started. But moments later they were opening the hood and staring blankly at the engine.

So I walked over and offered "help getting it started" to which they said "we don't have cables". I asked if the car had a manual or automatic transmission and they said automatic. Yep, they were DOA and going no where fast.

But wait, I looked inside the car and pointed out to the owner that it was actually a manual transmission. He looked at me like I was an engine... blankly. I asked why we don't just use the five guys still there and push it started? More blank. Finally his friend caught on, asked if I knew how to do that, then handed me the keys and opened the driver's door for me.

On the second attempt the engine sputtered. On the third try it coughed, sputtered, wheezed then slowly woke up and came to life. Problem solved.

The confusion over the type of transmission I take as a Dutch-English language thing. But not only did the car owner not know how to start his car, no one else did either. My students were shocked and asked me how I learned "so much about cars". LOL! This ignorance must end.

So, for your future use, I present the steps to starting a car without a battery.

  1. You'll need one car with a manual transmission, one driver, and two strong people.
  2. You'll also need a straight, short (50 yards) space to push the car through. Any parking lot or side street will do.
  3. Have the driver sit in the car with the key turned to "run", the gearbox in first gear, and the clutch pushed in.
  4. Have the human battery substitutes push the car forward to a jogging pace.
  5. The driver should yell for the pushers to stand clear and then drop the clutch while giving a small bit of throttle. As soon as the engine catches, put the clutch back in and give it the gas. It's started and will begin charging the battery immediately.
There are variations on the technique. If you can only push the car backwards, put the gearbox in reverse rather than first. If you have a hill, this can be done as a solo project. Pushing the dead car with a running one isn't recommended. Leave this for drunken rednecks.

If your battery was dead and started by cables or push starting, take it for a 30 minute drive to charge the battery back up. Idling for 30 minutes does not do the same thing.

Sadly, automatic transmissions, manu-matics and other variations don't work. But hopefully the next time you or a friend has a dead battery, you'll be able to help by using the push start technique.


J. D. said...

Morgan, I think you've crossed the line. You can now see that the youngsters don't know EVERYTHING. (But, you were familiar with that technique at about 16 years of age, and very wise about EVERYTHING by the time you were 18.) Ah! Can it be that age and wisdom has seeped into your very being? I'll bet the boys were happy YOU were there!.....Mom

Minka said...

*looks at an invisible spot on teh ceiling*

This happens to some people all the time.Lats Tuesday I got to my car and I have this button on my key that opens all the doors, teh button did not work. So I went inside nd got the spare key, the button did not work there either. Hmm, I announce dpuzzled to myself as I was dialing work and telling them I'd be a little late.

Off I went inside again:
put on a tight t-shirt and went knocking at the neighbour's door.
Perplexity demonstrated on my face, I mentioned my predicament. Young guy, eager to assist...runs out, I give him my start plugs (you can tell by now I have been in this situation before!) and let him get to work. I rest. Car runs, keys work and off I drive to work, waving a "thank you" to very helpful guy.

I am glad we have different perspectives :) I am also glad to know, that if I ever get stuck in Amsterdam...there is a guy I know who can start my car, that died because I forgot to turn the light soff the night before :)

I Dive At Night said...

If you have problems with batteries just remember that it's only a few hours for me to fly there. :-P

quilly said...

When I was a kid we had a car dad always backed into the driveway so he could roll it down the hill to start it. I thought all cars started that way....

ModelMan said...

This post is 7 years old,

but let me just mention that to do that, you should put the car in
SECOND GEAR and release a full clutch , it is much better for igniting the engine.

I Dive At Night said...

Hi ModelMan, well it's almost a year old, or are you posting from 6 years into the future?

Either way, I think 2nd gear may be worth a try. Thanks.

For some reason, this single post is the most popular page I have for arriving from Google. There's a lot of people in the world wondering about their dead battery!

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys!

All what you expressed here is right except for one thing: it's recommended (and I did it several times since I became 17... he-he) that you start your car using this method and the THIRD gear. In this case the success rate will jump tremendously even while first trying...

Take care and enjoable rides to all of you!

Martin said...

You can save a lot of pushing if you use the starter at the same time that you release the clutch. The battery is never completely dead, and so the starter will allow you to start with way less pushing. I used to push-start a couple of my cars alone with this method.

Anonymous said...

REcently had a car stall because of [at least] battery problems. Not enough bodies to push the car - but was in an underground garage. Next best thing, have the car go down the slope to the lower level. Worked!