How to Jump Start an Electric Car (Step-By-Step)

Having your battery die on any vehicle isn’t fun, but it’s especially worrying on a completely electric vehicle. If the battery dies, you may have a complete electric motor failure. So, can you jump an electric car’s battery to get it working again?

Jumping an electric vehicle is not as complicated as you may think. It’s actually very similar to jumping a regular vehicle, except that you’re not using the primary battery of the car in the jumping process. There are a few safety precautions you’ll want to know, however.

Here is your simple, step-by-step guide to jumping an electric vehicle.

The Step-by-Step Electric Vehicle Jump-Starting Guide

The process of jump-starting your electric vehicle isn’t as intimidating as you might think. It’s actually relatively simple and takes only five steps in total.

Find the Battery

While it may sound like a strange first step, it’s an important one. As mentioned above, this is the part of the jumping process that is the most different from jumping a regular vehicle.

The battery you’ll use to jump the vehicle isn’t the main system battery. Instead, it’s the backup 12-volt battery, as you would find in any other standard car. This backup is in charge of running door locks, dome lights, window cranks, the air conditioning system, and several other key, but small, components of your car.

The only concern is that the 12-volt battery on an electric car can be in a different position than in a standard vehicle, so you may have to check the rear of the car for it. Check your particular vehicle’s manufacturer user manual for specific battery placement.

Find Another Car to Jump From

To jump-start your car, you will of course need a functioning vehicle to pull power from. While any good Samaritan stopping to help you should be appreciated, you do have to be a little pickier when it comes to who helps you with an electric vehicle.

You shouldn’t use another electric car to jump yours. This may fry many of the internal electronic components due to an overloading between the two electrical systems. Instead, use a regular diesel or gas car as your working car to jump. Be aware that even this can be dangerous. Check in with your manufacturer instructions first.

The rest of the process is much the same as it would be for any vehicle. Make sure that both vehicles are completely off and stably parked.

Connect the Batteries

Connecting the batteries for jumping a car is not as complicated as you might think. Just remember the phrase, “Positive to Positive, Negative to Ground.”

You’ll have two sets of jumper cables (which you should always keep in your car in case of emergencies): a set with red clamps and a set with black clamps. All cables are colored the same way for safety and consistency.

The positive terminals should be connected with the jumper cable that has red clamps. Then, connect one of the black clamps from the other cable to the working car’s battery. Connect the other black clamp to a piece of exposed metal on your car to ground it. Be sure that this clamp isn’t near the battery and that the piece of metal isn’t painted.

Never connect the second black clamp to your vehicle’s battery terminal. This can cause a short circuit that can damage both vehicles, and may even result in a fire. If you’re unsure where to place the grounding clip, check with the manufacturer for assistance.

Start the Working Car

Once all of the clips are connected, move away from the engines. Have the owner of the working car turn the ignition and let it run for a few minutes. Don’t try to start your car right away, and don’t touch the cables while they’re in use during this step.

There’s no exact time here, as every car is different. There’s also no visual indicator to follow; it really is just a matter of waiting and seeing if it works. A good rule of thumb is to start with about five minutes, as this gives your car’s battery enough time to develop a charge of its own.

Start Your Car

Try to start your vehicle. If it starts, very carefully disconnect the jumper cables in the opposite way you connected them. That is, you’re disconnecting the ground or metal-attached clip first, then the other black clip, then the red clip from your car, then finally the red clip from the working vehicle.

You’ll have to do this while your car is running, but you should turn off the working vehicle first. Be careful not to touch any metal or the terminals while removing the clamps, as you’ll risk electrocution.

Let your vehicle run for at least 15 minutes without turning it off again in order to build up a charge in your main battery system. Not allowing enough time here may mean having to do the whole process over again, so it’s better to be safe than sorry; leave extra time for your car to run.

How Electric Car Batteries Work

A traditional car is fueled by combustion; gasoline is pumped into the pistons of the engine and burned to produce force which is converted into energy and used to spin the wheels. An electric car does much the same thing, but with battery power rather than combustion.

The battery of an electric car runs the motor through a controller. The batteries are comprised of electrochemical cells. These function by passing electrons (negatively-charged particles) between two electrodes to create a current.

The electrons used come from chemical reactions happening inside the battery. There are three main pairs of reaction materials used, so three kinds of battery:

  • Lead-acid batteries, which are the oldest kind, and are efficient but not as safe due to the toxic chemicals they house
  • Silver-zinc batteries, which are relatively safe options though not the most efficient
  • Lithium-ion batteries, which are the newest, most common, and safest version to use

Regardless of the type, when all of the electrons are passed from the negative to the positive side of the cell, the flow slows to a stop and the battery “dies.” Electric car batteries are recharged by reversing the flow of the negative and positive halves of the cells to restart the electron flow.

Modern batteries, especially for electric cars, have extremely long lives. They can last about five years, or upwards of 100,000 miles of driving, with proper care and maintenance. When you jump an electric vehicle, the current from the working car is doing what a traditional charger would do, but at a much faster and more unstable rate.

Why Your Electric Car May Have Stopped Working

There are a few reasons your electric car may have stopped working, and not all of them are related to the battery. Starting with the battery, though, it may simply not be connected to the terminal properly. Tightening the clamps on the terminal may cause the electric motor to start without any further problem.

It may have simply overheated. If you drive the vehicle frequently, especially in the summer and especially if your maintenance schedule isn’t regular, you put the car’s inverter unit at risk of overheating. Their ventilation systems may have accumulated dust or debris that will need to be cleaned out before the car will work properly again.

It may also be an issue with your key fob rather than the car itself, which can be inconvenient if your model is completely keyless. Try replacing the battery in the fob first. It’s worth keeping a few on hand, just in case.

If that’s not the problem, it might be a simple glitch in the electrical system. This can happen occasionally, especially immediately after a new software update or an extended period of disuse. Consider rebooting the machine. Simply wait at least ten minutes, then try to start the car again. This is probably the case if the vehicle lights up, but won’t fully start.

If all else fails, then it’s time to try jump-starting the vehicle.

Keeping Your Electric Car Charged

Once you’ve got your car running again, you’ll want to make sure it stays that way. Having proper charging habits for an electric vehicle is absolutely essential to keep it in good working order for as long as possible.

Remember that there are three ways to charge your vehicle, and that each of them is meant to serve a different function.

  • Slow charging is the most typical charge type, as it’s the kind that would be installed in the home. It can take between eight and ten hours to fully charge your car this way, but it’s better for the batteries in the long term.
  • Fast charging is the more common commercially available charge. It can take between one and two hours to top your vehicle off, but isn’t designed to completely refill the battery from below a certain point.
  • Rapid charging lets you get about 100 miles with 35 minutes of charging. It’s good for emergency situations.

The different kinds of charging should be used when appropriate to keep your battery in top working order.

Extending Your Battery Life

Keeping your vehicle in a cooler environment can help to protect the battery. Try to park in the shade whenever possible, and store your vehicle in a garage at home rather than in your driveway. You should also be aware of your driving habits; constant high speeds and acceleration can shorten your battery’s life.

If you’re not using your car frequently, you should still keep it charged. Leaving the battery extremely low for a long time can make it harder to charge up again when you’re ready to get back behind the wheel. It’s a good idea to keep it around 30% or higher at all times.

At the same time, try not to overcharge your battery. Don’t leave your car plugged in for longer than about ten hours on a slow charge, two hours on a fast charge, and 40 minutes on a rapid charge. Doing so could shorten the life of the cells.

Electric Car Jumping FAQs

There are a few other things that aren’t necessarily part of the jump-starting process that you might have questions about. Here are the answers.

Why shouldn’t I just jump-start the main battery of my electric car?

The main battery of your electric vehicle is about 200 volts or higher, enough power to run the entire system. This also means that it’s about 16 times stronger than the average car battery.

This means that, not only would a regular 12-volt battery not have enough energy to charge your main battery, it would potentially completely kill the 12 volt or the fail safes around your main battery in the process.

What if my vehicle is a hybrid? Can I still jump-start it?

Yes, you can. It might even be easier to do than with a fully electric vehicle. The 12-volt battery on a hybrid vehicle is usually located in much the same place it would be on a standard car. That means you won’t have to go searching around for it, and you can connect it all the more easily.

Keep in mind that a hybrid is still a form of electric vehicle, so the same caution should be applied when jump-starting it.

Should I plug my vehicle in during the jump start?

No! Absolutely not. That could fry internal electronics and may start a fire. Only plug in your vehicle after you’ve finished jump starting it. Even then, you’ll want to wait until you’ve had the electric motor running for at least fifteen minutes so that it gets out of the dangerously low charge zone.

It’s a good idea to put your vehicle on a proper slow charge after a jump start, to make sure it’s in proper working order again.

What if my vehicle doesn’t start after the working car runs for a few minutes?

Let the working car run for up to five more minutes, then try again. If it still doesn’t start, though, you may be out of luck and have a ruined backup battery. If that’s the case, don’t continue to try and jump it; you may damage both vehicles or yourself.

In the event that your car needs to be towed back to the nearest charging terminal, remember that it’s best to do so via a flat-bed tow truck rather than letting the wheels drag on the road. Since they’re connected to the electrical system, having them spin while the car is off may cause damage.

Related Post: Can You Tow a Broken Down Electric Car?

What if there is buildup around the battery terminals?

If it’s dark dirt or dust, or another kind of buildup, carefully clean it off while the car is completely turned off. Disconnect the battery, clean the clamps, and clean the terminals. You may be able to start your car without a jump once the terminals are clean.

If it’s a white, powdery substance, don’t touch it with your bare hands. This is probably corrosion, the product of a chemical reaction that happens when your battery’s interior components leak out. It can burn you if it comes in contact with your skin. You shouldn’t use a corroded battery to jump your car; it might cause serious damage or even an explosion.

Remove the corroded battery immediately and dispose of it properly. Don’t just throw it in the trash; put it in a plastic bag or other container and take it to your nearest recycling site.

Can you use an electric car to jump other cars?

Yes, but you shouldn’t. While electric cars are capable of jump-starting gas or diesel vehicles, they don’t put off enough power from their auxiliary system to do so efficiently. In fact, trying to do so might damage either your vehicle or the other.

On top of this, even if it causes no damage to either vehicle, the simple act of using your electric vehicle to jump another car might actually void the warranty with many retailers, who put specific restrictions against it in their manuals and owner agreements.

Electric Cars Jump-Starts Don’t Have to Be Scary

No one likes getting stuck on the side of the road. It can be especially disconcerting if you’re in a vehicle that might not start back up at all. Jump-starting an electric car doesn’t have to be difficult, though. It just has to be done carefully enough that you don’t injure the car’s systems. If done properly, you could be back on the road in minutes.

Just keep your safety at the top of your priority list, and your electric vehicle should be back on the road in no time.

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