Can You Jumpstart A Regular Car With An Electric Car


It is not uncommon to get a dead battery in your car. Maybe a light got left on, the alternator is not charging, or perhaps the battery is old and worn out. No matter the reason, getting stranded like this is certainly inconvenient. Typically, a traditional car battery can be jump-started, but with electric vehicles becoming more common, a certain question arises.

Can you jump-start a regular car with an electric vehicle? Yes, you can jumpstart a regular car with an electric vehicle. Use caution when holding the jumper cable leads near potentially high voltage sources on the electric vehicle. And be sure to connect the leads to the 12 volt system of the electric car, not the high voltage system. Connecting to the high voltage system could cause serious damage to the regular car.

There are always risks when jumpstarting a car, but thinking through your actions before connecting jumper cables will save you from making any mistakes. This article can help teach you the risks associated with jumpstarting the car, and the steps to do it efficiently.

When And How To Do It

If you suspect your car battery is dead, here are a few tips to verify. First, attempt to start the engine. If all you hear is a clicking noise, the battery is likely dead. Second, most modern cars have a battery voltage gauge on the dash. If that shows below 12 volts, the battery is certainly dead. Lastly, a pro move is to have a hand-held voltmeter and measure the voltage at the battery terminals. This will tell you exactly how charged the battery is.

As previously mentioned, car batteries can die for many reasons. There are also many conditions that can cause the battery to die without anything being wrong. For example, if you live in an area where temperatures drop during the fall and winter, your battery is subjected to those cold temperatures. A battery subjected to harsh cold conditions generally only last 3-5 years instead of 6-8 years for those in warmer climates. Even if your battery is up to scratch, a cold engine does not always like to start, which takes its toll on the battery. 

Steps To Jump Start

Here is a quick breakdown of the jump-starting process

  • Position both vehicles close to each other, either side by side or nose to nose
  • Acquire a set of jumper cables long enough to reach between both cars’ batteries
  • Connect one red positive clamp to the red positive post on the vehicle with a good battery
  • Connect the other red clamp to the red positive post on the vehicle with a bad battery
  • Connect one black clamp to the black negative post on the vehicle with a good battery
  • Connect the other black clamp to a piece of exposed metal on the regular car (frame, engine, etc.)
  • Ensure the electric car is turned on
  • Wait 5-10 minutes and then try to start the regular car
  • Continue trying to start the regular vehicle every 5-10 minutes until it starts

Traditionally, to jump-start a car, you would begin by nosing a running vehicle next to the hood area of the dead car. Then, you open the hoods and hook up the jumper cables, typically with the final connection being the negative cable onto the metal of the dead car. Give it a few minutes to charge, then fire it up. 

However, when it comes to electric vehicles, things are a bit different. First, things are going to be different between a hybrid electric and a pure electric vehicle. Hybrids still have a battery for starting the engine while pure electric vehicles do not. However, both types still have a 12-volt system for running accessories like stereo systems. This is where you will tap into for jumpstarting.

The location of the 12-volt system will depend on the model. For a Tesla, the 12-volt battery is located under the front truck under the windshield cowl. There are a few plastic covers to remove in order to access it. Similarly, the BMW i3 has a 12-volt battery under the front trunk under a few covers. In a Kia Soul EV, the 12-volt battery is under the front hood next to the electric motor. This location is similar to what you will find in a hybrid electric vehicle.

A hybrid electric vehicle, like a Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius, can be used to jump-start just like a traditional vehicle. Likewise, a hybrid can be jump-started using a traditional vehicle. However, when using a pure electric vehicle, such as a Tesla, it works a bit differently. The 12-volt battery is used only to power accessories so it likely will not have the capacity to crank an engine. So what you do is hook everything up normally but then let the Tesla slowly charge the dead battery instead of jumping it. It just takes a slower and more methodical approach to achieve the same result.

Pro tip: purchase a standalone battery jumper. They vary in price but are overall fairly affordable. Keep this in the trunk in case of an emergency. Better yet, keep it plugged into a USB port or other appropriate charger so that it will always be ready to go. These things work pretty well and will save you the trouble of jump-starting a dead battery.

Safety Tips

The first safety tip is to be aware of the environment. If it is cold out, beware of snow and ice which pose a slipping hazard. If you are on a road, watch out for any oncoming traffic as that is a very real hazard of accidentally getting hit. Before starting the car, make sure it is in Park or Neutral. If it were in gear when starting, there is a chance that the vehicle will buck forward or backward potentially hitting someone or something.

Second, follow the same steps of hooking up the jumper cables. Start with the positive battery terminal of the live car followed by the positive terminal of the dead car. Be careful that the clamps do not touch as they will spark or get too hot. Next, hook up the negative of the live car and finally hook the last negative cable to the metal of the dead car. Doing this will lower the possibility of sparking near the battery. A charging battery emits hydrogen gas which is explosive, so use caution.

Some vehicles have special posts for connecting jumper cables to. This makes things a bit safer as the small sparks will be away from the battery. Also, on modern cars the batteries have covers on them, are remotely located, or have several cables attached to them already. Having dedicated jumper posts makes it easy to hook up to. 

Another pro tip: auto parts stores will charge a “core charge” for the old battery. In order to refund this, simply bring in the old battery to the store that charged you. If you are able to bring in the old battery at the time of purchasing the new battery, the store will be able to verify that you are getting the right new battery as they will be able to match the info on the old one.

Potential Damage That Can Occur

Even if the proper steps have been taken, there is always a risk when dealing with electricity. As previously mentioned, sparking can lead to the battery exploding. While this is pretty uncommon, an explosion is a very serious danger. Take the proper steps when hooking up jumper cables to minimize the risk. 

Another serious risk is a burn risk from high current. This is caused by hooking up the cables wrong, causing a short to ground. This gives all the electricity in the system a path of least resistance, resulting in high temperatures. The hot wires will melt the insulation and can potentially start a fire if it comes in contact with something flammable. Similarly, it can cause serious burns to hands, arms, or other body parts. If this happens, shut down the vehicle and use gloves or something else to touch the hot wires to remove them.

Aside from bodily damage, there is also a risk of damaging electrical components. There are dozens of computers and countless circuits in modern vehicles and the wrong amount of power can cause irreparable damage. Be careful to hook everything up correctly.

On a related note, most if not all electric car manufacturers have warnings against jump starting in their owner’s manuals, some claiming that doing so will void the warranty. Consider this before proceeding and like the sign says down at the swimming hole, proceed at your own risk.

Red Flags To Know When Jumpstarting

Now that we ironed out all the potential hazards, here are some red flags to watch for. The first red flag is actually an orange flag. While you are poking around under the hood, you might see some orange-colored wires on the hybrid electric and fully electric vehicles. Orange is a universal standard color for high voltage. High voltage in automotive applications is defined as being over 30 volts AC or 60 volts DC. This is the level at which dangerous shock or burns can occur.

While that may seem a bit low, the voltages used in electric car batteries are about 100 times higher. For example, Tesla Model S and Model 3 batteries use about 350 to 375 volts. Orange is pretty bright and therefore easy to see and stay away from. 

Another red flag has to do with the 12-volt battery. If the battery is swelling or feels hot to the touch, shut things down. A swollen battery indicates it has gotten way too hot and the acid has essentially boiled. This can lead to explosions or severe burns. If this happens, but things are able to be cooled down, definitely get rid of the battery. The internals of the battery are likely compromised and will no longer work properly. 

Conclusion

It technically is possible to jump-start a regular car with an electric car. However, the process is a bit different, and extra care should be taken to safely do so. There are a lot of sensitive electronic components in modern vehicles that can be damaged if done improperly. There are also certain physical risks from electrical burns, sparks, and explosions in both the 12 volt and high voltage systems. If done properly, this process can work in a pinch if no other options are available.

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