There is no other feeling quite like the anxiety that arises when a turn of the ignition results in the silence. We expect a car to carry out its purpose, and we often do not know what to do with ourselves when it doesn’t. So what is the next step when the car doesn’t do what we need it to do?

Panic? No.

Cancel your meeting? Not yet.

Order a pizza? Possibly.

Fixing your car’s starting problem will either take ten minutes or three hours. There is generally not a lot of in-between. If one of these quick fixes does not work for you within the first few tries, it is time to call a cab or get a ride from a friend.

High Fructose Corn Syrup


When you look at your car battery, is there a bunch of greenish-white residue on the terminals? If so, that’s a problem, and you need to clean that up to get sufficient energy to your starter.

Normally, I would tell you to remove the connectors and brush the residue of the connectors and terminals. But if you do not have those tools available, Coca-Cola is a fantastic residue removal tool. Just pour it on your terminals and wait a minute.

Sometimes, however, the problem is not your battery. One way to know it’s not your battery is if everything seems to be working (e.g., your Sam Smith album is playing loudly on the stereo, there is no noticeable drain when you turn the key, etc.).

Jump-Start Your Car

Having grown up with Minnesota winters, I can jump-start a car with my eyes closed; I guarantee once you do it a couple times, you will be able to as well. The cables are color-coded, and car batteries usually do not have enough voltage to kill you, so how difficult can it be?

To jump-start a car, you will need the following items:

  1. Jumper cables.
  2. A running car (not yours, obviously).
  3. A firm resolve to get the job done.

And that is it. Yes, it would be nice to have hand and eye protection available, and if you do, please use them. Battery acid isn’t likely to project toward your face, but if it does, it stings like hell. Which brings us to our one caveat: if your battery is cracked and liquid is leaking out, stop before you start. The risk of flying corrosive acid is higher than potentially angering a client or a court appointed mediator.

Once you have your cables, connect the red cable to the positive terminal (which will likely have a red cover on it) of the dead battery. Next, connect the other red connector to the positive terminal of the good battery while the working car is off.1

Next, connect the black connector to the negative terminal of the good battery (again, while the operable car is still off). Finally, with the one remaining connector, connect to a good, clean metal grounding spot on your dead car (dead to red, black to metal like an unreleased AC/DC song).

Ideally, if you have time, you will start the working car and let it charge the dead battery, so it turns over on its own. But because this does not transfer a ton of power over to the dead battery, waiting will not always do the trick, especially if your battery was dead as a doornail to begin with. While it is not the recommended method, the more common path to jump-starting success is to start the good car then start the dead car while connected to the running vehicle.

Now, if you do not have cables or a friendly Samaritan available to help, you have the following potential options:

Bump-Start Your Car

“Bump-starting” is a way to use the momentum of your vehicle to get your engine to turn over. To do it, you need two things:

  1. A manual transmission.
  2. Inertia.

If you are parked facing downward on a decline, or if you have a friend of strong constitution and solid shoulder muscles, you need to move your car with the ignition on and the car in second gear.

Once you get the car rolling along at a good clip, that is when you “pop” the clutch. If your car starts, great! You have just validated your decision to own a manual transmission vehicle.

Percussive Maintenance: Hit Your Starter with a Hammer

I swear this works.

Sometimes, either because of lost electrical continuity or a bad winding in your starter, the insides of your starter need a jostle. It’s also possible the solenoid is stuck in place. When you gently smack it with a hammer, you can occasionally and temporarily complete the circuit necessary to start your car.

Don’t know where your starter is? Google that question along with the make and model of your car and you will get an answer. Whether your starter is easily reachable or not is a different question. It’s possible the starter is in a spot that you won’t be able to reach without ruining your clothes, so decide for yourself.

If none of the above work for you, get familiar with Lyft or Uber.

Featured image: “Car repair shop” from Shutterstock.

  1. Unless you want to recreate the scene from Lethal Weapon, please, for the love of Gary Busey, keep the black and red cable connectors separate throughout this process. 

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