Bootstrapping With Jumper Cables and Other Cold-Weather Battery Lore

Learn to use jumper cables to start a car in winter, as well as insulating the battery and keeping the engine warm.

| November/December 1983

  • Variation of Capacity With Temperature Chart
    This chart compares the percentage of 80 degrees Fahrenheit capacity with the temperature outside in degrees Fahrenheit. As we can see the colder it is outside the lower the percnetage of capacity and vice versa.
  • Voltage During Discharge Chart
    This chart shows the voltage of discharge over a certain amount of minutes.
  • Bootstrap Starting
    In this illustration, we see someone helping another person jump their vehicle with jumper cables using the bootstrap method.

  • Variation of Capacity With Temperature Chart
  • Voltage During Discharge Chart
  • Bootstrap Starting

The temperature was about 40 degrees below zero, and my car wouldn't start. I cast a hopeful glance at a farmer getting into an old pickup parked next to me... he might well be, I thought, the sort of guy who would carry jumper cables.

But his vehicle also failed to start. The engine groaned for a few minutes, and then he simply quit trying. I watched as he climbed out, booster cables in hand, and I cranked down my window when he lifted the hood of his truck.

"If you get someone to boost you," I asked, "can you start me, too?"

"Sure can," he said, "but I won't need a boost."

He proceeded to clip one end of each cable to the appropriate battery terminal and then backed away from the truck, holding the free ends, one in each hand. For about ten seconds, he touched the clamps together. Then he jerked them apart... pulled the cables off the battery... hopped back into his truck... and pressed the starter button. The engine turned and caught easily.

In a couple of minutes, my car was running, too — after a conventional jump from the gentleman's truck — but I wasn't about to let him get away without an explanation. So, while the two vehicles warmed up, I dragged him into a nearby diner for a cup of coffee.

12/3/2007 10:34:06 PM

Well, in Russia there are colds, too. It is written into the Lada handbook that before starting, you should switch on the lamps for a while to make the electrolyte "move" and heat up a bit. The same effect without the risk of blowing up the battery. They wrote also that in extreme conditions the engine starter load itself can cause battery failure without this practice.

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