Health Encyclopedia

Protect Your Eyes When Jump-starting a Car

No one likes the idea of being stranded with a dead car battery. But many car owners don't know how to jump-start a battery safely. This lack of knowledge causes many Americans to lose their sight or suffer serious eye injuries each year in auto battery accidents, according to Prevent Blindness America (PBA).

All vehicle batteries contain sulfuric acid and produce hydrogen and oxygen gases. If the gases come into contact with a spark, flame, or a lit cigarette, the battery can explode. This will send battery fragments and acid flying.

Drivers should be aware of basic car mechanics and jump-start procedures before they find themselves stranded. Knowing how to properly jump-start a dead battery reduces the chance of an explosion.

PBA advises you to take a few moments to read through your car owner's manual and get to know the basic mechanics of your vehicle. Many cars are equipped with complicated computer systems, and jump-starting them in the wrong way may "fry" the system.

Be prepared for battery failure by having an emergency jump-start kit in your car. The kit should include splash-proof safety goggles, jumper cables, a flashlight, and jump-start instructions.

Prevention tips

Here are some suggestions to avoid a dead battery:

  • Check the battery for damage — cracks, corrosive materials, and loose wires — once a month.

  • Make sure your jumper cables are rust-free and corrosion-free with no exposed wires. Cables repaired with electrical tape are not safe.

  • Do not drop metallic objects on a battery. A spark can set the gases produced by the battery on fire.

  • When jump-starting, inspecting, or testing your battery, never lean over the battery even if you are wearing safety goggles. The battery could explode and injure your face and body.

  • Squeezing the battery casing may cause the sulfuric acid stored inside the battery to spill through the vents. Use a battery carrier when available and always handle with extreme care.

  • Dispose of auto batteries properly. Some service stations and stores where batteries are sold will get rid of the old batteries for free or a small charge.

  • Call a professional if you think there may be trouble you cannot handle or if you cannot remember how to jump-start a car.

First aid for eyes

Here’s what to do if you get something in your eyes:

  • Chemical burns. Flush the eye at once with the first available "drinkable" liquid like water, milk, or a soft drink. Flush continuously and gently for at least 15 minutes in all cases of eye contact with chemicals. Hold the eye open as wide as possible. Allow the liquid to flow over the eye. After flushing the eye, seek medical attention right away. Do not cover or bandage the eye. The emergency room healthcare provider will have to waste valuable time removing the covering before treatment.

  • Contact lens wearers. Do not attempt to remove the contact lens. Begin flushing the injured eye. Allow the liquid to free the lens.

  • Cuts and holes of the eye or eyelid. Cover the eye lightly to protect the eye from excess particles and see a healthcare provider at once. Do not flush the eye with any liquid. Flushing may remove fluids that maintain the eye's structure and function. Do not try to remove an object stuck in the eye. You could make the damage to the eye much worse.

  • Specks in the eye. Lift the upper eyelid outward and down over the lower lid. Let tears wash out the speck or particle. If the speck does not wash out, keep the eye closed, bandage lightly, and see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

How to safely jump-start a car

Tips to jump-starting a car the right way:

  • Position the car that will provide the jump-start so that its battery is as close as possible to the dead battery. The cars should NOT touch. Turn off that car's engine.

  • Very carefully attach the positive (red) clamp of the jumper cables to the positive terminal (plus sign) of the charged battery.

  • Connect the other positive clamp (red) to the positive terminal (plus sign) of the dead battery.

  • Carefully attach the negative (black) clamp of the jumper cable to the negative terminal (minus sign) of the charged battery.

  • Clamp the other negative (black) cable to any shiny, unpainted metal part of the car with the dead battery. This is the ground connection.

  • Start the engine of the car with the charged battery.

  • Make sure the transmission of the car with the dead battery is in park or neutral, with the hand brake set. Try starting the car.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Griggs, Paul B., MD