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I Accidentally Crossed the Jumper Cables, This Is What Happened

I am an “automotive nut.” I have appreciated the artistry and engineering wonders that automobiles are for most of my life. I have also learned how to tinker with them. However, I still make mistakes for which there are expensive consequences. For example, I know that when charging a battery, you are to keep your positive lead connected to a positive terminal, and your negative lead to the negative terminal. I have successfully connected batteries correctly for decades. There was that one time, however, where things did not go as planned. 

A headlight and bumper show damage after jumper cables were hooked up to a battery backwards to charge a car.
Insulation on jumper cables melted after the leads were attached to the wrong battery terminals | HJ Pizarro

Just apply some jumper cables to the battery and crank it up, right?

I can not remember what triggered this day’s events. But, the battery on our Hyundai Tucson died. It had the second battery in the car’s 15 years. No biggie, right? Just apply some jumper cables and crank it up, right? That was precisely my thought. 

Sadly, that is when things started to go poorly. I pulled my wife’s minivan in front of my Tucson, popped the hood of both vehicles, and proceeded to hook up the jumper cables. I’m embarrassed about what happened next.

The grille on a minivan melted after jumper cables that were attached to the wrong battery terminals melted
A portion of a grille on a minivan melted after jumper cables that were attached to the wrong battery terminals melted | HJ Pizarro

I got sloppy and did not pay attention while applying cables to the battery

All my experience helping to jump other people’s batteries fed me the lie that this was not a big deal. I say that because I got sloppy and did not pay attention. I hooked up one side of cables to my wife’s car and turned around. Apparently, this was the critical moment. I must not have been paying attention, and swapped the cables ends when I turned around. Then, I connected the leads to the battery on my Tucson in the wrong positions.

I turned on the minivan. The van started fine. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. So, I had no clue I had done anything wrong. That is because the battery on the Tucson was, as they say on the Princess Bride, only mostly dead. I remember thinking, I’ll go inside for two or three minutes, grab something, and then come out to start the Tucson. So, I turned and walked away.

A headlight shows damage where a jumper cable that was incorrectly attached, melted and burned a whole through the lens.
A headlight shows damage where a jumper cable that was incorrectly attached, melted and burned a whole through the lens | HJ Pizarro

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My wife saves the day

My wife, however, was ready to leave. So, while I had just made it inside our home, she came out to put something in her minivan and saw trouble. She ran to me and was yelling, “The cars are smoking! The cables are melting!”

I ran out and found exactly what she said. One of us turned the van off. I then disconnected the jumper cable leads and threw them to the ground because they were hot. But, the damage was done. The insulation on the jumper cables had portions melted off. The bare wires were exposed. I tried to take the rest of the cables out, but they had melted and affixed themselves to parts on the cars.

Jumper cables that were attached incorrectly on a car battery started to melt and expose the wire within.
Jumper cables that were attached incorrectly on a car battery started to melt and expose the wire within | HJ Pizarro

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Melting insulation, exposed wires, and smoke, it could have all progressed to a much worse situation. It was only three or four minutes, tops, in which all this transpired. But, that was all that was needed for the damage to happen. Thankfully, my wife and I responded quickly. 

Pay attention when doing any automotive repair of maintenance

Jumping a battery is a simple process. But, it still a dangerous one. In my case, I am grateful that no electrical components got fried as a result of my errant ways. So, I want to remind my readers, please pay attention to any automotive related task, no matter how comfortable you think you are with it. For jumping batteries, make sure the leads are not crossed. Keep positive to positive and negative to negative. A video below will explain it for those that need to see it visually, or you can find information about it in your owner’s manual.

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Long story short, I got too comfortable with what I have done in the past, and it cost me. I slacked in paying attention, and consequently, both front bumpers, the minivan’s grille, and the Tucson’s driver’s headlight all received damage from melting. I also had to replace a battery. So, I learned the hard way to respect the dangers involved with car maintenance, no matter how familiar you are with what you are doing.