Can You Jumpstart an Electric Car?

Break out the cables because even electric cars need a boost from time to time.

Jumpstarting a Car BatteryManuel Carrillo III/Capital One

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Cold weather, forgetting to turn lights off, and electrical system drains are all situations where a vehicle might require a jumpstart if its 12-volt battery has been drained. However, it might surprise you that sometimes battery-electric vehicles (or BEVs) also need a boost to get going—although not for exactly the same reasons as an internal-combustion-engine (ICE) car, truck, or SUV. Here's when and why you might need to jumpstart an electric car.

Every EV Relies on 12-Volt Power

It might be unobvious, but besides its primary lithium-ion battery pack, every EV also includes a standard 12-volt battery like you would find in a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle. The 12-volt battery is there to power the car’s automotive accessories—infotainment systems, lighting, power windows, even the electronic control unit (ECU) that controls vehicle systems—designed to run on low-voltage electricity.

Sharing these components with traditional ICE cars and trucks helps keep costs down for automakers. But it also means that pure-electric cars have to run a separate, 12-volt battery system alongside their high-voltage drivetrain batteries that send energy to the electric motors to drive the wheels.

A 12-volt battery in a BEV might not undergo the same stress as in an ICE vehicle, but that doesn't mean it’s immune to going flat. Running the stereo for hours while parked, or leaving accessories on overnight is just as likely to drain the 12-volt battery in an electric Tesla Model Y as it is with a V8 Chevrolet Silverado.

Letting an EV sit for a long time without driving can have the same effect. If the 12-volt battery in an electric vehicle is dead, the solution is simple: the unit can either be pulled out and charged using a bench charger, or jolted back to life by using a pair of jumper cables and another vehicle's 12-volt system, or it can be rejuvenated via portable booster pack.

What if the Big Battery Goes Down?

Jump-starting an electric car’s 12-volt battery is one thing, but if the primary battery pack is completely depleted, the situation is a little more complicated. A dead drivetrain battery has to be charged—sometimes for an extended period—before the vehicle can move again under its power.

Most of the time, this means calling a tow truck and hauling the automobile to the nearest plug, whether it's a home charging unit or a public charging station. In some cities, it's possible to tag in a service that will come to you and charge your vehicle where it sits using a mobile charging system.

Some newer EVs (including the 2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Ford F-150 Lightning) also allow for vehicle-to-vehicle charging, which means sharing the charge from one battery by plugging the two vehicles together.

Can I Jumpstart a Gas Car with an EV?

What if you flip the script? Is it possible to use an EV to jumpstart a dead, 12-volt battery inside a gas-powered car? It's technically feasible, but most electric car manufacturers recommend against it. Nissan says the 12-volt battery in its LEAF isn't designed to provide the power necessary to turn over a gasoline engine. However, the Ford F-150 Lightning can jumpstart an ICE vehicle using the 12-volt terminals found inside its front trunk or frunk. It's always a good idea to read the vehicle’s owner’s manual before using an EV to jumpstart an internal-combustion engine.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.