How To Start A Car With A Rope

I spy safety violations. (Image via Shake The Future/YouTube)
I spy safety violations. (Image via Shake The Future/YouTube)

Car battery dead? No jumper cables? Too weak to push-start? Don’t worry, you’re not completely out of luck yet. You just need some rope.

Today I’m going to pass along advice from a guy who says “I’m not gonna pretend that I understand a lot about cars, because I don’t.” But! Basically this dude “Denny” shows us how to jump start a car with a jack and a rope. Do you know where this is going?

With the car in first and the key in “run,” Denny has one of the drive wheels lifted with a rope wrapped around it. Then he just yanks the thing like it’s an enormous lawn mower and the car trembles to life.


All he’s really doing is simulating the car being pushed. With the drive wheel spinning in gear, the pistons start pumping creating just enough compression for the engine to fire. Once it’s running the alternator can start recharging the battery. It’s pretty much the same stunt we saw pulled with a motorcycle not too long ago.

As Denny says, this only works with a manual transmission since you can shift it while the car’s dead and “the smaller the engine the better.” Less displacement, easier to manually create compression I guess.

He leaves out one fairly critical piece of advice though: you’re going to have to hope the car has an open differential. That ensures the engine’s power goes to the wheel of least resistance, which is obviously the elevated one here. Otherwise the car would be liable to lurch forward or this plan might not work at all.

I can’t endorse the idea of standing in the car’s path while rip-starting it like this either, especially while it’s propped up on a sketchy little tire-change jack. Maybe turn the wheel the other way and pull from behind?


Hopefully you never reach this level of MacGyver desperation and can enjoy this video as I suspect you’re meant to: for entertainment purposes only.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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How to start a car with a rope:


(Unless it’s powered by Briggs and Stratton.)

1. If it falls off the jack, it’s going to drive strait at you.

2. If the rope gets caught in the wheel, you could get yanked back (Don’t wrap your hand around the rope!)

3. There are a few other options that are much safer: Jump start, push start, hill roll start, call a tow truck....

4. It might not even work if the battery is dead enough and it’s an EFI car.

I can’t think of many scenarios you’d need to try a rope pull start like this, so please don’t.