HOW TO - Pop Start a Car

(This VW van is for sale at, if you're in the market.)

If you don't know how to drive a stick-shift car, otherwise known as "standard," this How-To won't help you much, but may I recommend that you have someone teach you. You never know when you'll be on The Amazing Race, and almost every season, there's some team that has a hard time because they don't know how to drive a stick-shift car.

This How-To is for those of you who know how to drive a stick-shift, but it won't start, either because the battery is dead or the starter isn't working.

I learned how to do this because I had to. We owned a Volkswagen van much like the one pictured above. At the time we owned it, it didn't have the cool status it would have now. It was just a family car with a faulty starter and we couldn't afford to have the starter replaced.

The solution: pop start it.

How do you do this? First, you turn the key to the "on" position.

Second, you push in the clutch and put the car in gear--preferably 1st gear.

Third, you get the car moving. This can be done by either having someone push the car or letting it start rolling down an incline.

Once the car is moving at a decent speed, swiftly let out the clutch and the car should "pop start." Don't be surprised at the little jolt you'll experience. This is normal.

There you have it. The more skilled you are, the slower the car can be moving when you pop start it.

Anyway, an embarrassing little story about my pop starting of our VW van. I was eighteen and worked in the office at Tyson Foods in Missouri. There was no hill to park the van on, so I couldn't let it roll to pop start it, so a nice guy who drove the forklift offered to push the car to start it. For months, I'd call over to the dock when I was ready to go home for the day, he'd drive the forklift over, position it behind the van with the two front prongs carefully under the car, and he'd push the car while I pop started it.

It was embarrassing, but I was good at the pop start, so it never took too long.

One day, he came and pushed the car and it didn't start. We tried again. And again. Usually I could do it in a pretty small space in the parking lot, but that day it wasn't working and I tried over and over. He pushed me until there was nowhere to go but onto the street. It still didn't start, so he pushed me onto the street. I tried again to no avail. He pulled the forklift onto the street and we tried again. It still didn't start. We made it almost all the way around the block, trying time and time again, before I looked down and realized that


Horrified, embarrassed, and glad he couldn't see what I was doing, I turned the key to the "on" position and on the very next attempt, I successfully pop started the car. Then I smiled and waved and he gave me a thumbs up.

I never told him it was my fault, but I was very careful to be sure the car was turned to the on position from that point on.


missy said...

This cracks me up. Reminds me of one time, shortly after I learned how to drive a stick-shift, when I couldn't get up a hill. I'd go a little way up and then the car just wouldn't go anymore. I went around the block and tried again. Nothing. Finally I realized my parking brake was on. Genius.

Suzanne said...

Ha ha funny! I really should learn how to drive a stick. Then I can learn how to pop start! Anyway, don't feel bad. Once I called a locksmith because I locked the keys in the trunk of my car, and didn't have seats that would pull down and give me trunk access. After waiting forever, paying a bundle, and not finding the keys in the trunk, I found them inside underneath something I had set on top of them. Duh me! =)And I didn't tell the other people who had been waiting with me. That secret has remained between the locksmith and me all these years. Until now.

Christie said...

This is prayer that I never need to use this skill...and that I remember to turn the key to on. :-)

mormon birth mom said...

I learned on a stick shift - a VW BUG of course! Best cars to learn on - so forgiving :) I too had to do the pop start when the battery died. Love that van for sale, it looks like it's in great restored shape!

Tawnie said...

I use to have to pop start my car. Makes me miss my car. My dad bought it new and many years later it ended up being mine my senior year.
Thanks for always getting me thinking.

cucciolo25 said...

In high school I had the school policeman follow me to my car so he could unlock the door. I had locked my keys in the car. I could actually see my keys sitting on my car seat. When we arrived at the car, he lifted the handle and it opened. I had never even tried the handle because I saw the keys inside.
It was an idiot moment.

Julianna said...

I actualy prefer to drive standard. :) Love it, hills and all.

Sadly, they don't make standard mail trucks and I can't delever from the wrong side of the car and use a clutch.

Cares and Mimi said...

How many times in movies have you seen someone do the pop start? Hee hee! Your fork lift story would be a perfect movie addition!
The first car I ever bought was a stick - I loved it! -Cares

Edonna said...

When you're really good, then you put it in second and don't need so much speed. My husband says this. I still have to work it out in 1st.

Cody Strub said...

Hello there, my friend. It's so nice of you to know these things. At first, I was wondering what pop start a car means. But after reading the whole article, it was cleared that you're talking about how to jump start the engine. This method is quite effective for cars that are powered by an internal combustion engine. The discharged battery will be able to charge up when the jump start is properly performed. This can't also be done by one person only. Maybe 2 or more would do.