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Dear Tom and Ray:

A friend needed a jump-start the other day. He attached the last negative cable to his negative battery terminal. I said he should have attached it to a metal surface other than the battery. Who was correct? - JohnRAY: You're on the right track, John. But let's go through the entire process since jump-start season is upon us.

TOM: According to the Geneva Convention, the red cable is used for positive and the black for negative. So first hook a red clip to the positive terminal of the dead battery. Next, hook the other red clip to the positive terminal of the good battery with the engine of that car running.

RAY: Then stand around and rub your hands together for a few minutes. When you can move them again, attach one end of the black cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery. Then clip the other end of the black cable to a non-moving, metal surface in the other car. Don't attach it to the battery, and don't try to hook it to a moving fan blade like my brother always does. Hook it to a substantial piece of the engine or frame.

TOM: You want to avoid the final negative terminal, because when you make the last connection, there is always a spark (if you hooked up the cables incorrectly, there will be a big spark). As you can guess, it is better that this spark occur as far from the battery as possible.

RAY: The reason you want the engine of the "good" car running when you hook up the cables is that the dead battery will start draining current as soon as all connections are complete. If you hook the cars up while they're both turned off, you may find the "good" car hard to start when you're ready to go.

TOM: For those of you who either don't carry jumper cables, are intimidated by large amounts of electricity or are not absolutely certain which terminal is positive and which is negative, we suggest you call road service and walk to your favorite Italian restaurant. Order a seven-course meal, and by the time you get to the espresso and antacids, the tow truck should be there ready to help get you on your way.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Your readers sometimes refer to "RPMS." You recently used the same incorrect term. RPM is the abbreviation for Revolutions Per MINUTE, not Revolutions Per MINUTES. I am surprised that you permit, even encourage this erroneous pluralization to continue. - John

RAY: We have a staff grammarian, I.M. Shirley Wright, who usually corrects us when we make grammatical errors. She's still trying to teach us the difference between "bringing" your car to a mechanic and "taking" your car to a mechanic. I still don't understand that one.

TOM: The term you refer to, RPM, does stand for Revolutions Per Minute. The term we used, RPMS, is an old English variation on RPM. It's a more formal usage which dates back to the 19th century. It stands for Revolutions Per Minute, Sir. I would love to discuss this at greater length, John, but I have to hop in my car and rev it to high RPMS so I can rush down to the S&L and check the latest interest rates on 90-day CDS. Or is that CsD?

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