From time to time, TTAC will highlight automotive products we think may be of interest to our community. It helps you to make informed decisions when buying gear for your car. Plus, posts like this help keep the lights on around here. Learn more about how this works.
Most of us have been there at some point in our life: it’s a cold winter’s morning, you’re rushing out the door thanks to young Johnny needing a last-minute costume change because of that extra bowl of Cocoa Puffs, you twist the car’s ignition key … and come up with a whole fistful of nothing. Nada. The battery is deader than current plotlines of The Walking Dead. Great, just great.
Fear not, because you have a portable car jump starter tucked away in the trunk for such emergencies. If you don’t, you should – these little powerhouses can save your bacon on a stormy morning or simply provide a jolt of juice when none is otherwise available. Offered in all manner of shapes and sizes, we’re here to help you amp your decision making so you’re not shocked when trying to select from the myriad of booster packs available online.
Okay, enough corny puns – here are our picks for the best portable car jump starters.
(Editor’s note: As noted above, this post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘
90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)
1. Editor’s Pick: POTEK Portable Power Source: Jump Starter, Inverter, Air Compressor
Sticking with the thought that highly recommended products should be the result of having a bit of skin in the game, this unit is very similar to the one on which your author has splashed his own hard-earned cash.
Sized and shaped like a traditional battery booster pack, this jump starter has two robust leads attached to an aggressive set of alligator clamps. No fiddly little connectors here; teeth on the positive and negative terminals are like that of an angry saber-toothed tiger. A dedicated on/off switch assures users that juice is flowing from the booster to the dead battery, unlike some other units which require a shadow of charge in the unit being boosted in order to turn on.
Able to be recharged through either a car’s 12V supply or a household outlet, this jumper can set alight engines ranging from small four-bangers all the way up to a large displacement V8. Ask me how I know. Its built-in tire inflator helps users get out of a different type of jam, while the myriad of AC sockets and USB ports can provide power if one is camping or setting up on the trailhead, for example. Finally, the LED work light is something you think you’ll never use until you do, at which point it becomes indispensable.
Pros: Master on/off switch, ample power supply, built-in air compressor, extra outlets
Cons: Large size takes up space, relatively heavy compared to handheld units
2. Highly Rated: GOOLOO SuperSafe Car Jump Starter
Quickly growing in popularity are these handheld booster packs, smaller in size than the unit described above but allegedly just as powerful. This model is said to weigh just 1.16 pounds and measure about a half-foot in length. That’s featherweight compared to the 18-pound jump starter residing in your author’s garage and could theoretically fit in a spare tire well or even a generously sized glovebox.
The reviews on this thing are great, with over 80% of the nearly 700 ratings giving it five stars. Its intelligent jumper clamps refuse to provide juice if the user has hooked the thing up incorrectly, plus a worklight and USB charging ports are built right into the pack. Useful LED charge indicators let you know when the unit itself needs to be recharged, a simple task handled by plugging it into a household outlet with the included wall charger.
Pros: Convenient size, well-reviewed by consumers foolproof operation
Cons: May need recharging after each and every boost
3. Waterproof and Loving It: Adakiit 1200A Portable Car Battery Jump Starter
Electricity and water are generally very poor bedfellows, meaning the waterproof properties of this unit makes it a unique choice with several advantages. Let’s be real, after all – Murphy’s Law dictates that a car’s battery will do dead at the worst possible time, such as during a rain storm or tough winter weather. It’s unlikely to go flat on a dry sunny day, so waterproofing is a big deal. It is also apparently capable of surviving a 4-foot drop. I’m not sure I can survive a 4-foot drop in bad weather while trying to boost a car battery
Lithium-ion batteries definitely punch above their weight class, so the claim that multiple boosts can be handled on a single charge is plausible. Its small size is also an advantage compared to traditional jump starter packs. The thing is attractively styled too, if that matters.
Pros: Waterproof, robust casing, reasonable price
Cons: Small(ish) alligator clamps, short wiring leads
Falling back into the category of tried-and-true traditional tools, this booster pack likely looks like the one your grandfather had in the 1980s, complete with an old school voltage display and big ears on which to wrap the jumper cables. This is not a wholly bad thing.
With 425 cranking amps and thick #2 wiring that is actually good enough for welding, this unit is likely to simply scare your battery into starting without even having to connect the leads. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but the master on/off switch lets you know the thing is working while its 68-inch cables allow the flexibility of reaching batteries stuffed into awkward locations by inconsiderate car designers. You can tell I have experience with this.
Pros: Ample power, long leads, thick cabling
Cons: Heavier than a collapsed sun
While it is true that Sears may have gone the way of Studebaker and Enron, some of their house brands have been brought in-house to reputable manufacturers in a bid to capitalize on their name power. This is what’s happened to Craftsman and also, as we see here, DieHard.
Charge or jump start your car’s battery with this rig, featuring intelligent charge technology which sounds like a legal process but actually deploys a microprocessor to avoid overcharging the dead battery. A maintenance mode allows the DieHard to also act as a battery maintainer, handy if you’re tucking a sports car away for the winter months. LED indicators and a couple of non-descript buttons allow users to choose between charging, boosting, and engine starting duties – although it remains unclear as to the difference between the latter two. It also has the ability to test a car’s alternator tester, if you’re into that type of stuff
Pros: Doubles as a battery maintenance tool, allows for alternator testing
Cons: No extra power ports, the brand is deader than the battery you’re trying to boost
We’re unsure why this device bears the surname of a famous F1 driver but it is safe to say there is little to no connection between the two. While this battery pack will certainly get you on your way, its large size and lardbutt weight probably won’t help your lap times around the streets of Monaco.
Designed for semi-permanent placement in a shop or garage, this wheeled unit can be trotted out when needed to be called upon to boost a dead car. You can be sure it will do so with much élan, as its large size allows it to pack an enormous punch in the form of a 200A engine start for immediate gratification. Auto-voltage detection automatically figures out if the machine you’re boosting has a 6 or 12-volt battery to avoid a reducing everything to a veneer of cinder dust. A 12-foot total reach is handy and the 8-gauge output cables will likely stay flexible in cold weather.
Pros: Power to spare, ginormous alligator clamps, makes you feel like a NASCAR crew chief
Cons: Decidedly not portable, cables should be of a stronger gauge given the amount of power
For those of you who like a bit of overkill in their life, consider this jump starter from the commercial catalog of Streamline-branded products. It bears exactly none of the extra features like an LED worklight or USB charging ports which routinely appear on consumer-grade units. This booster pack isn’t about flash, however – it’s about getting the job done.
Its 4400 Amp output is able to juice 12V and 24V systems back to life, making this the most robust option on this list. A dearth of customer reviews gives your author pause but the lack of feedback isn’t always a bad thing; perhaps it means owners of this rig are too busy boosting every car in the parking lot to leave a review. Be aware that it carries the highest pricetag of our group by far.
Pros: Provides a bigger jolt than a triple espresso, long cables, simple operation
Cons: Looks like a concrete brick, wallet-hoovering price
Usage Tips and General Advice for Portable Car Jump Starters
The sheer number of occasions on which your humble author has had to deploy his own jump starter speaks to either a high level of resourcefulness and independence or the sorry state of my vehicular fleet. All signs point to the latter.
Regardless of the neighborhood-vexing cars in the driveway, a battery pack ranks highly among the best and most practical expenditure of money since the time I bought extra tires for a particularly janky-looking trailer before setting out on an interstate journey. Plunking down the cash and learning to use the thing has saved countless hours of waiting for roadside assistance, not to mention several cubic acres of sanity.
It is wise to select a jump starter which features a dedicated on/off master switch instead of one which relies on a faint electrical charge from a nearly-dead battery in order to “wake up.” Experience has taught your author that if a booster pack is needed, the battery in question is likely flatter than the Prairies with no life left in it whatsoever, rendering a raise-to-wake jump starter completely useless.
Try to keep these units out of frigid temperatures, as finger-numbing cold can reduce its lifespan. Don’t manhandle the cables and alligator clips, either – damaged units can fail to transmit enough power to start a dead car or create enough electrical resistance to produce dangerous levels of heat.
For the sake of a reasonable cost of entry, a jump starter is cheap insurance against shivering in a parking lot waiting for the tow truck to arrive. In this case, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.
[Images courtesy of the manufacturers]