Best Portable Jump Starters for 2023, Tested – Car and Driver
We’ve all been there: you get in your car, turn the key, and hear the dreaded click-click-click of a dead battery no longer able to turn the starter motor. now he’s late for work, his coffee is cold, and he’s frustrated. this is where a portable jump starter comes in to save the day.
no need to wait for another vehicle to help you jump; you can do it on your own in seconds. but what type do you need? Is one brand better than another? and how powerful does it have to be? we put seven jump starters through real world hands-on testing to help you decide which jump starter is right for you.
Reading: Review car battery jump starters
our best picks
Things to Consider When Buying a Jump Starter
There are two basic types of car jump starters: portable jump starters and portable power stations. portable jump starters are small and easy to store in the trunk (or even glove box), while portable power stations can be stored in the garage for repeated use. the question of which type you need depends on how you will use it. If you just want one to keep in the car in an emergency, get a portable jump starter. If you have a fleet of vehicles that need help getting up in the morning, get a portable power station.
but how much power does your jump starter need for your vehicle? It can be confusing trying to decide with all the numbers and power ratings available, such as peak amps, amp hours, starting amps, etc. here is the final result.
Maximum Amperage (Current): This is the number most manufacturers brag about most loudly, but it doesn’t necessarily mean bigger is better. the higher the maximum amperage, the more powerful a jump starter will be (at least initially). For units powered by lead-acid batteries, peak amperage is an initial jolt of power delivered by the device, typically for 20 to 50 milliseconds, followed by 30 seconds of sustained amperage, which is classified as Cranking Amps (ca ) or cold cranking amps (cca), depending on the temperature.
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However, lithium-ion battery jump starters cannot provide high amperage for long periods of time due to the risk of thermal runaway, a phenomenon that causes lithium-ion battery cells to go into an uncontrollable state self-heating, which may result in fire. most of them can only deliver high amperage for two to five seconds, followed by a power outage rather than 30 seconds of sustained amperage.
In addition, we reached out to the experts at battery plus for further clarification, and they said that jump starters typically list an approximate number of starts that the fully charged device can complete until it needs to be recharged. in other words, a half charged jump starter will deliver the same power, every time, until it is depleted. it just won’t provide as many fast boot-ups as a fully loaded device.
Power (Wh): The total energy that can be stored in a unit, measured in watt-hours (Wh), indicates how much juice a unit can ultimately produce. the higher the number, the more boot hops a unit can make before needing a recharge.
Cranking Amps (AC) and Cold Cranking Amps (CCA): AC and CCA measure much lower than the maximum amperage rating because they measure continuous power for 30 seconds. ca measures this at 32 degrees f while cca measures it at 0 degrees f. For those of us who live in cold climates, the CCA rating is especially crucial. Your vehicle’s battery also has AC and CCA ratings, typically located at the top. You’ll want a jump starter with an AC and CCA rating close to (ideally above) that respective number, which is usually around 400-500 for your average passenger vehicle.
If the jump starter can’t hold high amps for 30 seconds to meet ac and dc standards, the sustained amp output is called “cranking amps” or something similar.
Determining the specifications you need with these numbers can be very helpful in determining which jump starter to purchase.
our test vehicle
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The fleet of cars and drivers doesn’t just consist of new cars, there’s a nice bunch of jalopies in the back that have been acquired over the years. To properly test these jump starters, we look for a vehicle with a truly dead battery. We located one on a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX that worked perfectly. it took a lot of quick tapping, “come on baby!” and some delicate footwork on the accelerator pedal to get it started for the first time in months, but it worked.
how we evaluate jump starters
We took the icy eclipse to the car and driver garage and got to work. The car battery was so charged that during testing we watched the juice discharge between each test with our voltmeter. this was very useful: we didn’t have to manually discharge the battery after each jump. once the battery was fully discharged, we plugged in each unit and tested them.
because the car battery drained every time we connected a jumper to it, some of the portable jump starters would read the connection as a “reverse polarity” error (we connected it correctly, we promise). this was fascinating, but it also revealed a flaw with some of the new style jump starters. those without a manual override button would not recognize the connection, so simply wouldn’t work. We understand the need for this fail-safe, but the inability to manually override the error and get a jolt out of the unit killed one of the jump starters we planned to test and required another to stabilize with a fresh battery to get back up and running the eclipse. ; not much help if you get stranded on the side of the road.
In addition to checking if each jump starter successfully started the car, we also tested:
- total power it took to recharge units from full depletion (using a kill-a-watt) to verify power capacity claims
- ease of use
- length of the cable (measured from the base of the cable to the end of the clamp)
- clamp quality
- portability (for portable starters)
- stability under the hood (for power plants)
- additional features
Comparing our notes on these benchmarks helped us decide which jump starters were the best and which weren’t. here are our top picks for the best portable jump starters.
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