It’s awful to hop into your car for work only to find out it has a dead battery. Even worse, you could go for a hike and find the battery is drained when you get back, stuck in the middle of nowhere. In the past, you needed to call a roadside assistance service or find someone with another car and jumper cables to get your vehicle started. Otherwise, that hike would become much longer than you’d planned.
However, there is now an easy way to jump start your car without having to rely on someone else to come to your aid. Jump starters, also called jump packs, boosters and battery chargers, have become more common and far more accessible than before.
Jump starters have actually been available for quite a while. But these models have generally been as big and heavy as an actual car battery, and they contained inefficient lead-acid batteries inside. While you can still find these jump starters around, there are also newer portable lithium models, which are similar to the battery banks used to charge your phone.
Jump starters: Lithium or lead-acid batteries?
While some mechanics and car enthusiasts still consider lead-acid jump starters “heavy duty” due to their long standing reputation and their availability from top brands, the reality is that lithium technology has come a long way.
Lithium batteries (mostly lithium ion, the type of battery inside your phone and laptop) can have significantly more capacity in less than half the space than a lead-acid battery. Lead-acid models are usually fairly bulky and weigh from 30 to 40 pounds. The typical lithium-based jump starter is roughly 1 to 3 pounds, though larger models can almost reach 10 pounds and 12” in length. Even so, they’re generally small enough to store in the glove compartment, instead of the trunk.
Just like power banks, lithium jump starters are rechargeable through common USB ports and easily found online from $60 to $100 — though some models are listed for much higher prices.
Lithium also holds a charge for much longer now. At the moment, lithium batteries hold their charge for triple the time of lead-acid batteries.
One advantage lead-acid batteries were thought to have was their performance in cold weather. However, that has also been slowly surpassed by lithium, especially with the addition of technology to protect the batteries from outside cold or preheat them before use.
Finally, high amps are easy to come by on lithium jump starters now, so they also fit the idea of “heavy duty,” even if their size doesn’t show it.
Jump starter buying guide
Most of our jump starter selections are lithium-based. We made an exception because there are still no lithium battery jump starters that include an air compressor, so those who want that two-in-one versatility will have to look at lead-acid models, of which there are still many high-quality options.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when shopping for jump starters:
• Amps. Amps are the main spec to look at in jump starters; the number indicates how much power can be delivered to the car battery to jump start an engine. Generally speaking, when a larger and more powerful vehicle is dead, it’ll require a jump starter with higher amps to bring it back to life.
There are three different types of amps to consider when browsing for jump starters. Peak amps refers to the maximum discharge a jump starter can provide for a limited time (one to three seconds), while cranking amps is a more stable discharge that can be held for several seconds or even over a minute in some models. This makes cranking amps the more realistic measurement of the two, since it’s the one that’ll do most of the work.
Finally, there are the cold cranking amps, which is how many amps a device can pump out in 0° weather. If the product doesn’t advertise the cold cranking amps, it might mention the temperatures at which it works.
Unfortunately, not every company discloses these three measurements; many simply highlight the peak amps because it’s a more impressive number.
Most consumer vehicles, such as compact sedans up to mid size SUVs, require from 300 to 600 amps to start, which is easily achievable by a quality jump starter rated at 1,000 peak amps. Commercial trucks, on the other hand, could need products rated in the 3,000 to 5,000 peak amp range.
• Capacity. A jump starter’s capacity relates to how many times — or for how long — it can send power to the car’s battery. It also indicates how many charges it can provide to other devices, such as phones and tablets.
This is measured in milliamp hours (mAh), just like the average power bank. If you travel long distances, own several cars or have a job that includes jump starting batteries (such as roadside assistance), then capacity will be crucial. But even if that’s not the case, it doesn’t hurt to have a large battery for emergencies that might arise, or just so the flashlight that came with the jump starter stays powered.
Most jump starters have over 8,000mAh, and a significant number of newer ones have between 15,000 and 20,000mAh. A 20,000mAh battery will charge your phone about seven times, according to manufacturer claims; jump start numbers are very inconsistent across products, with claims ranging from 20 to 80 jump starts in a single charge. It’s important to note, however, that normally, higher amps will mean lower capacity in the batteries, so jump starters that feature both high capacity and high amperage will likely be much larger than an average power bank.
• Build quality and safety features. The quality and trustworthiness of the brand itself is very important for a product that can save you from being stranded or perhaps losing your job because you can’t make it to work.
Beyond brand names, there’s the physical build quality of the jump starter’s parts and accessories. For example, batteries, especially lithium batteries, can easily be damaged if dropped. So a rugged protective outer shell is important, especially in stressful situations on the side of a road.
You might also do well to consider the length and thickness of the jumper cables, which are included with virtually all jump starters. (Yes, you still need to use jumper cables with these products. Although some newer models have been able to charge the battery through the 12V cigarette lighter inside the vehicle, most still use traditional jumper cables and clamps attached to the battery poles.) Make sure the included jumper cables don’t easily expose the wiring inside or even break while being folded for months at a time. Most jump starter models have short jumper cables, maybe 1.5’ in length. Longer cables allow you to place the jump starter on a more secure spot than right on top of the engine.
Finally, look at the clamps. Strong clamps won’t come off easily when the engine starts rumbling, which could stop the charging process. To judge the strength of the clamps, you might have to watch reviews or see them in person, but you can also look at product photos and descriptions to evaluate their size and girth and the shape of the teeth. Some products also have safety features so that clamps won’t spark when accidentally rubbed together, along with reverse polarity protection for when you accidentally switch them; this will normally be advertised.
• Extra features. Other than the ability to jump start your car, these devices often come with additional features to help you during emergencies. Most of them have flashlights. Some come with USB ports (even USB-C ones for faster charging), 12V lighter-style connections and three-prong DC outlets that let you connect fans, work lights or air compressors. Some go even further and actually include built-in air compressors to cover other roadside crises, like a flat tire.
Best jump starters
1. Best overall: NOCO Boost Pro GB150 Lithium Jump Starter
Peak amps: 3,000A︱Capacity: 8,000mAh ︱ Advertised maximum engine sizes: 9.0L gas / 7.0L diesel
When car experts think of jump starters, NOCO is probably the first name that comes to mind. The company has a wide variety of products, from small 500A jump starters to 6250A power stations, as well as industrial battery chargers.
The GB150 jump starter is a great buy for both regular car owners and professionals alike. It delivers 3,000 peak amps, which is powerful enough to jump start nearly any mainstream car or truck sold today, and one of the best and most consistent discharge rates in the industry. This means that it can maintain a steady discharge rate for a prolonged period of time — even over a minute, depending on the vehicle.
While it’s costly at $300, the GB150 can power even the largest pickup trucks, and its peak current and steady discharge rates are certainly worth the money for the peace of mind they provided. Cheaper options like the Gooloo Titan Series GP4000 will deliver close results on the peak amps, and are a good option for budget-minded consumers that drive large vehicles. However, products like these are generally considered not nearly as good as the NOCO in discharge consistency or long-term reliability.
The NOCO does have some drawbacks, though. First, it doesn’t come with a good, protective case, only a bag. Second, it doesn’t have a USB-C port, but has a Micro-USB instead. Nevertheless, the power and the impressive discharge times that it reaches make it one of the best portable jump starters money can buy.
2. Best overall runner-up: Antigravity XP-10HD Micro-Start Jump Starter
Peak amps: 650A︱Capacity: 18,000mAh ︱ Advertised maximum engine sizes: All gas engines and up to 7.3L diesel engines
The Antigravity brand is well-known in the car industry for high-quality batteries and chargers. The Micro-Start line is no different, and it’s recognized precisely for the quality of every component, especially the cables and clamps.
With 650 peak amps, the XP-10HD might not be as attention-getting as other starters with 1,000 and 2,000 advertised amps; however, Antigravity delivers when it comes to accuracy and reliability. In third-party testing, Micro-Start jump starters have shown consistent numbers close to their maximum amps. While smaller models like the 300 peak amp Micro-Start Sport from Antigravity might not be enough for large vehicles, the XP-10HD definitely will, and will do so for a long time.
3. Editor’s pick: Anker ROAV Jump Starter Pro
Peak amps: 1,000A︱Capacity: 12,800mAh ︱ Advertised maximum engine sizes: 6.0L gas / 4.0L diesel
Anker is renowned for its external battery packs, cables, adapters and other electronics. With the ROAV line, the brand applied that expertise to car-related products, including jump starters.
The ROAV Jump Starter Pro delivers a peak current of up to 1,000 amps, enough for most if not all consumer vehicles, along with 12,800mAh of capacity. The capacity is lower than competitors in its range, but Anker delivers a much higher percentage of the claimed capacity than other brands.
Just like other jump starters, the Anker ROAV comes with a carrying case, jumper cables and a cigarette-lighter adapter for the 12V input port. It has two USB A ports and a USB C in/out port to both charge the unit and charge other devices. In terms of safety, it has overheating and anti-spark protection. The jumper cable plug also has an LCD screen to read the voltage on the battery, so there’s no need for an additional monitoring tool.
If you were to encounter problems with this unit, Anker has a 12-month warranty and very responsive customer service.
A downside to this package is that it doesn’t come with a charging cable. While USB-C cables are pretty easy to get, given Anker’s specialty is high-quality cables, they should have included one here. Also, the included manual doesn’t explain much, and is of very limited help. By contrast, some competitors even have instructions spelled out on the device itself, for the sake of safe operations, so this is a pretty big oversight.
4. Best for low prices: Gooloo GT1500 Jump Starter Battery Pack
Peak amps: 1500A︱Capacity: 15,000mAh︱ Advertised maximum engine sizes: 8.0L gas / 6.0L diesel
Hundreds of low-price jump starters from obscure brand names are available online. Gooloo shines through by delivering high power and affordability, as well as accuracy in its claimed amps.
The GT1500 can be found for around $60, and it has an advertised 1,500 peak amps. While its cranking amps, which are not mentioned, might be half of that or less, it’s more than enough to power up vehicles from subcompacts to large SUVs. What’s most important is that testimonials and reviews say that Gooloo jump starters deliver consistently.
It comes with a soft carrying case, a cigarette lighter adapter for the 12V input, and two USB-A ports. The GT1500 is charged through USB-C, though the USB-C port is only for input, so it can’t charge other devices through it.
Unfortunately, this model can’t really manage problems in cold weather, as it will struggle to work below 0°. Also, as with many new brands like this one, the long-term durability of Gooloo jump starters is unknown; if you want something tried and tested, you might have to spend a bit more.
5. Best multi-purpose jump starter: DeWalt DXAEJ14 Digital Portable Power Station Jump Starter
Peak amps: 1,400A︱Capacity: Unspecified ︱ Advertised maximum engine sizes: Not advertised
Manufactured by renowned and trusted power tool brand DeWalt, the DXAEJ14 Power Station can discharge a peak current of 1,400 amps, more than enough for anything from a motor bike to a large pickup truck.
This lead-acid battery pack has two USB-A ports to charge external electronic devices, and it’s charged via a regular, two-pronged electric extension (which you need to have or buy separately) or via a 12V cigarette-lighter cable.
It includes an air compressor that claims up to 120 psi in power. That’s slower than a decent dedicated (and expensive) tire inflator, but it’ll definitely do the job at a moment’s notice. Also, among other jump starters that include this feature, the DeWalt has proven to be the most effective at actually filling tires. You can read both the battery voltage and the tire pressure on a small LED screen, on which you can also set the target pressure you want.
Take note that while reviewers of this product on Amazon are mostly positive (76% give it 5 stars), there are many complaints in reviews at DeWalt’s site. Many of the bad reviews come from flaws that are just the nature of this product. Many bash the compressor for being too slow, even though compared to other two-in-one jump starters, it’s actually very good. Others complain about the DeWalt battery losing its charge too fast.
It’s worth emphasizing that this is a lead-acid jump starter, not lithium. This means that the capacity for the size is rather low (it weighs 35 pounds, compared to higher capacity lithium starters that weigh less than 10), and the self discharge rate is much higher than a lithium battery, so it’s necessary to recharge it about every three months. If you forget to do so, you’ll find yourself with a drained battery.
If you want something more reliable, with more capacity and a longer-lasting charge, look at our selections with lithium batteries, but you’ll have to get the air compressor separately.
6. Best for cold weather: Hulkman Alpha 85S Jump Starter
Peak amps: 2,000A︱Capacity: 20,000mAh ︱ Advertised maximum engine sizes: 8.5L gas / 6.0L diesel
Born as a Kickstarter project in 2020, the Hulkman brand has proven to be at the level of the top jump starters in the market. With a high amp count of 2,000 and a very big battery of 20,000mAh, the Alphas are powerful devices with enough extra features to please most buyers.
Its large screen shows the amount of charge left on the jump starter itself, and lets you know when the car battery is ready to turn on. It has one USB-C and two regular USB-A ports, along with a 12V port to use with the included lighter-style adapter. All the extra cables and the clamps are stored in the included hard shell case, which makes carrying it a lot easier and safer.
They’re advertised as being able to power up large gas engines up to 8.5L, and 6.0L diesel ones. It can also power up batteries that are nearly dead (far below 7.0V). Although it won’t detect a battery with such low voltage at first, you can “override it” by pressing the power and flashlight buttons simultaneously. The pack will start charging the battery and delivering the necessary amps. According to testimonials and reviews, it works perfectly well even on batteries below 1.0V.
The 85S even has a trick up its sleeve that sets it apart from the competition and its own brand siblings: pre-heat technology that allows it to work in temperatures as low as -40°.
Although it has been well-tested and delivers on its jump starting claims, this is a fairly new product, so long-term durability is still uncertain. Keep that in mind when making the purchase.
More from Money:
© Copyright 2020 Ad Practitioners, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This article originally appeared on Money.com and may contain affiliate links for which Money receives compensation. Opinions expressed in this article are the author's alone, not those of a third-party entity, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed. Offers may be subject to change without notice. For more information, read Money’s full disclaimer.