By on March 22, 2019

potek portable power source

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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

potek portable power source

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

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2. Highly Rated: GOOLOO SuperSafe Car Jump Starter

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

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3. Waterproof and Loving It: Adakiit 1200A Portable Car Battery Jump Starter

adakiit 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

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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

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4. Clore Automotive Jump-N-Carry Premium 12-Volt Jump Starter

clore automotive jump-n-carry jump starter

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

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5. DieHard 71326 Gold Shelf Smart Battery Charger and Engine Starter

diehard gold shelf smart battery charger

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.

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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

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6. Schumacher SC1309 Wheeled Fully Automatic Battery Charger

schumacher wheeled fully automatic battery charger and engine starter

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

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7. Streamline Industrial Battery Jump Starter Commercial Grade

streamline industrial battery jump starter

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.

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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

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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.

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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]

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22 Comments on “Turn Down For Watt: Best Portable Car Jump Starters...”


  • avatar
    EGSE

    Schumacher Electric has been around since 1947; Michael Schumacher was born in 1969.

    Those big shop chargers are the real deal. I have an older 225 amp Schumacher. On a 5 deg. F. morning it spun over a diesel tractor with a flat battery like it was a dentist drill.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    What would you do if the maker of the product you thought best (after testing), didn’t agree to the extraction of what you term a small click-through fee?

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    You may not have seen the news lately, but Sears is still alive. A mere shadow of its former self, but not dead yet.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I bought one at Home Depot that’s 1200 amp, has an LED light and digital inflator. It’s a Schumacher, but not branded that way. “Powered by Schumacher” it says. Around a $100 and decent reviews on HD website. The inflator worked well, if slow, at inflating a suddenly flat uhaul trailer tire while bringing my 89 Mustang home.

    It also has 4 USB ports and a inverter for 110v.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I wouldn’t waste money on pocket/handheld jumpers. Incredible gadgets, but they’re guaranteed to fail in a couple months.

    OTOH, “super capacitor” jumper boxes are now around $120, they’re “solid state” so there’s nothing to degrade over time. You can forget about it, and when you need it in a couple years, it’s as good as new.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      My experience with these jumpers has been that they rapidly lose their charge over a short period of time, so the idea of throwing one in the trunk for emergencies and forgetting it will give you a dead boat anchor when you really need it

    • 0 avatar
      ahintofpepperjack

      This simply isn’t true for all of them. I purchased a Micro-Start XP-10 years ago and it still works great. I leave it in my truck for months at a time and it holds it’s charge and starts vehicles easily.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I have carried a JNC660C for years and it holds charge fine with the occasional top-off. If you’re into the old-style lead acid dumbbell, I recommend this one because it has *no* fiddly switches or knobs to break.

    The new lightweight lithium units in the sixty dollar range really do work – as in multiple jumps on one charge work. Again you have to be sure to charge it occasionally. Another benefit of these is the USB port for emergency phone calls if your phone is dead.

    I don’t recommend combining functions (light/compressor) in one unit – do a teardown of one and you’ll see what I mean.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The 2012-AGM is my go-to charge maintainer/desulfator. I will typically hook it up for a few days at a time. Do this on a regular basis and you can get some extra years out of your car/motorcycle/mower batteries. (Optimate 6 is also a good unit.)

    For fast chargers/engine starters (battery has lost charge in your driveway and you have line voltage), I recommend the relatively heavy old-style transformer-in-a-box units over the lighter solid state ones (sometimes the intelligent ones won’t apply any voltage at all). It can be shoebox size, but it should be heavy.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      My answer to all of this is to start with a good quality battery to which I have mounted a trickle charger which I merely plug in if I’m not using my car for awhile or on especially cold nights. It’s the simplest solution that has worked best for me

  • avatar
    jatz

    Potek promo photo is strangely careless; lens bokeh makes driveway debris look like puked-up eggs. Right next to the product. ‘Shop dat.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    I have more faith in jumper cables than I do in these things.

    If the little paperback book sized lithium batteries can start your car, why don’t auto manufacturers (or the aftermarket) get rid of big heavy lead acids? The fuel savings would be substantial.

    If you are finding yourself in need of a jump frequently, it’s time for a new battery. Or to chase down what’s draining your battery. With a fresh battery and no vampire leaks, your car should be able to sit for weeks, even months, without going flat. If your battery is self discharging you’re going to need one sooner rather than later, so might as well do it now and save yourself future headaches.

    If your battery flunks a load test (hint, bring it to the shop when it is dead, not fully charged) then you can usually get a full or at least prorated warranty replacement for free or at a reduced price and your dead battery problems will disappear. If they don’t, time to chase down that leak.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Jack,

      Agreed that you shouldn’t have to jump your battery on a regular basis.

      Your comment: “If the little paperback book sized lithium batteries can start your car, why don’t auto manufacturers (or the aftermarket) get rid of big heavy lead acids?”

      Similarly, “If LED’s really use ~90% less energy and offer ~50X life, why does the dome lamp in my $50,000 truck still use an Edison-style incandescent bulb?”

      The major OEM’s tend to be 10-15 years (?) behind the technology curve. Part of it is cost, part of it is risk, a lot of it is “Oligopoly.”

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        “…you shouldn’t have to…”

        It irritates me seeing cars in parking lots with their headlights ON and dimming. Not the part that drivers forgot their lights ON, or dome light (stuff happens) but we’re not always talking old cars, fleet trucks and or base/cheapo models.

        Cars now have upwards of 200 onboard processors, but (on some cars, probably Toyotas) none can figure out if you’re trying to kill the battery on purpose or not?

        None can be left for a couple weeks (or more) abandoned without a trickle chargers, or disconnecting a terminal.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Lithium batteries can be problematic in cold temperatures, as with headlights that don’t produce much heat.

  • avatar
    285exp

    I’ve gone through a good number of these things over the past 15 years or so because I regularly tow boat and horse trailers, and they are great when you need to be able to keep trailer tires properly inflated and to be able to jump off a boat at the ramp or out on the lake or gulf. Neither the boat or horse trailers were kept at home and any time that you used either one, if you didn’t properly inflate the tires you were asking to be changing a tire somewhere inconvenient and/or dangerous, and boat batteries lead a hard life, sometimes sitting for months at a time, losing charge. It was a lot more convenient to be able to carry the battery/compressor combo around to each tire instead of having to plug it into a 12V outlet in the truck cab and hope you had enough wire to get it back to the trailer tires. Jumper cables don’t do much good in a boat, so the jump box was welcome the few times I had to use it. Having a built in light, a couple of 12V outlets, and USB charge ports have come in handy plenty of times too.

    In every case, the thing that died on these units first was the air compressor, which makes sense since it’s the only thing with moving parts. I quit buying the jump box/compressor combos after the last compressor died, and bought a $50 Kobalt AC/DC powered unit from Lowes and plug it into the jump box, a $70 Harbor Freight special. It’s a lot better compressor than the built in ones and, if it dies, I can just buy another one without replacing the whole thing. Between regularly topping off trailer, car, and truck tires, I use the jump box enough that it doesn’t just sit forgotten in the trunk or toolbox slowly going dead. I recharge it after each use and prior to doing any towing or boating. If you keep them properly charged, the batteries in the jump boxes will last for years, if you don’t, you’ll kill them much sooner.

    For those that don’t feel the need for the air compressor or who would probably just drag around a dead lead/acid jump box because they won’t remember to keep it charged, they would probably be better off with one of the lithium jobs, at least they’re small and light enough that if you let them go dead you won’t be hauling around some much dead weight.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    The lithium ion batteries can deliver a comparable amount of electricity to a lead/acid battery in a smaller, lighter unit. However lithium batteries can handle fewer charge/discharge cycles than the lead/acid batteries before they lose effective capacity. That and the aforementioned loss of power in low temps keeps them from being used as a main (starting) battery in a car or truck. I have no doubt that the battery makers are working on this.
    Also the battery terminals and cable clamps need to be clean and have no corrosion. I have started many cars by cleaning these connections when the battery was “low” or “dead”. Sometimes the cable clamps or even the entire cable will need to be replaced if in bad shape.
    The small, hand size, jump start units probably will not start most vehicles with a completely dead battery, but they will get you going if the battery is too low on volts to crank the engine fast enough or just the click-click-click, no crank.
    Unless the lithium battery is some years old or has been recharged hundreds of times, they should hold enough volts for a jump for a few months.
    As others have noted, lead/acid (and Nimh/Nicad) batteries last the longest when kept fully charged. Lithium batteries last longer when kept at about 1/2 of full, but that’s not they way we need them for a jump start device.


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