Updated May 2022
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Buying guide for best jumper cables

Vehicle emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and they usually occur at the worst possible time. You can try to avoid them by keeping your vehicle in prime working condition. You can drive carefully. But you can’t be certain you won’t have a flat tire.

Your best option is to prepare yourself as much as possible for emergencies. Carry a spare tire, flashlight, water, and blanket. And to prepare for one of the most common problems people encounter on the road – a dead battery – always carry a set of jumper cables.

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Most people are satisfied with jumper cables that are 12 to 20 feet long.

Jumper cables vs. portable chargers

There really is only one reason to use jumper cables: recharging a battery. Any other use will not be safe. There are two configurations for using jumper cables to recharge a vehicle battery: traditional jumper cables and portable chargers.

"Make sure the red cable connects the two positive terminals on the batteries. Crossing the cables can cause a dangerous situation."

Jumper cables

Your car’s battery provides the voltage necessary for the starter to ignite the motor, which takes a large burst of electrical power. Without enough power stored in the battery, the vehicle will not start. There are lots of reasons why a battery could be out of power: perhaps you left the headlights or interior lights on overnight, or perhaps the battery is just old.

Jumper cables don’t generate power on their own. They must be connected to a charged vehicle battery. Using a set of jumper cables, you can draw power from a fully charged battery in another vehicle and use it to recharge the dead battery in your car. This can enable you to drive to the mechanic and have the battery replaced.

Portable charger

Portable battery chargers have jumper cables permanently attached to them. You don’t need another vehicle to recharge your car’s battery with a portable charger. You charge the battery in a portable charger by plugging it into a standard wall outlet. You can then use it to jump-start a vehicle battery by clipping the jumper cables to the dead battery.

Jumper cable features

All jumper cables have the same basic design. Some have thicker cables and some are longer than others, but the basic configuration is the same from unit to unit. You’ll find these features on all jumper cable models.

Alligator clips

On each end of the cable are clips that look a bit like alligator jaws – or a large metal clothespin with teeth. The clips are usually made of copper or steel, good conductors of electricity. The clip handles should have a rubber covering or coating, which makes them safe to hold. Some cheaper jumper cables have handles made of plastic, with no rubber covering.

To connect the clip to a battery terminal, you squeeze the handles together to open the “jaws.” You close the “teeth” over the terminal. The jagged edges help the clip remain tightly in place and provide a good connection.

"Don’t touch the alligator clip to anything after connecting the other end to a battery terminal. The metal clip could be carrying a charge."

Insulated wire

Connecting the alligator clips is a length of insulated, heavy-gauge wire capable of carrying a large electrical charge. Wires that can carry more power are designated with a lower number, such as 2 or 4 gauge. Cheaper, thinner wires may be designated 10 gauge.

Because the wire carries the electrical power, it heats up considerably. Insulation over the wire helps to protect you if you should touch the cable. The insulation that covers the heavy-duty wire comes in different levels of thickness and rigidity. More pliable insulation works well for jumper cables because you might have to bend the cables in odd directions to fit inside the engine compartment of the vehicle.

"Heavy, low-gauge jumper cables should last much longer than thin, high-gauge cables."

Color coding

Most jumper cables have one black cable and clip and one red cable and clip (or black with a red stripe). This color coding is to help you remember to attach the red cable to the positive terminal of the vehicle battery and the black cable to the negative terminal. Crossing the cables could ruin the batteries on both vehicles or destroy the jumper cables.

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For your safety
Be very careful when disconnecting jumper cables after jump-starting a vehicle, so you don’t receive an accidental shock. Don’t touch the metal clips; only touch the insulated areas and handles.

Jumper cable prices

Because jumper cable sets are so inexpensive – even high-end models – we recommend that you always keep this important tool in your vehicle in case of an emergency. You can get a set of jumper cables for $5 to $75.

  • Inexpensive: You can find jumper cables to handle simple jobs in the $5 to $12 price range. Most of these cables will be up to 12 feet in length, which works pretty well for easy jobs. Most of these cables contain 8- or 10-gauge wiring.

  • Mid-Range: Most drivers will be able to find a great set of jumper cables for $10 to $25. These cables are between 12 and 20 feet long, with- 4 or 6-gauge wiring.

  • Expensive: The most expensive jumper cable sets cost about $25 to $75. These models will have cables that are 20 feet or longer, with heavy-duty 1- or 2-gauge wiring. If you have a large truck, you probably need a set of these jumper cables.

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Don’t keep jumper cables on the floor of your car, where someone could step on them and damage the clamps. The glove box or trunk is a better storage option.


Q. What does the gauge in a jumper cable mean?
The gauge refers to the thickness of the wiring in the jumper cables. Thicker wire carries more power, allowing you to jump-start larger batteries. A low number means thicker wire. Larger vehicles need cables designated as 2 or 4-gauge. An average set of jumper cables should have wire that is 6 or 8 gauge. Cheaper jumper cables usually have 10 or 12 gauge. Note that cheap cables may not last long or work well for all types of jobs.

Q. Is the clamp style on the jumper cables important?
The short answer is yes. Solid teeth on the clamps keep the clips tightly affixed to the battery terminals. Cheap clamps may bend under stress or not conduct power efficiently. The handles on the clamps should also have a rubber coating. This allows you to handle them safely without the risk of electric shock.

Q. Why would I choose short jumper cables instead of long jumper cables?
Shorter jumper cables weigh less and cost less, but longer jumper cables are far more convenient to use. Longer jumper cables are usually better in quality, too, so you may not want to pinch pennies here. Shorter cables may be easier to carry around, but most people prefer longer jumper cables because they can be used in many more situations.

Q. If I have to jump-start my car, does that mean I need to replace the battery?
Not necessarily. Although it’s true that a car battery only lasts three to five years before needing to be replaced, the occasional dead battery doesn’t necessarily signify the battery is failing. If you accidentally left the headlights or an interior light on, the battery may drain overnight, but it doesn’t mean you need a new one. However, if you’ve had the battery a few years and it needs to be jump-started more than once in the span of a few days (without any obvious reason why it’s draining), it’s time to replace it.

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