Heavy 1 gauge copper-clad aluminum wire strong enough for trucks and SUVs. Can reach battery without front-to-front alignment. Clamps protected from accidental contact.
Heavier gauge may be more than average drivers need. Side post batteries can be a challenge for clamps. Plastic clamp hinge prone to breakage.
Remains flexible and tangle-free down to -40°F. Faster than average recharge time on dead batteries. Clamps designed to fit top or side post batteries at any angle.
4 gauge wiring limits use to smaller vehicles, not commercial size. Exposed metal could present a shock or sparking hazard. Some user concerns about weak clamp strength.
Parrot clamps completely covered and insulated. 2 gauge copper-plated aluminum wiring is commercial grade. Comparable models can cost three times its price point.
Some reports of flexibility problems in cold weather. Actual gauge may be higher than 2. Plastic parts can melt from overheated wiring during jump-starts.
Good all-weather performance. Labeled clamps glow in dark to reduce chances of crossed polarity. Clamps are ergonomically designed for easier use on top or side post batteries.
Lighter 4 gauge wiring not suitable for heavy-duty use on heavier vehicles. Clamp connections have quality-control issues. Some inferior copycat versions exist.
Alligator clips get a solid "bite" on both top and side post batteries. 4 gauge copper-clad aluminum wiring suitable for emergency road use. Tangle-free design. Carrying case included.
Promoted as 4 gauge wire, but some users say closer to 6 or even 8 gauge. 25' version better for connections, but charging time is longer. Side post batteries can be challenging.
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.
If you’re ready to buy a set of jumper cables, check out our five recommendations. For more information about jumper cables and what to look for, please read our shopping guide.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 buy 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.
Q. What does the gauge in a jumper cable mean?
A. 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?
A. 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 buy short jumper cables instead of long jumper cables?
A. 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?
A. 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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