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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

24 Models Considered
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best portable car battery chargers

Last Updated September 2019

Your vehicle is an amazing and complicated machine, but if the battery’s dead, you’re walking. Many things can drain a car’s battery, from forgetting to shut off the dome light to leaving your vehicle parked too long without driving it. A portable car battery charger should be part of your emergency roadside kit.

Portable car battery chargers can both charge a battery enough to start it and top off a battery if your car has been sitting over the winter. They are also compact enough to easily tuck into your trunk, so you will always have the charger handy in case you need it.

You will run into a wide variety of options and features when comparing portable car battery chargers. This guide will help you figure out what to look for in a good portable charger and how much you can expect to pay.

Portable car battery chargers are especially handy if your vehicle’s battery is several years old. Older batteries have a harder time holding onto a charge and drain more easily than new batteries.

Key considerations

Battery charging

Some portable car battery chargers can only charge a few types of batteries, while others are more flexible. Is your car battery a 12-volt or a six-volt? Lead-acid or lithium-ion? Make sure the portable car battery charger can handle your vehicle’s battery before buying.

Some portable car battery chargers can also charge the batteries for lawn mowers, jet skis, and other powered tools and toys. Chargers with USB ports can even be used to charge smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

Battery jumping

A battery charger and a battery jumper are two separate devices, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a unit that can do both. While chargers slowly power up a battery, raising its charge level over time, a jumper produces a fast burst of power to quickly start a dead battery. Though you will pay more, finding a portable charger with both capabilities will give you more options when dealing with a dead or dying car battery.

Speed

Less expensive portable car battery chargers often take their sweet time charging a battery. As you move up in price and power, the length of time it takes to charge a battery shrinks significantly. If fast charging is something you require, check the specifications of a potential charger carefully to verify that it meets your needs. You’ll want to find out how long it takes to charge the battery so that it will start your car and how long it takes to completely charge the battery.

Durability

Portable car battery chargers often take a beating, particularly if you keep the charger in your trunk. As such, steer toward those that are durable both in terms of the charger housing and additional parts like the alligator clamps. Even better, find a charger that comes with its own carrying case so you can securely store it and tote it around. The more compact and lightweight a portable charger is, the easier it will be to carry around.

A portable car battery charger should be corrosion- and rust-resistant. A waterproof charger is a big plus, particularly if you plan on exposing it frequently to the elements.

EXPERT TIP

If time isn’t of the essence, consider using a trickle portable car battery charger. Batteries that are slowly charged tend to hold the charge better than those that are quickly charged.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Portable car battery chargers with USB ports can also charge smartphones, tablets, and other devices.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Built-in light

A helpful feature that some portable car battery chargers include is a built-in light so that you can more easily use the charger at night. Some chargers also include an emergency roadside light as a safety feature.

Cables

Cables that are too short can be difficult to hook up to your battery, while those that are too long can be difficult to store. Shoot for cables that are in the middle length-wise, and verify that the construction is heavy-duty.

Display

A portable car battery charger should be equipped with some form of display so you can track the battery level and other information. If you select a charger with an LCD display, be sure that it is easy to read in both bright and low light.

Adapters

The more adapters included, the more versatile the portable car battery charger will be. For car batteries, a choice of clamps or O-ring terminals is standard. You can also charge the battery from the cigarette lighter in your vehicle with a DC plug adapter.

Ease of use

Look for a portable car battery charger that is easy to hook up and run. You should also be able to easily interpret the display and indicators.

Safety

In addition to emergency lighting, there are some other safety features you should look for in a portable car battery charger.

When your battery is fully charged, the charger will stop charging it or switch to maintain mode if it has built-in overcharge protection. Similar to overcharge protection, overheat protection will shut off the charger when it reaches a certain temperature level. Reverse polarity protection will protect your battery in the event that you connect the charger to the leads incorrectly.

Verify that a portable car battery charger is ETL-certified (or certified by some other reputable group) as meeting safety standards.

CAUTION

Never touch your battery terminals if they are covered with a white powder. This is dried sulfuric acid, and it can burn your skin if you are not careful.

Price

Portable car battery chargers are generally less expensive than battery jumpers, unless you purchase a unit that combines both.

Portable car battery chargers start at under $20, although most quality chargers are in the $50 to $100 range. Expect to pay more than this for more advanced features, greater power, or versatility in the types of batteries you can charge.

Tips

  • If you can never figure out which clamp goes on which terminal when dealing with a car battery, consider buying a charger with reverse polarity protection. This will keep you from damaging the battery if you mix up the clamp and terminal connections.

  • Solar battery chargers aren’t for everyone, but if you are only trying to maintain a parked vehicle battery over a period of time, they are a low-cost option, and they don’t require a power source to operate.

  • Read through the manual when you first receive your portable car battery charger to familiarize yourself with its main features and operation. You don’t want to be trying to figure out how to use it during an emergency.

  • If you are unsure about your battery’s specifications, find a charger that includes an automatic charge rate selector.

  • Three-stage chargers offer several different modes of charging, from fast charging and top-off charging to trickle charge, which can help maintain a vehicle’s battery in storage.

  • Clean your battery terminals with a fine-grit sandpaper before connecting the charger clamps to create the best possible connection.

  • If your battery has a series of cell caps on top, these must be opened before you can begin charging. Opening these cells keeps gasses from building up within the battery.

  • You’ll get two tools in one by purchasing a charger with a built-in compressor. This will allow you to also tackle flat tires, but it may add to the overall size, weight, and cost of your portable car battery charger.

  • One advanced feature of some chargers is an alternator checker. This device monitors your battery voltage under load and can tell you whether your vehicle’s alternator is maintaining your battery’s charge level. If not, the problem may be your alternator, not your battery.

  • Some chargers get pretty hot when in use, so be sure that you place the charger on a surface that can handle a little heat before plugging it in.

Other products we considered

There are a number of portable car battery chargers on the market, and there are a couple more that we want to mention. The first is the Schumacher Wheeled Battery Charger and Starter, which can both start and charge batteries for SUVs, trucks, and other larger engines. This wheeled charger is for those searching for a heavy-duty charging solution. We also like the Suaoki Solar Car Battery Charger, which uses the power of the sun to maintain your car, motorcycle, or tractor battery. This is an economical and lightweight trickle charger that also includes a DC adapter for easy cigarette lighter charging.

The proper steps for using a portable car battery charger are: connect the clamps to the terminals, plug the charger in, and turn on the charger.

FAQ

Q. Will a portable car battery charger keep my RV battery charged during the winter?

A. When comparing chargers, look for one that has a trickle or maintain charge feature. With trickle/maintain, the charger will slowly charge your battery when it needs it, keeping it topped off throughout the winter.

Q. How safe is it to charge a battery?

A. Charging a battery is fairly safe so long as you observe a few rules. Don’t let the jumper cables touch when charging, and avoid sparks. Also, take care that you don’t charge the battery around gas or other flammable liquids. Batteries can explode, so you should be careful when charging them.

Q. Charging takes a while. Do I constantly need to monitor my portable car battery charger when I’m using it?

A. That depends on the charger. Some have an auto shut-off feature that kicks in when the battery is fully charged. Chargers without auto shut-off will just keep charging until you stop them, which can damage the battery. Check your manual to find out how much supervision your charger requires.

The team that worked on this review
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katherine
    Katherine
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Rich
    Rich
    Writer

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