Jump-starting cars has always been a bit of a hair-raising experience. Whenever I do it, I’m a nervous wreck, paralyzed with fear that I’ll booger up the connection somehow and blow up both cars in the process. That’s never happened, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that electricity is a scary thing. Then there are the logistical challenges: jump starting can be a tricky proposition in tight quarters, or a drawn-out ordeal if you have to find someone to give you a jump in East Zombieville at two in the morning.
Of course, there are better solutions. The best portable jump-starters are years beyond those bloated, heavy contraptions that in the past looked suspiciously like, well, car batteries. They’re now sleek, computer-regulated, lithium-ion gadgets that can fit discretely in your trunk or even your glove box, and be used in a pinch to charge your mobile electronics or, believe it or not, wash your car.
Though dead batteries feel like increasingly rare occurrences with modern cars, they do still happen. Even if it’s not your own car that goes terminals-up at a freeway rest-stop, it’s still worth carrying a portable jump starter so you can be the good Samaritan someday. With that in mind, we sought out the best portable jump-starters, listed below. Keep in mind when considering one that the battery’s ability to start a car is dependent upon many factors, including the size of the engine, the state of the vehicle’s own battery, whether the car’s starter is a more recent and therefore more efficient model and, lastly, the amperage of the jumper battery itself.
Terms to Know
That amperage rating ranges from has been identified as between 150 to 450 cold cranking amps (CCA), though that number isn’t always available in the product’s specifications. Instead, the number might just be delivered as “peak amps” or just “cranking amps,” and the company will state how large of an engine it should be able to start. The battery’s capacity, measured in mAh, merely reflects how many times it can be used before needing a recharge, not its inherent ability to start the engine in the first place. Capacity is actually more useful if you plan on using the battery for other things, like operating electronics or charging mobile devices.
Another quality to look for is reverse-polarity protection, which will provide visual and possibly acoustic alerts if you accidentally place the clamps on the wrong terminals — and they won’t provide the power until you do.
Finally, make sure you know why your battery drained in the first place. If it’s because you left the lights on all night or otherwise drained the battery in an obvious, known fashion, the car’s alternator should be able to restore charge to the battery once you get going. But if you’re unsure why the battery died, have your mechanic take a look at your car to make sure the battery is being properly charged or is able to retain its charge normally.
The Best Portable Jump Starters
Weego is the go-to brand for portable power, consistently scoring highly in both professional and customer reviews. Its lineup ranges from the basic Weego 6 to the deluxe Weego 66, the latter of which will start 10-liter diesel engines, if that’s your jam. While all of the batteries will start the average car and include reverse-polarity protection, the differences rest primarily in how large of an engine it will jump and the additional capabilities, like flashlights or the ability to power 12v accessories. We recommend the Weego 22, which includes a 14-hour flashlight, a USB port and a lanyard you can use to hang it as a work or camp light.
Peak Amps: 1700
True Cranking Amps: 300
Battery Capacity: 20Wh
Weight: 0.65 pounds
This oddly charming device is both an automotive jump starter and, naturally, a car-wash kit. That’s right, the round black disk contains both a battery and a water pump, enabling you to attach either jumper cables, mobile devices to charge though the dual USB ports or a water gun — just source water from either an attached bottle or a hose dipped into a bucket. The high-pressure gun delivers enough force to dislodge grit from your car, and it can run on a single charge for up to an hour. When actually jump-starting vehicles, everything is managed by the CPU. So you can just plug in the cables, attach them to the battery terminal, and turn the device on. Then, start the car. Simple — and clean!
Battery: 11000mAh; lithium
Jump-starter: 12.6 volts; 400A current
Capability: starts up to 5.0-liter gasoline or 3.0-liter diesel engines
Weight: 3.3 lbs
NOCO GB 40
This is the top-selling jump-starter on Amazon. Interestingly, the company argues that joules is a more appropriate power measure than peak amps, since it often takes several seconds for a car to actually turn over. This one is rated at 7,035 joules—and 1,000 peak amps, for good measure. It’ll jump 20 times on a single charge, and hold that charge for a year. (In general, you want to make sure you top off your charge about every six months to be safe.) Of course, it’ll also jump-start your devices, including two iPhone charges or 20 Apple Watches.
Watt Hours: 24
Peak Amps: 1,000
Capability: starts up to 6.0-liter gasoline and 5.0-liter diesel engines
Antigravity Batteries Micro-Start Sport
Another key player in the automotive battery world, Antigravity produces products ranging from heavy-duty commercial starts to consumer products. The Micro-Start is their entry-level product, and includes everything the average driver will need, including reverse-polarity protection and adapters for charging a variety of devices. It’s compact too, and includes mini-clamps that attach to battery terminals.
Peak Amps: 300
Capacity: 7,500 mAh
Capability: starts up to 5.0-liter gasoline V8
Imazing Portable Car Jump Starter
This economical starter also happens to be the most highly rated on Amazon, in terms of customer reviews. It’s got all the protections — reverse polarity, overload protection, over-charge protection — along with dual USB chargers and an LED flashlight. It’s also ruggedized, has sealed ports and includes a digital readout showing the battery’s precise current charge.