If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being stuck with a car that won’t start on a cold morning, you know how important it is to be able to get a quick jump. While that used to mean relying on the kindness of neighbors or strangers, nowadays an easier option is available: the portable jump starter.
The best portable jump starters have eliminated the need to carry cumbersome jumper cables in your trunk as well as the stress of trying to flag someone down who might have them;. They also not only provide you with plenty of power for your car battery but many now double as portable power banks to help keep your mobile devices charged. Some use 12V outlets for cigarette lighter-style charging cables, while others have USB 3.0 or USB-C ports for fast charging.
There are plenty of options out there, and some of their specifications may look like a mix of random numbers and letters to you. We’re here to give you all the details you need to know about the best portable jump starters, so you can add this valuable tool to your car emergency kit.
WHAT IS A JUMP-STARTER?
There are three ways to get juice into a flat battery:
A battery charger that you plug into the household electrical supply. Some can give a boost in half an hour or so that might get your car started. Generally they provide a trickle charge over 12 to 24 hours. They work fine, but they’re slow.
Jumper cables consist of a bunch of wires wrapped in an insulating rubber or plastic sheath, with crocodile clips on each end. Cheap, simple and can be very effective. The drawback is that you need another vehicle to piggyback off of. Even then, starting isn’t guaranteed. If that vehicle is smaller or its battery isn’t in top condition, it might not provide enough current.
Jump-starters, for all their apparent complexity, are basically quite simple. A powerful battery wrapped in a case, with jumper cables attached. They provide instant current without the need for a donor vehicle. You can start your car or truck yourself in just a few minutes.
5 Best Portable Jump Starters of 2021:
Whether you’re on a cross-country road trip, or just trying to get to work, a dead car battery can instantly ruin your day. The Noco Genius Boost Pro is designed to keep you powered up and on the road. It packs 4000 amps of power in a compact package, and enough juice to jumpstart your battery 40 times on a single charge. The cables are color-coded for easy identification and feature spark-proof designs to keep you safe from accidental electrical discharge. They also have reverse polarity protection to keep your battery safe from improper jumpstarts and charging. The body of the jumpstarter has a voltmeter for instant assessment of battery voltage and power needs as well as charge indicator LEDs and controls for the built-in, 500 lumens LED flashlight.
The flashlight has 7 different modes including a strobe and SOS for emergency signaling as well as different strength settings to help you see under the hood in dim and dark environments. The Genius Boost Pro also acts as a portable power bank, allowing you to charge smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices to keep you connected to help, family, and friends in the event of an emergency. The body of the jumpstarter is water and dust resistant to prevent damage from the elements and making it safe to use in rainy or misty weather. It also weighs just over 7 pounds, making it lightweight enough to carry from the garage to your car or from your trunk to help someone in need of a jumpstart.
- Very strong ability to jump start a vehicle
- The flashlight provides a lot of light at a wide angle
- Very flexible in both providing power and charging via DC
- Weak USB charging, both for input and output
- High price
- Large and relatively heavy
We recently got our hands on the Audew 2000A Portable Jump Starter, and you can read our complete review here. This recommendation offers 2000A peak current and has a 20000mAh battery capacity with USB-C support and we came away impressed with the results. It’s capable of jump starting gasoline engines of any size and diesel engines up to 8.5 liters, making it one of the most versatile offerings out there.
Sporting a sleek design, this portable jump starter even comes with a cigarette lighter adapter, allowing you to power 12V accessories straight from the unit itself. It comes with a durable, hard carrying case and several accessories including a pair of USB cables and a wall adapter for charging the jump starter. A built-in LED flashlight is a common feature on many of these devices, and Audew’s particular offering has three modes: normal, strobe, and SOS.
The top of the unit features a large acrylic lens that protects an LCD screen, which shows remaining battery life on the jump starter and whether or not it’s hooked up to another device. If we had any complaints, the display is a bit dim in broad daylight and the jumper cables are on the shorter side—but that’s by design to ensure jump starting capabilities, according to Audew.
- 20000mAh battery capacity
- 2000A peak current
- USB-C support
- 12V cigarette lighter adapter
- Dim display in broad daylight
- Short jumper cables
The CAT CJ3000 professional jump starter is a versatile device that can be used for more than one application. You can use the CAT jump starter on bigger vehicles such as tractors and you can use it to jump start generators.
CAT’s CJ3000 jump starter is a 48″ heavy duty device manufactured with a solid rugged housing for durability. It has 4 gauge battery cables and features a 12V DC accessory outlet. The CAT CJ3000 also comes with indicator lights, reverse polarity alarm and an emergency LED flasher.
The standard built-in 2A AC charger is rechargeable and you can use a household extension cord to recharge your device. It’s easy to use and comes with internal mechanisms for added safety measures such as spark resistant clamps & an alarm that goes off when there’s a reverse polarity.
CAT’s professional jump starter lets you know when your engine has turned with the integrated indicator lights. It’s fully portable so you can keep it in your car and use it when you need to. The CAT jump starter is also extremely robust so it’s safe to travel with it.
- Rugged construction
- High amperage
- Easy to use
- It’s heavy in weight
As the best portable jump starter, GOOLOO 800A Peak SuperSafe comes with everything you need. With a peak charge of 800 amps, it charges quickly and doesn’t take long to charge from the wall. In five hours, you can fully recharge this portable unit, and it will hold that charge for three months before it starts to decrease.
There’s an SOS and strobe light signal mode through the flashlight, but it’s rather dull. It doesn’t have a high lumen capacity, so you won’t be too noticeable if you’re flagging someone down from the side of the road. Utilize the USB charging ports to rapidly recharge your cell phone or other USB/MicroUSB devices to either call for help, or have some entertainment while you wait for the tow truck to show up. There’s a power indicator on the side to show how much charge you have left as well.
- 800A peak performance
- Works up to 7.0L gas or 5.5L diesel engines
- Average five-hour charging time
- Works on ATVs, UTVs, and more
- Included carry bag is second-rate; get a different case for this
- LED flashlight mode is fairly dull
The Stanley J5C09 is a great portable jump starter for anyone who drives a truck or SUV or wants to have a portable jump starter for their boat or RV. It delivers 500 amps for jump-starting dead batteries and 1000 peak amps for long-term charging. With the reverse polarity alarm, you won’t have to worry about accidentally connecting wires to the wrong posts and potentially ruining your car battery. The unit holds a charge for 30 days, giving you a whole month of security and peace of mind. The unit also has a 120 PSI air compressor to help keep your tires inflated and in their best working condition; under or over-inflated tires can be dangerous and cause damage to your car.
There is an LED flashlight built into the carrying handle, and it has a 270-degree swivel arc to help you check for damage and assess problems in dim and dark environments. The front of the jump starter has a 12V outlet and USB port for charging your mobile devices on-the-go and in the event of an emergency, as well as a battery status button to check the unit’s charge levels. The sides have convenient cord storage to prevent damage to the air compressor hose and jumper cables while in storage, and the back has an illuminated pressure gauge for an instant reading of tire pressure.
- Huge battery capacity
- Built-in air compressor
- Easily accessible 12V DC power output port
- Large and heavy
- Few accessories, with no place to store them
How many amps do I need to jump start my car?
As you can tell, portable jump starters have a variety of specifications that could make it tricky to determine the right one for your vehicle. What you need to know is that jump starter power is typically noted in cold cranking amps (CCA) or peak amps (PA). To measure CCA, a fully charged battery is put in a cold environment—0°F—and determining how many amps it discharges for 30 seconds. This value explains what to expect from a battery in the worst starting conditions.
It’s true that the more amps a jump starter offers, the more powerful it is. But does that mean you should just purchase the most powerful product? Not necessarily.
What’s important is determining just how much power you need for your vehicle. Compact cars or even small sedans can be jump started with as little as 150 CCA, while full-size trucks and SUVs need around 450 CCA. But there are other things to consider, such as engine size and how old the vehicle is. Larger engines and older vehicles will require more amps to jump start, which is why you will typically see powerful jump starters advertised as being capable of starting engines as large as 8.0L. Generally however, 400-500 CCA is adequate to start most vehicles.
Keep in mind there may be times you have to help jump start someone else’s vehicle. Most of the products on this list will cover any passenger vehicle on the road today, but it never hurts to have something more powerful at your disposal, if you’re willing to spend the extra money.
What We Tested
We purchased 10 mini jump starters, ranging in price from $70 to $125, and ran four separate tests on the car batteries, using different states of charge, working down to completely dead. In the first and second test, both the battery and the jumper packs were at room temperature. For the third test, we chilled both the weak batteries and the booster packs down to 0-degrees Fahrenheit. The fourth test had the batteries cooled to 0 degrees with the jump starters at room temperature. We also tested the units to see how long they could provide power to smaller devices such as tablets and mobile phones.
When it came to jump-starting vehicles, performance between the units was nearly identical. Among our observations:
- Most battery packs could start a car battery at room temperature. It was when the temps dropped below freezing that the differences appeared. Then the Pilot InstaBoost struggled, dropping below its competitors in the ratings.
- With both the car battery and the jump starter at zero degrees, none of the units were able to jump start even the weak car batteries, let alone a dead battery. When the battery packs were at room temperature, most were able to successfully jump start a frozen car battery.
- Make sure you connect the correct cables to the proper post or location when using a starter. The red cable connects to the positive (plus) post, while the black cable should connect to a metal surface on the car’s frame.
- Charge the jump starter every few months to make sure it has a good supply of power during an emergency.
- Since cold weather can affect power levels inside the starter’s battery and make it drain faster, keep the starter inside when not driving the car.
- If the jumper cables detach from the starter, keep them attached with a clip or rubber band so they will always be close to the starter.