Three best jumper cables
When it comes to car batteries and starter systems, anything can happen. All it takes is one case of forgotten headlights, a faulty alternator, or an aging battery to ruin a driver's day. At times like these, it always helps to have the right emergency equipment on hand, including a good set of jumper cables.
But what should you look for when shopping for jumper cables? The market is flooded with inferior models that may or may not perform safely during actual emergencies. Some jumper cables are too short to reach both sets of batteries comfortably. Some clamps don't fit well on certain kinds of batteries. Finding the ideal set of jumper cables can be a challenge, but it beats the alternative: being stranded on the side of the road with a dead battery or failing starter.
Considerations when choosing jumper cables
Rating: Jumper cables are often rated by the gauge of the wiring, the total amperage load, and metallic composition. The lower the gauge (such as 1 or 2 gauge), the more "heavy-duty" the cables, capable of safely jump-starting a commercial truck, RV, or SUV. Many emergency cables use 4- or 6-gauge wires, which are safe to use on standard passenger cars and economy vehicles. Anything higher than 6 gauges could melt or short out in use.
Length: Ten-foot jumper cables should be long enough to connect two front-to-front vehicles with the two batteries within a few feet of each other. However, such a close alignment isn't always possible. Jumper cables that are 20 to 25 feet long are a much better investment.
Safety: Even when used as directed, jumper cables present a serious shock hazard. Once the positive and negative cables are connected from the "good" battery, any accidental contact between the opposite clamps isn't so good. Better jumper cables provide generous insulation around the clamps to discourage such accidental contact. Look for cables with heavy rubber or plastic sheathing around the clamps.
Tangle-resistant: A set of 25-foot jumper cables is going to be bulky and unwieldy by design, but it should also resist tangling. This feature is often promoted in the manufacturer's product information. During an emergency, no one should have to face the dreaded "Christmas lights in a box" detangling experience. Jumper cables with carrying cases or special storage spools are always a good idea.
Jumper cable features
While jumper cable sets might all appear alike at first, there are some important differences. Some are clearly designed for heavy-duty use on larger vehicles, while others are better suited to lightweight emergency use for stranded passenger cars. Here are some important features to look for in an ideal set of jumper cables:
Clamps: Clamps are the business ends of jumper cables, and the entire jump-starting process begins and ends with them. Alligator-style clips with pronounced teeth are very popular choices, as are clamps that can grip both side-post and top-post batteries. The clamp's supporting springs need to be strong enough to provide a solid bite on the terminals, and the attachment to the cable should be solid.
Insulation: The one element protecting the user from severe electrical shock or burns is the insulation, so it had better perform well under pressure. Look for a thick layer of rubber or rubberized plastic covering the entire cable surface. It needs to be flexible in all weather conditions, especially extreme cold. The clamps also need good insulation to prevent accidental contact between positive and negative cables.
Metal composition and gauge: Solid copper is considered to be one of the best conductors of electricity, followed closely by aluminum. Aluminum jumper cables are generally less expensive, but the gauge may not be low enough to handle larger vehicles. One popular compromise is a copper-clad aluminum cable, which conducts electricity nearly as well as solid copper but uses aluminum to reduce weight and cost.
Storage: Jumper cables need to be protected from the elements in order to stay in safe working order. The heat of the sun can cause cracks in the insulation, and excessive moisture can reduce the conductivity of the cables. Storage in a limited space can also be a consideration. Look for jumper cable sets that include storage bags and/or harnesses that prevent tangling.
Jumper cable prices: The cost of jumper cable sets can vary widely and largely depends on the owner's specific needs. Because a lot can be riding on the jumper cables' ability to perform in real-world conditions, you shouldn't sacrifice quality for savings. The most basic sets (10 to 12 feet long and 6- to 12-gauge wire), costing $5 to $12, should be considered suitable for emergency use only. Average drivers with standard or economy-size vehicles should find acceptable jumper cables for infrequent emergency use in the $12 to $25 range (15 to 20 feet long and 4- to 6-gauge wire). Higher end jumper cables (up to 25 feet long and 1- or 2-gauge copper or copper-clad aluminum wire), costing $25 to $75 and more, are best suited for owners of larger vehicles, such as trucks, commercial vans, RVs, and SUVs. The clamps on these cables will fit both top- and side-post batteries with ease.
Q. I want my wife to have the best emergency jumper cables for her new car. What should I consider first?
A. There are many important factors to consider, but perhaps the first is gauge. The jumper cables' gauge should match the size of the vehicle. A large truck, RV, or SUV might require 1- or 2-gauge cables for maximum benefit. A standard passenger sedan can be jump-started safely with 4- or 6-gauge cables.
Q. What is the correct order for connecting jumper cables from vehicle to vehicle if I'm jumping off someone else's car?
A. Once you've aligned the vehicles close enough for the jumper cables to reach each battery comfortably, here is the proper connection order (positive and negative cables should never be mixed):
One positive cable should be clamped to the positive (+) terminal of the good battery.
The other positive cable should then be clamped to the positive (+) terminal of the bad battery.
The matching negative (-) black cable is attached to the negative post of the good battery.
The remaining negative cable should be attached to a piece of metal near the bad battery as a ground. There might be some sparks generated.
The negative cable should be removed first from the bad battery.
Jumper cables we recommend
Best of the best: Energizer Heavy-Duty Jumper Battery Cables
Our take: These jumper cables are as robust as most drivers will ever need, and the 25-foot length will easily handle just about any roadside emergency.
What we like: The 1-gauge copper-clad aluminum cable is the heaviest available, suitable for large trucks and SUVs. Clamps won't make accidental contact. Long enough even if vehicles aren't aligned front to front.
What we dislike: Difficult to clamp on side-post batteries. Heavy gauge might be overkill for average users. Plastic clamp hinge can snap.
Best bang for your buck: CARTMAN Heavy-Duty Booster Cables
Our take: These Cartman jumper cables are ideal for recharging dead batteries in smaller vehicles. We like the resistance to extremely cold weather, too.
What we like: Clamps fit both top-post and side-post batteries from any angle. Tangle-resistant design. Affordable price point. Faster than average recharge time on dead batteries.
What we dislike: Clamp strength is a little weak. Some metal might be exposed, creating a shock hazard. May not be truly 2-gauge wire, closer to 4-gauge.
Choice 3: OxGord Jumper Cables
Our take: These jumper cables from OxGord have a good length and strong clamps, but the gauge might not be low enough for heavy-duty use. Good choice for a car emergency kit.
What we like: Alligator-style clamps get a good bite on battery posts. Tangle-free design; includes carrying case. Copper-clad aluminum wiring can handle most vehicles.
What we dislike: Difficult to connect to side-post batteries. Actual gauge might be closer to 6 or 8, not heavy-duty gauge. Longer charging time on dead batteries.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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