If you’ve ever experienced a dead car battery, you know just how inconvenient it can be. Whether you’re trying to get somewhere or trying to get back home, you’re stuck until help arrives. That can delay you, force you to miss appointments, or ruin your whole day.
If you carry a pair of jumper cables (booster cables) or a portable jump starter with you, though, you can get things going a whole lot quicker. Just use the cables to hook your battery up to another one, and you can jump-start your car. That’ll give you enough power to get running and back home, although you will need to have your car battery checked over. It definitely beats waiting for a tow truck, though.
Of course, there are a whole host of jumper cables and jump starters out there, with different capabilities (and price points). Determining which pair is right for you means evaluating your circumstances and needs, and then going from there. For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best jumper cables across a wide variety of categories, selected based on customer satisfaction and expert opinion.
After our picks, read on for more information about jumper cables — including the proper way to use them to jump-start your car.
The best jumper cables should be able to harness a hefty dose of power at a reasonable price, all while offering the protection and convenience users need. That means they should be well insulated, have nice alligator clamps or parrot clamps and be long enough to comfortably reach from one vehicle to another.
Cartman’s Booster Cable line offers all that and more, making it our top overall pick. The cables work with 12- or 24-volt batteries and range from 16 to 25 feet and 1-gauge to 6-gauge rating. All models work at low temperatures (down to -13 degrees F) and come with five-year warranties. They’re also built to handle side-terminal and top-post battery configurations. They have insulated parrot clamps and come with a convenient carry bag.
Cartman’s Booster Cables are among the most popular and well-liked on Amazon, with a score of 4.8 stars out of 5 with over 11,000 customer ratings. They’re the second-best-selling jumper cables on the site, and ranked as “Amazon’s Choice” in the Automotive Battery Jumper Cables category.
While Energizer’s Jumper Cables may rank as our runner-up heavy duty jumper cable set, they’re really just as good as the Cartman models. Like Cartman, they have 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon, based on more than 13,000 customer ratings. They also edge out Cartman Booster Cables in the sales category, ranking as the most popular jumper cables on the site.
The Energizer jumper cable set is highly ranked for their capabilities, and they come at a reasonable price, as well — the 16-foot cable length/6-gauge cables are only $16, while the most deluxe, heavy duty cable model to move more serious amperage (25 feet/1-gauge) comes in at just $55. Combined with a two-year warranty, that means that Energizer’s cables are a smart investment.
Energizer’s Jumper Cables also rank as our top pick in the heavy-duty category — while the company offers a 6-gauge model, most of the varieties range in wire gauge from 1-gauge to 4-gauge. This gauge jumper cable can handle higher amperage, greater than 400 amps, delivering a burst of power that can jump-start trucks and SUVs in addition to cars.
Most jumper cables are relatively modest in price, but if you really want to save money and you can deal with a shorter pair of cables with thinner wire gauge, you can get a real bargain without sacrificing the efficiency you need.
Amazon Basics’ Jumper Cables are 12 feet long, 10-gauge with insulation, and only cost $12, making them among the cheaper jumper cables on the market. While the gauge is high enough that the cables are probably best suited for smaller or compact cars, it will work like a charm with them. Higher jumper cable gauge will be necessary for larger model cars. Keep in mind, though, that at 12 feet, you’ll have to park the cars you use nose to nose or side by side for the clamp ends to reach the battery terminals on both cars (just make sure they don’t touch each other, as that can be dangerous).
Amazon Basics’ Jumper Cables are the fourth-best-selling pair of battery jumper cable sets on the site. They currently have 4.7 stars out of 5, based on over 6,000 customer ratings.
Voilamart’s Auto Jumper Cables may not be quite as inexpensive as the Amazon Basics cables, but if you need a pair of heavy-duty, long jumper cables, you’ll have a tough time beating the price on these.
Voilamart’s cables are 1-gauge with insulation and 20 feet long, meaning that you can use them for large pickup trucks, SUVs, and even commercial and agricultural vehicles. They’re also versatile, as they work with 6V, 12V, and 24V batteries. While they’re on the larger side, the included carrying case makes transporting them a breeze. You get all that for just $34.
The cables have been given the seal of approval by Amazon’s customers, with 4.7 stars out of 5 based on over 550 ratings. Satisfied customers cite approval of the power — and the value — delivered.
On the other hand, you may decide that when it comes to being able to jump-start your car reliably, no price is too high. If money is no object and you want the most dependable pair of jumper cables you can get, Forney’s 52878 Jumper Battery Cables have got you covered.
Ranging from 12 feet to 25 feet (and $145 to $210), Forney’s long jumper cable set are all made with insulated 2-gauge copper wire designed to work at temperatures down to -58 degrees — and up to 221 degrees F, though let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. For that reason and more, Forney advertises these thicker cable booster cables as “the most reliable jumper cables you’ll ever use.”
Forney’s jumper cables are designated as “Amazon’s Choice,” a distinction reserved for “highly rated, well-priced products.” They have 4.7 stars out of 5 based on more than 50 customer ratings, with 86% of respondents giving them a perfect score.
Iron Forge Tools’ 20 Foot Jumper Cables aren’t particularly expensive, but they do cost a bit more than some of the other models on the list. Nevertheless, they’re clearly worth the price — if for no other reason than that they’re a pair of great cables that come with a lifetime warranty. If anything ever goes wrong, you’ll be covered.
The 2-gauge jumper cables deliver a power jump that can start cars, motorcycles, vans, SUVs and trucks, and are made to work in all weather climates. The cables have 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with nearly 1,000 customer ratings. So far, 85% of respondents have given the cables a perfect score.
There’s a specific way to use jumper cables (see below for more), and if it’s not followed, the results can be harmful to your vehicle or even dangerous to your safety. After all, we’re dealing with batteries that are strong enough to power vehicles, which means a good deal of electrical current is in play.
Horusdy’s Booster Cables offer reverse-polarity protection, which makes using them safer than it otherwise would be. This model, and models like it, incorporate fail-safes designed to protect users if the cables are improperly attached. In the case of Horusdy’s model, the cables include a smart protector with a light sensor designed to tell the user if they’re attached properly.
Horusdy’s cables with insulation come in three sizes — a 1-gauge, 25-foot heavy duty jumper model, a 4-gauge, 20-foot model, and a 6-gauge, 12-foot model. Horusdy’s cables also come with a carry bag and have 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with over 1,100 customer ratings.
Jumper cables come in different lengths, which afford users different options. For instance, with a shorter jumper cable, you may need to park the two cars involved in the charge nose to nose or side-by-side to get the battery terminals close enough. With a longer cable, you’ll have more options — you may even be able to go around another car if space is limited.
Always Prepared’s Jumper Cables give you 20 feet of space, which affords you a great deal of convenience. These 4-gauge cables come with a carrying bag and a 10-year warranty, meaning that they’ll supply your car with the power it needs for a good long while.
Walmart customers are satisfied with the cables’ performance, as well. With over 30 customer ratings, the cables have a rating of 4.9 stars out of 5.
Energizer’s jumper cables already featured prominently on this list, but in this category, we’ll be focusing on a special model: Energizer’s 30-foot, 1-gauge booster cables. Like all Energizer cables, these are great for safely and efficiently jump-starting your car — but they’re also longer than just about any other model you can find. That makes it easier for you to charge your car, because the positioning will be less of an issue.
Energizer’s 30-foot cable may be more expensive than some of the other models on this list, but that hasn’t hurt its popularity. It’s the no. 14 best-selling jumper cable on Amazon, and it has a rating of 4.8 stars out of 5 with nearly 1,200 customer reviews.
Comparison of the best jumper cables for 2021
|Best jumper cables overall||Cartman||BC120740||1.0-6.0||16-20 feet||$19-$43|
|Best jumper cables overall runner-up/Best heavy-duty jumper cables||Energizer||ENB216||1.0-10.0||12-25 feet||$13-$55|
|Best jumper cables for the money/Best compact jumper cables||Amazon Basics||BC120749A||4.0-10.0||12-20 feet||$12-$23|
|Best jumper cables for the money runner-up||Voilamart||VPA-JL-1200AN||1.0, 2.0||20 feet||$33, $45|
|Best jumper cables if money is no object||Forney||52878||2.0||12-25 feet||$139-$210|
|Best jumper cables if money is no object runner-up||Iron Forge Tools||FBA_IFT-BC02||2.0||20 feet||$37|
|Best jumper cables with reverse-polarity protection||Horusdy||AB001||1.0-6.0||12-25 feet||$16-$40|
|Best long jumper cables||Always Prepared||APJC||4.0||20 feet||$30|
|Best extra-long jumper cables||Energizer||ENB130||1.0||30 feet||$99|
How do you use jumper cables?
Using jumper cables to start a car is very dangerous (and potentially harmful) if you don’t follow the proper instructions. Not only does the process involve dealing with high voltages of electricity, but damaged batteries can also leak hazardous substances. Make sure to always use jumper cables safely, and remember — manufacturer’s instructions always supersede any others.
You can jump-start a car if the battery is dead — typically, you’ll know the battery is dead because the car makes a low whining noise when you try to start it, but there are other signs, as well. “The first clue would be that the vehicle won’t start. It could lead to no lights appearing on the dashboard and, potentially, there may even be a clicking sound coming from the engine bay,” says Lee Silsby. Silsby is a tester for the UK’s Ministry of Transport and the founder of Earningsportal. “You could also note the battery is dead if you go to remote unlock the vehicle and this doesn’t work.”
To jump-start a car, you need jumper cables and an additional battery with a matching voltage or a jump starter. Usually, the battery will be in another car, but there are alsothat can give you an automatic car the boost it needs to get going. If you are using another car, you must first make sure that both cars are parked in an orientation that allows the jumper cables to reach from one battery to the other.
After that, it’s a matter of following specific instructions. Make sure the cars are both not running, then pop the hoods. Connect one of the cables’ red clips to the positive terminal on the dead battery, then the other red clip to the positive terminal on the donor battery. Then, you attach one of the cables’ black clips to the donor battery’s negative terminal. Finally, you connect the remaining black clip to an unpainted metal section of the dead car, one that’s not directly next to the battery — idrivesafely.com recommends one of the metal struts that hold the hood open. Incorrect connections can result in power drainages, sparks or even explosions, which can damage your vehicle and injure you.
“If you connect the negative (ground) terminal first, any accidental metal to metal contact on the way to connecting the positive (hot) terminal will result in a short circuit with the entire capacity of the battery behind it,” says Mike Arman. Arman is an electronics expert, a vocational school teacher, and the author of Motorcycle Electrics Without Pain. “The accidental metal to metal contact completes the circuit. While nobody intends to do this, clamps can slip out of your hand, you might have to reposition the cars because the cables are too short, or you might be wearing a metal ring which completes the circuit (it will melt and you may lose the finger). Connecting the positive (hot) terminal first avoids most of this. The circuit is dead until the negative (ground) terminal is connected.”
Once the clips are attached, you start the donor car and allow it to run for a few minutes. After some time has elapsed, you may be able to start the dead battery. First, you’ll want to see if the light in the car works. If it does, you can try starting it. If the car starts, detach the cables in the opposite order — first the black clip from the unpainted metal, then the black clip from the battery, then the red clip from the donor battery, and finally, the red clip from the dead battery. It’s recommended that you allow the car to run for 10 to 20 minutes before turning it off.
“Leave the vehicle running for a while — or even better, take it for a long drive to charge up the battery,” says Silsby. “It would also be worthwhile checking the battery as it may need replacing. If you find it goes dead again very quickly then this is possibly the case.
If the car doesn’t start, you can check the connections and try again, though it’s possible the battery is too far gone to be jumped.
More about jumper cables
Jumper cables, also sometimes called “booster cables,” come in many different varieties, so you’ll want to make sure you pick the pair that’s right for you. One way in which jumper cables differ is in the gauge, or thickness, of the wire. The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire is, ranging from 1-gauge to 12-gauge. Thicker — or heavy-duty — wires allow more electricity to pass through, so if you have a larger battery that needs more juice to start, you’ll probably want a pair of cables with a lower gauge.
It’s also important to make sure that your cables have good clamps. Each pair of cables comes with one cable with red clamps on each end, and one cable with black clamps (alligator clamps or parrot clamps) that connect to the cables and grip car batteries’ terminals, making them an essential part of conducting electricity. For that reason, clamps should be securely attached and insulated in order to prevent electrocution and injury.
Five things to know before using jumper cables
- What is your budget? The amount of money that you have to spend on jumper cables will be an important factor in determining which ones you get. Luckily, there are great models at a wide array of prices, offering different benefits.
- What voltage is your battery? No matter what voltage your car battery is, you’ll need to get jumper cables that are compatible. If they’re not compatible with your battery’s voltage, you won’t be able to use them to jump-start your car.
- What length do you need? The length of the cables that you get will be determined by the conditions under which you use them. For instance, if you live in a busy area where parking is sparse, you may want longer cables to allow for more distance between cars.
- What gauge do you need? The gauge of your cables references their thickness, and thicker cables transmit more power. If you have a larger vehicle with a larger battery, you’ll want a lower gauge, which means the cables are thicker.
- How do you operate the jumper cables safely? In addition to the instructions given in this article, make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly and follow them fully in order to ensure safe use.
Written for Roadshow by Scott Fried.