Developed as a safer, more convenient alternative to using traditional car jumper cables on an empty battery, portable car batteries remain just that. But considering them primarily as portable jump starters and battery chargers severely limits their potential.
Jump starters and battery chargers for car batteries are also dense little storage bins for electrical energy, and many come with handy built-in accessories. They can be charged with standard extension cords, wall plug adapters, USB ports in running vehicles, or 12-volt male cigarette lighter adapters. Most offer a combination of the four charging options.
These portable batteries do what they were originally intended to do: boost the dead car battery to get a car started in winter. All battery amplifiers come with jumper clamps that attach to automatic battery terminals, and almost all of them have a function that protects against reverse polarity connections. Some come with easy-to-install, semi-permanent fittings that allow you to quickly connect them to your car's starting current without the booster terminals. Most have some kind of flash or ambient light and at least one USB port to charge electronics like phones and tablets. Those features are just the beginning.
A portable car starter battery or an in-car battery charger can power your high-draw laptop computer several times longer than its own built-in battery. Do you want a battery booster with a built-in air compressor so you can fill your raft by the lake or a low band before you go home from the airport? No problem. Do you also want a jump starter or battery charger with an AC converter so that you can connect a radio, a lamp or another small device during a power failure or at a campsite? Done. These features certainly add bulk and mass to a jumper pack, but their value in capacity, convenience and preparation can more than exceed the extra weight.
Criteria for Choosing the Best Portable Car Battery Charger
We've compiled a list of our favorite portable car batteries, from simple starters to personal power sources for camping trips or power outages. We based our recommendations on testing labs such as Consumer Reports, user reviews on popular shopping sites, and hands-on experience.
Before you dive in, consider the following topics to determine which battery jump pack or portable charger works best.
Five Things You Should Know Before Buying A Portable Car Battery
2. Starter Amps – This is especially important if you plan to use your portable battery primarily for its original purpose: starter motors. A large V8 engine – especially a diesel – may require more than 500 amps for sales on a cold day. If that's what you need to do, you'll have a harder time with a battery jump starter meant for a four-cylinder. Most manufacturers judge their portable car starters by engine types, so read the fine print. Look for start or start amps and don't worry about the peak ampere ratings.
3. Total Storage Capacity – Usually measured in amp hours or milliamp hours (1000 mAh equals 1 Ah), this matters more if you plan your portable starter battery and portable car battery charger to use as a backup or mobile power source. A higher number means more electrical storage capacity. Typical portable batteries have a capacity of 5 to 22 ampere hours.
4. Chemistry – Portable automotive batteries still run everything from sealed lead acid to absorbent glass mat to lithium ion (and recently ultracapacitors). Chemistry is less important for ultimate usability and more for weight and size – and less so for cost. If you want something you can keep in your glove box, it probably won't be a sealed lead acid car battery.
5. Functions – All possible options are useful, but again it's about size and weight. Add all the features in one unit and the jump starter gets much bulkier, weighing over 30 pounds. For some purposes – camping trips for example – that may not really matter. On the other hand, you may not want to carry one of the larger portable car batteries in your Mazda Miata. Some manufacturers, including the highly regarded Antigravity brand, are starting to offer separate accessories, such as a small, powerful air compressor that works with their paperback-sized lithium polymer starter batteries, but this approach increases costs.
Here, in alphabetical order, are highly rated favorites. If you think you want a portable car battery starter and battery charger, check out the professional safety and care tips that follow.
Antigravity was one of the very first manufacturers to offer a lithium jump starter in 2012. , and its XP-10 Micro-Start was rated best in Consumer Reports' most recent test of portable lithium-ion portable devices – cited in particular for its ability to cause repeated shocks in the car after competitors run out goods. It's on the UL list, with a multi-mode LED flashlight and multiple USB charging options for electronics. Antigravity says it will jump V8s to 7.3 liters. It's a bit pricey compared to smaller portable jump competitors, but quality counts.
This is the latest evolution of the top rated XP-10 auto jump starter. It has the same features, including the LED flashlight with a flash and multiple charging options for electronic devices, but the heavy duty car battery starter battery can deliver an additional 50 amps peak start shock. It also comes with all commercial grade copper heavy duty commercial jumper cable clamps.
Black & Decker
This is the Swiss army knife of portable car batteries and chargers. It is UL listed, well rated on shopping sites and well priced if you look closely. The Black & Decker Power Station features multiple charging options, a work light, a 120-psi air compressor, USB faucets and a 500-watt dual-plug AC inverter for small appliances. All that makes it really handy, with a whopping 17 amps of stored power. It's a heavy 20-pound car battery, but it's also smartly packaged with a handy handle. The Power Station does it all.
The DeWalt DXEJ14 makes our best portable car battery list with a rating of 4.4 stars in 450 buyer reviews on the Home Depot shopping site. It has an extended 21 amp battery, a built-in compressor and a patented feature that can tell you if your vehicle's alternator is sniffing. There's a light and USB port, but the biggest draw of the DeWalt is the power in its first jump-start shock. With 700 starting amplifiers, it is considered one of the most powerful portable jump starters on the market.
The GB40 portable jump looks like it's all business. Consumer Reports loved NOCO for its quick start but didn't like the low storage capacity for powering other devices. It has a flashlight and a 5-volt USB port, but it can be pricey due to its capacity and relative lack of features.
The Schumacher ProSeries 2250 Jump Starter is a trusted name in the field of automotive electricity and gets 100 percent satisfaction from buyers on various shopping sites. It has a vibration-resistant, absorbing glass mat battery, a 400-watt two-prong inverter and enough starting amplifiers to start just about any light to medium-duty vehicle with an empty battery. Best of all, it comes with one of the largest capacity batteries you can find. Schumacher says it can power an AC power of 200 watts for 55 minutes and 100 watts for 90 minutes.
This is contrary to the spirit of this list because it is just a starting aid – no LED flashlight, USB charging ports or anything else. It was created because it is really cool because it applies the following wave of electric storage technology: ultracapacitors.
Capacitors, once called capacitors, electrostatically store energy in an electric field. They store relatively little energy compared to chemical batteries, but the benefits are significant. Modern ultracapacitors can quickly absorb energy and dump it in large shocks, unlike something like a trickle with a battery. And they can operate effectively in a wider temperature range than most batteries. That makes them perfect for jumping off a weak car battery.
The Schumacher Ultracapacitor Hybrid Jump Starter delivers 900 amps of starting power, which should fire just about anything into a semi-truck. It has a small, replaceable lithium-ion battery to fill the ultracapacitors, but when the built-in battery is empty, it still prepares the ultracapacitors in about two minutes on a vehicle's 12-volt charge (maybe even the attenuated battery in the vehicle that needs a jump). In other words, it is never really dead. It is primarily intended for commercial purposes and it is not cheap. But if you want the coolest, most fail-resistant portable jump starter out there, this could be it.
The Stanley Simple Start is intended for people who don't like to get their hands dirty. In addition to the standard battery starter clamps, this portable lithium-ion battery comes with a 12-volt male connector for car or accessory plugs. Plug it in and the Simple Start charges the built-in battery, usually in one to five minutes. A green LED indicates when the car is ready to start. Stanley says it works for V8 engines up to 5.0 liters, and the Simple Start has an LED work light and a 5-volt USB charging port. The 2 Ah battery is as small as they can, but it contains enough juice to charge a few mobile phones or a tablet.
Portable car batteries and chargers are not significantly regulated, and as Consumer Reports noted, some manufacturers' performance claims are questionable. Read the fine print. For safety, look for batteries certified for compliance with Edison Testing Labs / Intertec or UL standards.
Always remember the temperature. Manufacturers recommend not storing batteries in high-temperature environments – sometimes as low as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to keep a battery in your car, keep it out of direct sunlight in the glove box – or better yet – in the trunk. In the summer months, it's better to grab it when you start your journey and get it out of the car when you get home.
Then there is the other extreme. Anyone who is vaguely familiar with batteries knows that they are not very fond of extreme cold. Consumer Reports found that when both the jump starter and the car's weak battery were cooled to zero degrees, the performance of even the best jump starters decreased significantly. If it is really cold, first heat the portable battery indoors or in a car and keep it as warm as possible before using it to jump in a car.
Chemistry matters when it comes to car care and feeding. to jump. Conventional sealed lead acid cells are heavier and discharge faster than lithium ions when not in use, but they can also be less sensitive to extreme temperatures and to significant physical effects. Either way, the care strategy with sealed lead acid or absorbent glass mat is simple. Keep the battery fully charged as much as possible.
"If you get it, fully charge it," said Dan Portwood, senior product manager at Baccus Global, which is one of the largest in the world as a manufacturer of multiple jump starter brands. "After using it, for a jump or something else, fully charge it. If it has been inactive for a month or two, fully charge it. That limits the amount of sulfur in the cells and ensures both maximum capacity as the longest life. "
Whatever the chemistry, it is virtually impossible to overcharge a starter battery. That means you can plug it in and forget it for days. Still, Portwood does not recommend charging all the time. That keeps the charging block warm all the time (whether the block is external or built into the battery holder) and can shorten its life.
The lithium polymer cells in more compact car starters and chargers contain more energy for the relative size and hold a charge longer than sealed lead acid when inactive. But they can also be a bit more picky. To maximize long-term performance and ensure maximum longevity, a more active approach may be appropriate.
"If you have a reputable brand with a good cell structure, you have a good foundation," says Chad Estevez, a product support. specialist at Antigravity. "Don't try to store it in extreme temperatures and don't let it sit for a year. Treat it like a cell phone and exercise the cells. Use it every few months. Drain it a bit, then put it on the charger. "
Comparison of portable car battery chargers
|Antigravity XP-10 Micro-Start battery||300||18 aH||18 grams||AC and 12 volt charging, two USB ports, LED light||$ 180|
|Antigravity XP-10 HD Micro-Start battery||300||18 aH||20 grams||AC and 12 volt charging, two USB ports, LED light||$ 198|
|Black & Decker Power Station PPRH5B battery||300||17 aH||20 pounds||AC and 12 volt charging, air compressor, 500 watt dual plug AC converter, USB ports, LED light||$ 119|
|Battery of the DeWalt Digital Power Station DXEJ14||700||21 aH||16 pounds||AC and 12 volt charging, air compressor, two USB ports, LED light||$ 149|
|NOCO Genius Boost Plus GB40 UltraSafe battery||
|2 pounds||12 volt charging, USB port, flashlight||$ 102|
|Schumacher ProSeries 2250 Jump Starter battery||550||22 aH||31 pounds||AC and 12 volt charging, 400 watt two plug AC inverter, USB port||$ 262|
|Schumacher Ultracapacitor Hybrid Jump Starter||
|8 pounds||12 volt charging, ultracapacitors||$ 272|
|Stanley Simple Start Battery Booster P2G7S||300||2 aH||2 pounds||AC and 12-volt charging, USB port, LED light||$ 79|
Written for Roadshow by J.P. Fat Traino