One of the most common challenges with vehicle ownership is having the car stall or battery die. Your vehicle may stall for a number of reasons, and if it doesn't start again, you just can’t count on bystanders to be prepared to help. While most people are willing to help a stranger jump start a car, it helps to have your own jumper cables on hand so you’re ready to take a good Samaritan’s assistance!
Comparison of Jumper Cables
What to Look for in Jumper Cables
If you’ve never owned jumper cables or are replacing a rather old set, it can be challenging to know what to look for. Here are the standard features of jumper cables so you can decide what the best fit is for your needs.
Old-school jumper cables were only a few feet, but these days, lengths range from about 10 feet to over 25. Depending on the size of your vehicle and where you tend to drive, you’ll want to choose a length that’s manageable but still lets you jump start your car in parking lots or driveways.
Amps are the measure of power output, and most cables range from 400 to 600 amps, although there are heavier-duty models that go into the thousands. Most of us can stick with 400 to 500 amps for average-size vehicles.
Gauge is how thick the cable is, but a thicker cable has better power transfer. Be sure to do your research, because lighter and easier to maneuver cables may not be as effective as stiffer, harder to handle ones.
For most of us, copper content doesn’t matter much—if our cables do the job and get us back on the road, that’s good enough. But most automotive professionals want 100 percent copper cables instead of copper-clad, because copper conducts electricity better than any other material. Of course, that comes at a relatively steep cost sometimes.
Best Jumper Cables for Getting Your Car Back on the Road
Here are my top seven picks for the best jumper cables that have the right features and fit to get your car started and ready to go.
1. AmazonBasics 12-Foot Jumper Cable
If you’re the type of person who has great luck with car batteries and doesn’t often need a jump, the AmazonBasics 12-Foot Jumper Cable is a great option to have on hand just in case. The 12-foot length is a bit limited in comparison with other lengths available these days, but the 10-gauge cables are flexible and lightweight.
These cables are also my ultimate budget pick, but although AmazonBasics gives consumers a limited one-year warranty, you likely can’t expect a lot of heavy duty use out of these. They’re also copper clad instead of 100 percent copper, which consumers can expect in an entry-level cable.
2. Energizer 16-Foot Jumper Battery Cables
If you have a side-post battery, Energizer 16-Foot Jumper Battery Cables might be a good fit. Their unique clamp design means more grip for multiple installs while the 16 feet of cable is ample in most jump-starting configurations.Like many other affordable jumper cables, Energizers are copper-clad rather than 100 percent copper. At this level, though, most consumers won’t mind the plated clamps as performance is the same in most applications. An entry-level set of cables that’s no-nonsense, Energizer’s offering gets the job done without a lot of fuss.
3. TOPDC 100% Copper Jumper Cables
For those who want heavy-duty cables that are high-quality, TOPDC 100% Copper Jumper Cables fit the bill. Unlike most other jumper cables on the market, these aren’t copper-clad. Instead, they use 100 percent copper wire, which professionals swear by for optimal power transfer and conductivity.
The 450A output is adequate for most needs, and the 16-foot cables should suffice for most jump start positions. There is also a range of Amp outputs to choose from with TOPDC, although you’re not guaranteed to receive a carrying case with all the versions.
4. EPAuto 20-Foot Jumper Cables
For those who always seem to break down in inconvenient places, a longer-length jumper cable is a must! EPAuto 20-Foot Jumper Cables are long enough to reach from battery to battery, even if the other battery is three cars away.
This mini-kit also includes safety gloves and a carrying bag, which has the instructions printed on it in case you need a refresher. Of course, fitting 20 feet of cables back into the small storage bag is more difficult than getting them out. And as a bonus, these cables are one of the most affordable.
5. Iron Forge Tools 20-Foot Jumper Cables
At a lower amperage than average (400A), the Iron Forge Tools 20-Foot Jumper Cables are a smart choice for those with smaller vehicles. The power output is enough to handle most scenarios, while the budget-friendliness is a top perk.
A 20-foot length is helpful for jump starting in awkward breakdown or parking scenarios, and these cables are a bit easier to get back into their bag than bigger sizes. Of course, these are also 8-gauge cables, meaning they’re still sturdy enough to take a bit of a beating.
6. NOCO Black Genius Boost Sport Lithium Jump Starter
If you often travel to remote locations or just can’t find a friend to offer a jump start, the NOCO Black Genius Boost Plus Lithium Jump Starter is the ideal solution. While there are plug-in battery charger options, this one is portable and can provide up to 20 jump starts on a single charge.
And whatever size vehicle you have, there’s a Genius to fit; there are units that can put out up to 4000 amps. Although the power output is enormous, the assembly is small and has a footprint that’s not much larger than most smartphones these days.
How to Hook Up Jumper Cables
Now that you know what to look for in selecting jumper cables and have an idea what type might be best for you, here’s how to use them!
1. Park the Vehicle Safely
Whether you’re stopped on the side of the road or in your own driveway, you’ll want to be sure to safely park the car before popping the hood. If your car has an automatic transmission, make sure it’s in park. For a stick shift (a manual transmission), put the vehicle in neutral before igniting the engine.
Either way, as you’re attaching the battery clamps, the vehicle should be turned off. This way, nothing is happening under the hood that can cause an injury. Especially for beginners, too, it’s less intimidating to use jumper cables when the vehicle is off!
2. Identify the Positive and Negative Battery Terminals
There are two points on a battery called terminals, and that’s where the cables run in that attach the battery to the vehicle. Before you whip out your new jumper cables, it’s important to recognize what you’re looking at.
When you look at the vehicle battery, the positive terminal will either be covered with a red cap or one with a plus sign (+). The negative terminal will have a (-) sign and possibly a black cable. Not every battery will have colored terminal covers, so it’s good to know to look for the positive or negative sign.
3. Identify the Positive and Negative Ends of the Jumper Cables
The same way that the positive terminal is red, so is the positive end of the battery jumper cable clamp! Black means the cable is negative, which makes things simple.
4. Connect the Positive Clamp to the Dead Battery First
Connect the red clamp (positive) on the cables to the red (positive) terminal of the dead car’s battery.
5. Attach the Positive Clamp to the Charged Battery Next
Next, attach the red clamp (positive) to the red (positive) terminal of the good battery.
6. Connect the Negative Clamp to the Good Battery
Then, attach the black clamp (negative) of the jumper cable to the good battery.
7. Ground the Whole Thing
Although it might seem like a no-brainer from here, don’t continue to connect the negative jumper cable clamp to the negative terminal on the dead battery. The critical next step is to ground the system so that you don’t send sparks flying when you turn on either car!
To ground the negative cable—the last one we haven’t connected—you’ll need to find a spot on the engine that’s bare metal. Make sure it’s a spot away from the battery and ensure good contact between the negative jumper cable clamp and the metal surface.
8. Start the "Good" Battery
Now is the time to start up the “good” battery you’re going to get a charge from. Whether this is in another vehicle or a battery charger that plugs in, you should start up the power source and wait a few minutes. Let the vehicle run without turning on the car with the “bad” battery.
9. Start the "Bad" Battery
After running the good battery for a few minutes, try to start your car. It might take a few revs, but it should start up!
10. Disconnect the Cables
Once the dead vehicle is running again, you can leave it on and disconnect the cables. To do so, start with the last cable you attached (the negative ground), and go in reverse order.
Jumper Cable Demo Video
Need some more guidance? See the below video from See Jane Drill for a step-by-step jumper cable demonstration.
Tips for Jumping a Car with Jumper Cables
Although jumping a car with cables is fairly straightforward, there are some tricks to getting it to work the first time around.If you have more than one vehicle, it’s a good idea to keep a set of cables (ideally, a whole roadside kit) in each car. You never know when a battery might die or whether you’ll be able to run home or to the other car for that set.
Try to Get into Position
You may not have control over where and when you break down in a car, but it’s still helpful to try and position the good battery directly in front of the bad battery. If the other vehicle can park nose-to-nose with yours, that’s ideal. Otherwise, side-by-side is the way to go—just try and get as close as possible so you don’t risk the clamps popping off because the cables are stretched too far.
Ensure Good Contact
Getting good contact between the metal surface of the jumper cables and the metal terminal on your battery is what makes or breaks the whole process. When placing the jumper cables, make sure as much of the clamp as possible is touching the battery terminal.
Give It Time
Especially if the vehicle’s battery has been dead for a long time, it could take a few minutes (or more) for the good battery to charge it up enough that the car will start. It could also take a few attempts at starting the dead car before it will come back to life.
Tips for Storing Your Jumper Cables
Some jumper cables come in their own storage bag, which can be handy. But there are a few ways to make storing the cables easier and more accessible.
Keep Them in the Car
First, while keeping the jumper cables in the car is critical for having them when you need them, I do mean keep them in the car. Instead of stowing your roadside supplies in the trunk, consider stowing them inside the car—whether in the glovebox, under the seat, or in the pocket of the passenger seatback.
This way, you won’t have to dig through the trunk or even pop the rear hatch of your car if you’re broken down on the side of the road. I’ve been there one too many times, and it’s not fun searching for gear while cars are flying past on the freeway or in the rain.
Keeping your jumper cables inside the car ensures you can grab them easily before popping the hood and hopping out.
Make Up a Roadside Kit
Although having jumper cables is a must, there are other items that are helpful in the event of a breakdown. Items like flares or orange cones, just in case you come to a stop in a hazardous spot, can help make other drivers aware that you’re stopped on the roadway or close to it.
A flashlight is another helpful tool for roadside emergencies, as is a small toolkit with things like a screwdriver, spark plugs, replacement bulbs, and other small replacement items to keep your car performing well. Read more about what you may need in a car emergency kit here.
My Top Jumper Cables Pick
Overall, when it comes to jumper cables, having any set on hand is better than not having some when you need them! Of course, I do have a preference when it comes to accessibility and budget, and the EPAuto 20-Foot Jumper Cables fit the bill perfectly.
Twenty feet is plenty of cable, and while the 4-gauge cables are heftier than your average store-bought models, they’re rugged and resistant to damage. It’s also helpful that they include gloves and a carrying case, which makes it easy to both use and stow these cables as needed.
Whatever vehicle you drive or preferences you have about jumper cable length, gauge, amperage, or cost, it’s critical to keep the right tools on hand to keep you going when your battery decides to die. After all, they can only help if you have them in the car—and it’s better to be safe than cable-less!