Car Battery Charger vs. Portable Jump Starter: What’s the Difference?
Do you need a portable jump starter? Or is it a car battery charger that you need? Turns out, it could be both!
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Car batteries are important components. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to run out of power. When this happens, it doesn’t matter what condition the rest of your car is in, it isn’t going to start.
If you’re having problems with your car battery, you might opt to use either a car battery charger or a portable jump starter. They are easy to confuse because they both perform similar functions.
So what is the difference, and which tool is right for you?
What Is a Car Battery Charger?
A car battery charger performs the same function as any other type of charger. It takes power from an electrical socket and adds it to your car’s battery. If you’re wondering about the added size, this is because it needs to convert the power from your electrical socket into 12V DC.
After it’s plugged in, a car battery charger can power up an empty car battery until it’s full.
Car Battery Charger Pros and Cons
Car battery chargers are useful if you want a full battery and you have access to a plug socket.
Pro: Battery Chargers Provide Unlimited Power
A car battery charger is the only option for charging a car battery completely. After you plug the charger in, it will continue charging the battery until it’s full. Chargers are usually designed to shut off automatically, so you don’t need to wait around for this to happen.
Con: Battery Chargers Are Not Portable
In order to convert AC power to DC power, all car battery chargers have to be a certain size. You can purchase jump starters that fit in your hand and are easy to store in a car. A car battery charger cannot offer this level of portability.
Con: Battery Chargers Require Access to an Electrical Outlet
Car battery chargers cannot charge anything without an electrical outlet. This means that they cannot be used independently if your car breaks down.
Con: Battery Chargers Require a Long Time
Car battery chargers have a low power output, which can take a long time to fully charge a battery. The low power output is particularly problematic if your car battery is empty. A jump starter allows you to turn your vehicle on almost immediately. A car battery charger has to be plugged in for a while before you can even turn your vehicle on.
What Is a Jump Starter?
A jump starter can also be used to charge a car battery. They are, however, very different products.
Jump starters have their own batteries and do not need to be plugged into a socket. This means that they can be used anywhere, but they do not offer unlimited power.
A jump starter can charge a car significantly faster than a charger because they offer much higher amperage. They can start a car with an empty battery in seconds. The catch is that even high-end models don’t store enough power to charge the battery completely.
Jump starters are also highly flexible and can be used for many different purposes. They typically have a wide variety of different ports and can charge other electronic devices.
Jump Starter Pros and Cons
Jump starters are useful if you want something portable that can immediately provide power to an empty battery.
Pro: Jump Starters Can Start a Car Instantly
Jump starters are popular because they allow you to start a car immediately. The high amperage delivers enough power to the battery to go from empty to usable within seconds. This makes jump starters ideal if your car is broken down. In the same scenario, a car battery charger would require you to wait.
Pro: Jump Starters Can Be Used Anywhere
Jump starters don’t need to be plugged in and can be used anywhere. They are typically stored inside a vehicle for use whenever they are needed. The size of the battery in a jump starter varies, but they always have enough power to allow you to drive short distances.
Pro: Jump Starters Are Highly Portable
Jump starters are available in different sizes. Provided you don’t need a large battery, you can find a jump starter that fits in your hand. These devices are ideal for keeping in your glove compartment. However, it’s worth noting that jump starters get less portable the more power you need.
Pro: Jump Starters Provide Additional Functionality
Jump starters are often designed to perform additional tasks. They often have USB ports to charge other electronic devices and lights to assist if your car breaks down. This makes them useful tools to own even if your battery is in good condition.
Con: Jump Starters Don’t Charge the Battery Fully
Jump starters don’t have enough power to charge a battery completely. This means that if the battery is empty, a jump starter will provide enough power to turn your car on. But the battery itself will still have to be recharged using a different method. Some jump starters have larger batteries than others, but the total power is always limited.
Car Battery Charger vs. Portable Jump Starter: Which One Is Right for You?
Chargers and jump starters are useful tools if your car battery is out of power. If you’re trying to decide between them, it’s important to understand the limitations of each one.
Car battery chargers are the only option if you want to charge a car battery completely. If your car battery often runs out of power and you want a tool that will allow you to keep filling it up, you should buy a charger. A jump starter only adds enough power to start a car. It doesn’t provide enough power to keep driving it, though if you begin driving as soon as you jump-start it, you will charge the battery in the process.
Jump starters are better tools for using if your car has broken down. If your car battery is empty, you can use a jump starter to add power immediately. They provide a way to add power to a vehicle without a plug socket. Jump starters are also small enough to keep in a vehicle, even if you don’t need one.
Best Portable Jump Starters of 2023
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Portable jump starters can charge your electronics during a power outage, much like a portable home generator. But their main purpose is charging your car battery when it’s dead.
During our research, we found that the best portable jump starter is the Imazing Portable Car Jump Starter for its affordability and great features. Don’t miss our other top picks, though. They all have something special to offer.
Compare best jump starters
Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.
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Best portable jump starter reviews
Imazing Portable Car Jump Starter: Best overall
Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.
The Imazing Portable Car Jump Starter is budget-friendly but still has the power and features you need, which makes it our pick for best jump starter. We love that this portable jump starter packs a lot of power into a small device that can fit in a back
This portable jump starter has the best amp rating and the widest range of engine compatibly out of any device on our list. It also has a whopping list of safety features to prevent you from hurting yourself or ruining your car’s battery. Here’s what Imazing lists as its safety features:
- Reverse polarity protection
- Overheat protection
- Short circuit protection
- Over voltage protection (17.5V ±0.5V）
- Reverse charging protection
- Input high/low voltage protection
- Relay adhesion failure alarm
- Reverse connection protection
- Number of starts protection
- High/low-temperature protection (60℃/140℉ to.20℃/-4℉）
These features address all the worries you might have when trying to jump your car battery. You’re not going to shock yourself or destroy your car’s engine.
Need other types of boosts? You can use this car battery jump starter as a power bank to charge your phone or other devices that use USB cords.
NOCO Boost HD GB70: Best alternative
Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.
People love the NOCO Boost HD GB70. On Amazon, it is the top-rated best portable jump starter with 4.7 stars and around 18,000 reviews. We researched the GB70 and found out why it’s so loved. We agree with the hype.
Beyond a large battery capacity and rating for most vehicles, the GB70 is full of features. It has a bright 400-lumen LED flashlight with seven light modes. You can adjust the light’s brightness and set it to strobe and SOS mode. This car battery jump starter is also weather resistant with an IP65 rating and is rubberized to prevent it from scratching your vehicle.
Of course, we love safety, so the GB70’s spark-proof design and reverse polarity protection make us happy. Unfortunately, that’s the only safety features this jump starter offers.
The GB70 jumper also works as a power bank. The 12-volt, 15-amp outport can be used to charge 12VDC devices like inverters and tire inflators. This portable charger can also be used to charge your cell phone or other small electronics thanks to its USB port.
Multi-Function Portable Car Jump Starter with USB Charging
Jump starting a completely dead battery is not recommended. It is best for normal jump start applications and charging.
Reverse polarity protection ensures you avoid connecting the wires to the wrong battery terminals.
Yes. It can start any vehicle with a 12V battery.
It is recommended that you recharge the jump starter every 3 months to ensure 100% charge for optimal performance.
T he battery is not effected up to 2°F.17°C.
Yes, you are able to charge both the jump starter and a small electronic device simultaneously.
4.0L gasoline engines are common in cars and SUVs. If you are unsure about your engine size, you can check by looking on the engine itself, checking the owner’s manual or looking up your VIN number.
Always read the owners manual. This jump starter has reverse polarity protection but as a rule of thumb, always connect the positive lead first, then the negative.
They both function as a typical jump starter but the multi-function jump starter offers additional features such as LED indicators, flashlights and is more compact and easier to store.
It offers reverse polarity protection which protects both the car and the user from using it incorrectly.
California Proposition 65 Warning
ADVERTENCIA: Este producto puede exponerle a químicos incluyendo lead and Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), que son conocidos por el Estado de California como causantes de cáncer y defectos de nacimiento u otros daños reproductivos. Para mayor información, visite www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.
AVERTISSEMENT: Ce produit peut vous exposer à des agents chimiques, y compris lead and Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), identifiés par l’État de Californie comme pouvant causer le cancer et des malformations congénitales ou autres effets nocifs sur la reproduction. Pour de plus amples informations, prière de consulter www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.
Get to know the 1200mAh Multi-Function Jump Starter
LED Flashlight with SOS Strobe Light
Magnetic Base with Rubber Padding
USB Charger for Your Phone
IP54 Waterproofing Protects Against Water Splashes
Heavy-Duty Charging Clamps, 12v, Car Charge, USB Cable
A Perfect Travel Companion
30 Jumps per Charge
This 500 Amps (peak) 1200mAh Li-polymer battery jump gas (4.0L) and diesel (3.0L) engines. It even holds a charge in below-freezing temperatures — it doesn’t start losing charge until 2° F.17° C.
Power for Everything
Getting stranded is stressful enough without having to worry that your phone doesn’t have enough charge. With the Multi-function Jump Starter, you’ll have an awfully big back-up battery in the trunk.
SOS Strobe Light
Alert other motorists or emergency vehicles that you need assistance. And if you have to take a walk in the dark, it turns into a powerful flashlight, too.
Should You Use Jumper Cables or a Booster Pack?
Dealing with a dead car battery can be a real inconvenience. Your battery can die of something simple, like leaving the lights on for too long with the ignition off. (The reason you hear in the mall, “Licence plate LUVMYCR, your car lights are on.” Mall staff are trying to help your car battery!) In these cases, a quick jumpstart with the help of jumper cables or a booster pack should get you on your way again.
You have one of these options in your trunk, right?
Then let us help. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the differences between jumper cables and booster packs and help you decide which one is best for you.
Jumper cables, also known as booster cables, are the most common piece of equipment used to boost a car battery. By connecting a dead battery to a working one with the cables, you can put your car back in action. However, for this method to work, you need access to a second battery.
As the default jumpstart method, jumper cables are quite affordable, especially compared to booster packs. They’re also super lightweight, and don’t require charging. In short, you’ll never notice them in your trunk until you need them.
Although they’re pretty straightforward to use, jumper cables can be quite dangerous. Storing cables incorrectly or trying to boost a frozen battery can be a serious safety hazard. If you choose to use jumper cables to boost your battery, don’t make any of these mistakes.
And if you’d like to know how use jumper cables so you can make an informed decision, you’ll find those instructions here.
A booster pack, jump starter, or jump box is another common piece of equipment used to jumpstart car batteries. Unlike jumper cables, a booster pack doesn’t need a second battery to work. This eliminates your need to wait for a Good Samaritan to pass by and offer their vehicle to connect to your jumper cables. A booster pack can bring your battery back to life all on its own.
Booster packs can also determine if the polarity of their cables is incorrect. If this happens, the pack won’t deliver any power until the connections are corrected. Jumper cables can’t do this, and you can do a lot of damage to your vehicle if you attempt to jumpstart it when the connections are crossed.
Most booster packs don’t weigh more than 10 kg, but they’re powerful enough to start a V8 engine. They’re incredibly compact, with some being small enough to fit in your
Booster packs can be used for more than just car batteries. Many come with power sockets, USB charging ports, air compressors, or emergency lighting, making them a multi-purpose tool.
The main disadvantage to a booster pack is you need to manually charge it. If you forget to recharge the pack between uses, it may be dead the next time you need it. Charge the pack at least every two or three months. If your car has a 12 V socket, you can hook up your booster pack to it and charge it while you drive.
Check out this article for more tips on how to get the most out of your booster pack, and this one for how to use one.
What’s Better? Jumper Cables or a Booster Pack?
That’s for you to decide, but we’ll try to make the decision easier for you. Based on what we’ve covered so far, we’ll summarize the main differences between jumper cables and booster packs:
- Jumper cables require a second battery—and therefore usually another person with a working vehicle—to work. Booster packs don’t.
- Jumper cables are only used to jumpstart a battery. Booster packs are usually more versatile.
- Jumper cables do not require regular charging. Booster packs usually require charging after a single use or every two to three months.
- Jumper cables are much cheaper than booster packs.
Many people feel that booster packs are the superior choice, but there’s nothing wrong with using jumper cables if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. Whichever way you decide to boost your battery, make sure you follow the instructions carefully to avoid putting yourself or your vehicle at risk.
Both methods are fairly simple, but using a booster pack requires fewer steps.
Caring for Your Battery
If you care for your battery properly, you hopefully won’t need to use jumpstarting tools often, but it’s always best to prepare for the unexpected when on the road. (After all, in your attempt to get indoors quickly, you might forget to turn off your lights before running into the mall.) To keep your battery running for as long as possible, keep up a regular maintenance routine.
For more advice on picking your method of battery boosting, visit your local NAPA Auto Parts store to speak with an expert.
Wherever We Go, We Bring the Weego 44s Portable Jump Starter
I was already running late to bring my kid to Girl Scouts, and the car wouldn’t start because said kid left the interior light on all night and killed the battery. There was also the day that I had to get some friends to the airport and our 10-year-old sedan refused to turn over. On another occasion, a cold snap KO’d the last juice on my first-generation Honda Fit, a hardworking rust bucket of a jalopy if ever there was one. The thing that quickly, efficiently, and expertly got me out of all of those jams (and many more): a portable jump starter.
Staff-favorite jump starter
This jump starter has the right safety features and contains enough juice in a small package to start most cars and SUVs.
At the time of publishing, the price was 70.
What is a portable jump starter?
A portable jump starter is essentially a lightweight battery attached to two jumper cables that you use to jump-start your car. It’s easier, safer, and less intimidating than old-fashioned jumper cables that you attach to another car—and it’s something you can use if you’re alone, instead of waiting for roadside service/a kind stranger/a friend/a relative to show up and bail you out.
Wirecutter’s tests and recommendations
Wirecutter has recommended Weego gear since we first published our guide to portable jump starters in 2017. The guide writer, Mark Smirniotis, researched 40 lithium-ion jump starters and tested 12. Two Weego portable jump starters (both of which are now discontinued) became picks: the Weego 22s (the top pick; about 60) and the Weego 44 (the upgrade pick; about 150). Though we no longer maintain the full guide, many of us at Wirecutter still keep a Weego jump starter in our cars. But now, in many cases, it’s an updated version: the affordable Weego 44s, which hovers around the same price as the 22s model, its less powerful predecessor.
The Weego 44s jump starter is about the same size as a cell phone in length and width (5.62 by 3.44 by 1.04 inches; LWD), weighs less than a pound (around 12 ounces, according to my kitchen scale), and has safety features that help prevent you from hurting your car or yourself. Namely, if you incorrectly attach the jump starter to your battery (which can potentially damage the battery or your car’s electrical system), it activates the unit’s reverse-polarity protection feature—a red light and alarm alerting you not to proceed.
The Weego 44s is rated to work with a wide range of vehicles, including gas engines up to 7 liters and diesel engines up to 3.5 liters. It can jump-start pretty much any gas- or diesel-powered passenger-vehicle engine—anything from a Mini Cooper (2 liters or less) to a Dodge Ram (as much as 6.7 liters) in a package that’s small enough to fit in most glove boxes. This is good news, as some Wirecutter staff members have had experiences where the 22s model didn’t have enough power for their cars (a 2010 Mercury Milan and a 2015 Honda Fit among them).
One really nice feature of the Weego 44s to make sure the car actually turns over is what the company calls Advanced Voltage Detection. I’m going to let Weego explain it:
According to Weego’s website, “The number one issue with most failed jump start attempts is that a lithium jump starter cannot detect a low voltage lead-acid battery. With our advanced voltage detection, the 44s can recognize a lead-acid battery as low as 0.5 volts and will provide voltage support (known as pre-conditioning) to raise and maintain the voltage of your vehicle’s battery to a level safe for jump starting. If your lead-acid battery is completely dead (between 0 – 0.5 volts), and Weego 44s cannot detect your battery, you can use the bypass button to complete the jump start.”
How to use the Weego 44s
The Weego 44s comes partially charged out of the box and takes about 2.5 hours to charge from zero. A USB-A to micro-USB charging cord is included, but it doesn’t come with a charging cube, so you need to plug the USB-A end into your own USB phone charger that works in regular household outlets or an outlet with a USB-A port. According to the company, the unit can stay charged for more than a year in storage, though you should make sure to top it off every three to six months. With regular use, it’s rated to last for about three to five years or up to 1,000 recharge cycles. Plus, it can provide multiple jumps before it needs a recharge itself (five indicator lights on the side of the unit indicate its remaining battery life).
Both a laminated booklet and the unit itself have clear instructions with visuals, which make it far less intimidating than googling how to attach jumper cables while standing in the middle of a parking lot. Here’s how to jump-start your car with the Weego 44s:
- Attach what they call Smarty Clamps to the Weego unit.
- Attach the black clamp to the negative battery terminal on your car and attach the red clamp to the positive battery terminal on your car.
- When you see the green light on the side of the clamps, start the car. (A flashing red light means the unit’s battery has overheated and you should detach the clamps for a few minutes to allow it to cool down.)
- Once the car starts, disconnect the Weego 44s from the car and drive it for 15 minutes to allow the car’s battery to further recharge.
The one hiccup I’ve found with the Weego 44s—as opposed to traditional jumper cables or larger portable jump starters containing a lead-acid battery—is that the Smarty Clamps are so small that it can take me a couple of attempts to connect them, as they slip off the car’s battery terminals. But that’s a minor inconvenience and only takes a couple of seconds to correct.
A note on safety
The Weego 44s has checks and balances to ensure you safely jump-start a car, but its lithium-ion polymer battery comes with certain caveats. Though the manufacturer indicates that the unit will operate in.4 °F to 140 °F temps, it’s not a great idea to leave it in a car in extremely hot or cold temperatures. “Most devices that contain a lithium-ion battery, whether it’s your smartphone or a portable jump starter, should not spend long periods of time in extreme temperatures since it can cause permanent damage to the battery,” says Wirecutter battery expert and senior staff writer Sarah Witman. “You should also keep in mind that car engines need more power to get started in freezing temperatures, so it’s especially important to keep your jump starter fully charged when driving in cold climates.”
The Weego 44s is a thoughtful gift
This unobtrusive, practical staff favorite is the ultimate road-trip buddy, gets you out of a jam quickly and efficiently, and is perfect for housewarmings, graduations, or you-just-got-your-license birthdays. “This has been our go-to gift for family members, and its recipients have used a Weego jump starter to jump everything from a midsize crossover to my father-in-law’s very old water ski boat. How cool is that?” says senior editor Erica Ogg.
This article was edited by Sarah Witman, Erica Ogg, and Christine Ryan.
Meet your guide
Annemarie Conte is a deputy editor at Wirecutter. She has written and edited for multiple local and national magazines throughout her career. You can follow her on Instagram.
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