How Do Portable Jump Starters Work?

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If you own a car, chances are you have gotten that dreadful feeling when you turn the key and nothing happens.  This can be a major pain in the butt if you don’t own a Jump Starter.

Typically, you won’t probably use your Jump Starter a lot. Unless you have a bad habit of leaving the dome light on.  But in the event that you do need it, it’s better to have one, than be left stranded, waiting on a tow truck or buddy with jumper cables to come help.  And while they are generally handheld devices, larger models are also available, Jump Starters are easy to keep in your vehicle without taking up too much space.  

Now with the advances in technology, not only are Jump Starters easier to use and more accessible to the public, but they also include many practical and functional features.  Unfortunately, if your not familiar with Jump Starters, finding the right match for your needs can be slightly overwhelming.

That’s why we have assembled this guide on what to look for in a Jump Starter.

What is a Jump Starter?

A Jump Starter, also referred to as a jump pack, booster pack, or battery pack is a convenient and portable device that can be used to start a vehicle with a dead battery.  The pack, when connected to the dead battery with the included battery clamps, acts as a battery from another vehicle. This temporary connection provides the dead battery with an external supply of electricity, giving enough boost of power to crank the engine of the disabled vehicle.  Once that vehicle has started, the normal charging system will take over, and the pack can be removed.

A major advantage of having a Jump Starter is that it is a 1 person operation.  There is no need for bulky and tangled jumper cables, which require another vehicle.  And the ease of operation means that you can have your vehicles started in minutes. Rather than waiting upwards of an hour for AAA to come and jump start your vehicle.

How do Portable Jump Starters Work?

The principle behind how Jump starters work is actually really simple.  With the battery clamps installed on the correct battery terminals, it is really as simple as turning the Jump Pack on.  At this point, the pack will output its peak amperage to the battery, allowing you to start your vehicle.

Where things get more complicated is making sure you have a jump starter that has enough amps to start your vehicle.  The bigger the engine, the more power is required to turn it over.  

What is Peak Amperage?

Peak Amperage is the maximum amount of power that the pack will output to the dead battery.  The higher the Peak Amperage, the more powerful the unit is. And with all of the electrical systems in vehicles today, more power is required for the initial start of the engine.

If the power output of your Jump Starter isn’t sufficient enough, you obviously won’t be able to start your engine. You can check your owner’s manual for how many amps are required to start your particular vehicle.  

Cranking Amps

Now Peak Amps are important to look for in a Jump Starter.  But Cranking Amps or even better, the Cold Cranking Amps are the rating that you should really seek out.  

Cranking Amps are the amount of power the unit will generate for a period of time, usually 30 seconds at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  While maintaining the minimum 1.2 Volts per cell on a standard 6 cell 12 Volt Battery. The Cranking Amp, the easier your vehicle with start in a variety of environmental conditions.  

Cold Cranking Amps are extremely similar to Cranking Amps.  The main difference is that it is rated for cold temperatures.  Specifically, at 0 degrees Fahrenheit while maintaining 7.2 Volts in a 6 cell 12 Volt Battery.   If you live in an area that tends to see colder temperatures, this is really the rating you should be looking for.  

What to look for in a Jump Starter?

As mentioned before, ratings such as Cranking and Cold Cranking amps, as well as Peak Amps should all be considered when buying a Jump Starter.  All of the requirements of your vehicle can be found in your owner’s manual. So it’s a good idea to check that out first.

Other things to consider when researching which Jump Starter is right for you are the features that are included.  

Cable Length and Wire gauge should be at the top of your list.  While this is more personal preference than anything, longer the cable, the easier your device will be to use.  You always want to make sure you can place the pack somewhere in the engine bay that it won’t get damaged when the vehicle starts.  So might even prefer to have their pack placed on the ground, eliminating the chance for it to get damaged.

Also the thicker the Cable wire gauge the better.  Amperage and Voltage are affected by resistance.   A smaller gauge wire will take longer to deliver the power from the pack to the battery.  This is because only so much current can pass through the wire at a time.  

8 gauge is the minimum I would recommend going.  Remember, when gauging wire size, the smaller the number, the bigger the wire.  So a 2 gauge cable lead is considerable bigger than 8 gauge.  However, this can also lead to higher cost in the Jump Pack.  

Reverse Polarity Protection is also something that should be considered when looking into Jump Packs.   Automotive electronics are extremely sensitive to power surges. Built-in protections will make sure you don’t inadvertently fry your car’s electrical components.    

Other features commonly include

  • Built-in LED Flashlight
  • USB Charging Ports
  •  Air compressor
  • 120 Volt Power Inverter

So why should you purchase a Jump Starter?

Well for starters, the functionality of a Jump Starter is far beyond that of a standard set of jumper cables.  With all the added features, a portable handheld Jump Pack has far more uses than just starting your car. Typically, these devices will act as a portable power back, allowing you to charge your USB devices on the go.  And in some cases, laptop charging ports are also included.

Professional grade units are often more expensive and generally larger in size.  They can range anywhere from 20 – 30 pounds. Often because they contain larger battery cells for creating higher amps.  This allows for more jump starts from a single charge of the unit.  

They also often include an impressive power management modules for electrical safety protections. Some units even have power inverters built-in, allowing you to run 120 Volt electronics as well. So really, depending on your needs and uses, these units aren’t a bad option for consumer level uses.   

Hopefully, this guide helped explain how portable Jump Starters work and what to look for in a good one.  To find one that best suits your needs, please check out this list of the Top Ten Best Portable Jump Starters.

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