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Car Battery Charger vs Portable Jump Starter - What’s the difference?

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Car Battery Charge vs Portable Jump Starter

A dead or discharged car battery is a very common issue, especially in the winter when your vehicle’s battery is working extra hard to power your car, wipers, lights, and electronics.

When faced with a dead or failing battery, a car battery charger or a jump starter can get you back on the road, however, each of these devices has its advantages, limitations, and purpose to consider.

Drivers often get confused between these two devices or simply think that they are the same but in fact, besides helping get your car started, they are quite different.

After reading this resource, you’ll understand the difference between a car battery charger and a jump starter, how they work and the pros and cons of each device.

What is the difference between a car battery charger and a portable jump starter?

Car Battery Charger vs Jump Starter Car Battery Charger Jump Starter
Purpose Charging battery Jump starting battery
Best for Maintenance Emergency situations
Charge Time 24 to 48 hours Instant
Jump Start Battery NO YES
Charges/Recharges Battery YES NO
Overcharge risk YES NO
Portable YES YES
Wireless/Cordless NO YES
Requires electrical outlet YES NO
Where to use Home Anywhere
Multifunction NO YES
Key functions Recharge battery Kick-start vehicle, USB charging, flashlight
Lifespan Long Long
Weight Medium to heavy Very light to medium
Key shopping factors Amps and voltage Peak current, battery capacity, (cold) cranking amps
Price $$-$$$$ $-$$$
Shop Now Shop Portable Jump Starters

Understanding Car Battery Chargers

A car battery charger is exactly like a cellphone or laptop charger but for a car or truck battery. These devices plug into an electrical outlet on one end (source of power) and connect to a car’s battery terminals with cables that resemble jumper/booster cables.

Like cellphone/electronics chargers, a car battery charger provides a consistent flow of power, recharging or maintaining the charge of a vehicle’s battery when discharged or fully charged, respectively.

One caveat is that car batteries are not directly compatible with normal electrical outlets in terms of both voltage and type of current nor do they come with your average charging port. This is where car battery chargers come in.

Cellphones and other electronics have charging ports designed specifically for chargers that plug into a normal household electrical outlet.

Car batteries require 12-volt DC type current to charge and electrical outlets put out 120-vol AC type current. Battery chargers convert the 120-volt AC current drawn from an electrical outlet to a 12-volt DC outlet. Further, they come with special cables (similar to jumper cables) which connect to the battery terminals since they don’t have dedicated charging ports.

Different types of car battery chargers (amps & voltage ratings)

Car battery chargers come in a variety of amp-hour (Ah) ratings, which reflects their strength and how quickly they can charge a battery. Amp rating typically range from as little as 0.75 Amp to over 100 Amp.

A car battery typically has 48-amp hour rating while smaller vehicles like motorcycles, jet skis, and snowmobile have 20 Ah or lower. So, if a car battery charger is rated 2, 6 or 12 amps, it would take 24, 8 or 4 hours, respectively, to fully charge the battery. You simply divide the battery’s amp rating by the car battery charger’s amp-hour rating to see how many hours it would take to fully charge a battery (example: 48A/2Ah = 24 hours).

Car battery chargers also vary with respect to voltage since vehicle batteries also vary in terms of voltage, typically ranging from 6-volt to 24-volt. The vast majority of cars have 12-volt batteries. You’ll need a car battery charger that matches your car battery’s voltage as you may permanently damage the battery or even cause an explosion.

When To Use Car Battery Charger

A car battery charger is ideal to maintain a car’s battery charge on a vehicle that is stored away or for a vehicle with a weak battery, for example. If your car battery is consistently failing and discharged, it is likely time to replace it altogether.

Since car battery chargers normally take several hours to charge a battery, they are not ideal for emergency or time-sensitive situations like when your car won’t start in the morning before work. This is usually due to cold weather or leaving something on in your car that drained the battery overnight.

In these situations, a portable jump starter, jumper cables or a roadside assistance service is your best bet. Continue reading to learn more about how jump starters work and when to use one.

Understanding Jump Starters

A jump starter is a portable battery pack designed to jump-start a car without the help of another car or source of power.

These awesome devices have a 12-volt DC output to which specialized jumper cables connect to. The specialized jumper cables connect to a car battery’s terminals and draw power directly from the jump starter’s battery.

Unlike a car battery charger that actually charges a battery, a jump starter helps kick-start the battery without providing it any charge through a quick burst of power. Once the car is turned on, the alternator kicks in and starts charging the battery.

Visit our extensive guide to learn more about jump starters, how they work, their key features and the different types.

When To Use Jump Starters

A jump starter is the perfect car accessory to get you back on the road when faced with a dead car battery on the go, in a time-sensitive or emergency situation. These devices are very small and lightweight, so you can store them under your seat, in your glove box or in the trunk of your car.

Being multifunction devices, jump starters can be used in a wide range of situations. For example, you can use them to charge your electronics on the go thanks to their USB charging ports or you can take advantage of their powerful LED flashlights when you need some extra light while on the road.

Check out our article on why you should always have a jump starter in your car.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can you use a battery charger jumpstart a car?

A battery charger cannot be used to jumpstart a car. It can only be used to recharge a car battery, which typically takes from a few hours to several days depending on the size of the battery and the power of the car charger being used.

Can a portable jump starter charge a battery?

A portable jump starter cannot charge a battery. It is designed to give an instant powerful flow of current sufficient to get the battery working, after which the vehicle’s alternator proceeds to actually charge the battery.

Can you charge a car battery while it is still connected?

Yes, a car battery can be charged using a car battery charger while still connected to a car. It can also be charged if disconnected from the vehicle.

Can you charge a car battery without removing it?

Yes, a car battery can be charged using a car battery charger without removing the battery from the car. It can also be charged if removed from the vehicle.

Can you leave a car battery charger on overnight?

This depends on your car battery and the charging device as you may risk overcharging your battery. Some batteries have the technology to handle overcharging while others do not. Some premium car battery chargers turn off automatically once the battery is fully charged or reduce the supply of current to maintain a charge once full.

Can I start my car while my battery is charging?

Yes, a car can be turned on while the battery is charging.

What happens if you leave a car battery charger on too long?

This depends on the car battery and the car battery charger that is being used.

Some batteries can handle overcharging while others cannot. Batteries that cannot handle overcharging risk permanent damage and in some extreme cases may explode.

Certain car battery chargers turn off automatically once the battery is fully charged and/or reduce the supply of current to maintain a charge once full. When using one of these chargers, nothing risks happening if you leave your car battery charger on past a full charge.

How long does it take to charge my car battery?

The time it takes to charge a car battery depends on the size of the battery and the power of the car battery charger. You simply divide the battery’s amp rating by the car battery charger’s amp-hour rating to see how many hours it would take to fully charge a battery.

For example, a normal 48 amp car battery would take 24 hours to charge using a 2 amp-hour car battery charger (48 / 2 = 24).

Glossary of important terms

  • AC: Alternating current type
  • DC: Direct current
  • Amps (A): Measure of current
  • Amp-hour (Ah): Amount of electrical charge in a battery for one amp of current to flow for 1 hour
  • Voltage/Volts (v): Measure of electrical force

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