Jumper (booster) cables have long been the uncontested champions for boosting discharged batteries, not exactly because it was the best method but rather the only method available for quite some time.
However, new alternatives such as portable lithium jump starters and heavy-duty lead-acid power packs have surfaced as a result of major improvements in general battery technology.
These new alternatives are becoming increasingly popular and will overtake simple booster cables sooner rather than later. In fact, many roadside assistance services and tow trucks have already ditched booster cables for portable car boosters. Nonetheless, jumper cables still remain the most popular option for powering discharged batteries.
This guide will focus on portable lithium jump starters and jumper cables and ignore heavy-duty power packs as they are stationary devices and not portable. Read our guide on the difference between portable jump starters and heavy-duty power packs for more information.
Jump starters are battery operated portable devices which transfer power from the device to a discharged battery using special booster cables. Jumper cables are composed of a long electrical cable with metal clamps on both ends to connect and transfer power from a charged battery to a discharged battery.
|Jump Starters||Jumper Cables|
|Usability||Easy||Average - Difficult|
|Weight (pounds)||Light (avg. <1 lbs)||Average 2-7 lbs|
|Requires Other Car||NO||YES|
|Cables Length||Short - Medium||Long - Very Long|
|Electronics Damage Risk||NO||YES|
|USB Charging Ports||YES||NO|
|Start Small/Medium Vehicles||YES||YES|
|Start Large/Commercial Vehicles||NO||YES|
|Extreme Temperature Performance||Average||Good|
|Shop Now||Shop Jump Starters|
Although jumper cables work well and can successfully boost any car's battery, they have a lot of limitations, especially when compared to a portable jump starter. Visit our guide on What is a portable (pocket) jump starter to learn more about how they work, their key features and the different types.
Below, we outline the top five reasons why a portable jump starter is a lot better than a set of jumper cables and why you should always carry one in the trunk of your car.
Having jumper cables in the trunk of your car is great but they are completely useless without another car with sufficient power to boost a discharged battery. If you're in a busy area, you'll likely stumble on someone willing to stop and help you but if you're in a remote area, you can find yourself waiting for hours before a potential helpful hand drives by.
This is the most important and obvious reason why portable jump starters are so great and superior to booster cables. You can be faced with a dead battery literally anywhere at any time, and you get yourself back on the road within minutes. No more depending on others and no more waiting for hours on end.
Further, being able to boost your own car battery is not only quicker and convenient but safer as well. Asking a stranger for help, especially in a remote location, exposes you to a number of vulnerable and dangerous situations.
Another major advantage of portable car boosters over jumper cables is that they are incredibly easy to use. Most people don't know too much about cars let alone their electrical systems. With a portable jump starter, boosting your car is almost as easy charging your cell phone.
All you need to do is turn on the device, connect the red and black clamps to the positive and negative battery terminals, respectively, turn on your car, and your off to the races. Check out our step-by-step tutorial and video to see how to jump-start your car using a portable car booster.
Jumper cables, on the other hand, can be confusing for some as you need to make sure the polarity is not inverted, the host vehicle is strong enough or not too strong to boost your car without damaging the battery, amongst other factors to consider.
These devices are also designed with advanced technology to eliminate all the dangers normally associated with jumper cables, which we will touch on next.
When dealing with electricity, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Playing with car batteries and jumper cables exposes you to risk of electric shock, fire, and explosion which can damage your car, it's battery and electronics but more importantly, it can lead to serious injury or even death.
Jump starters, on the other hand, use a number of advanced technologies that virtually eliminate all these problems. For example, you can't create sparks, which can lead to fire or explosions, thanks to anti-spark technology within the cable module.
Another example is the reverse-polarity protective mechanism, which prevents you from damaging your vehicle's battery in the event that you don't connect the clamps to the right terminals. Lastly, jump starters automatically regulate the amount of power transferred to your car battery, which protects you from damaging the battery and electronic components of your vehicle (lights, radio, etc.).
Since boosting a car using jumper cables depend on another host vehicle, the position of the disabled car is of the essence. Imagine your car is in a parking lot and another car is blocking access to your battery or if your car is in a garage facing a wall, you simply cannot boost it due to restricted access.
The beauty of a portable jump starter is that all you need is space to open your hood. You can place the device, which is typically slightly bigger than a cellphone, anywhere on your engine and connect it to your battery and off you go.
The fact that it's portable means that you can also use it for watercraft (small boats, jet skis, etc.), snowmobiles, lawnmowers, lifts, and more. These specialized vehicles, especially boats, can't even be connected to cars!
Since jumper cables are just cables, they can only do one thing: boost a car. Jump starters, on the other hand, are packed with accessories and cool features which make them a lot more than a car booster.
Jump starters come with powerful LED flashlights, USB ports to charge your electronics on the go, a portable air compressor and some jump starter models also come with a compass and adaptors to charge laptops.
Jumper cables are very limited when compared to portable jump starters but nonetheless remain an effective way to boost a vehicle. The many benefits, features, and accessories of portable car boosters make them an excellent tool to keep in the trunk of your car in case of an emergency and even make for a great Christmas present!