Jumper cables or battery booster

In my quest to be more prepared for roadside emergencies, I’ve decided to get either a good set of jumper cables or a portable battery booster. But which one? I’ve thought of possible advantages to each:

Battery booster:

1) Ease of use (I don’t know a lot about cars, although I can read, and generally can tell green from red)

2) Don’t have to find another car to help you jump

Jumper cables

1) Cheaper

2) Don’t have a battery to go dead at the same time your car battery dies.

P.S. I have a very cheap pair of jumper cables which was used once when a fellow Scrabbler left his car lights on–they apparently heated up during the jump (I wasn’t the one who did the actual jumping–a passenger of fellow Scrabbler did it–so I know I should get a better pair).

I also have roadside assistance, but there are times when a person doesn’t want to wait around for a tow truck to appear.

Your thoughts?


I have both heavy duty cables as well as a portable battery pack. You will find it increasingly dificult to find someone to volunteer his car for a boost. The fear of burning up the computer or causing other damage will deter many. I keep the battery booster charged and take it on a trip with me. It does not weigh very much, and, as you say, is easy and foolproof to use.

The only downside to the battery booster is you need to charge it monthly. If you don’t when you are stranded your booster could be discharges and useless too. The booster may have difficultly starting a cold motor on a very cold winter morning.

Cheap jumper cables are pretty much worthless. If you get a set spend some extra bucks for better quality and capacity.

I have both so this isn’t an either or question. If you have room on your trip(s) to carry both do so. If not, then make a choice as you pack. I’ve used the booster much more often to start my boat. I find the booster handy and use it more often than the cables.

Thanks you two. Are there any special specifications to look for in a battery booster, or any types that are particularly good? Remember this would be for occasional use at most, so I don’t need a professional grade product that gets used 10 times a day. But, when it needs to work it needs to work.


It looks like you have time to wait for a tow truck. It doesn’t take that long. Jumper cables don’t need a lot of room or maintenance.

We like having toys, deciding which brand of toy falls under the Consumer Reports type of deal. They evaluate them and make recommendations. Battery boosters were evaluated and there were a few expensive losers.

One subscription can save you thousands of dollars if it helps you avoid a loser product and the fire that it starts. They don’t seem to pick the right vacuum cleaner but at least it wasn’t fire-prone.

Here’s an example of when I would rather not wait: Coming back from a Scrabble tourney late at night, I have a flat. Didn’t recognize the signs early so the tire is toast–well beyond Fix a Flat or any other human intervention. Convenience store nearby so drive there rather than get run down in the middle of the highway at night–otherwise this is totally rural area. Didn’t know where the jack points were on the car or other correct procedures, so call roadside.

Fortunately the tow truck takes less time than I would have expected and puts the spare on. Just as we’re leaving, two carloads of what appear to my untutored eyes gang members show up. So afterward I took care to look up the jack points, look up car tire changing, and assure that all the tools were in my car and worked.

Example 2: In the jumper cable situation described above, the Scrabbler in question was taking a couple of my friends to the airport. If we had waited for roadside, they might have been late.

So in short, there are some places and situations in which the time spent is more of an issue than you might think.

Re Consumer Reports, I have a subscription, but don’t remember an article on battery boosters. I thought I would ask some of those with experience what they thought were good boosters.


Most auto stores have good ones for about $60 or so. Some have automatic polarity correction, so that even if you hook it up incorrectly the machine will switch the polarity internally.

Ditto…have both. Be as independent as possible. Our battery booster has done yoemans work boosting boat motors and several cars…but in the summer. It holds a charge well, but I would not depend upon it solely for winter work. It makes a good camp power base for some DC toys if you don’t want to drain your car battery. Lots of aux uses, I’ll always have one even if it struggles in cold weather.

Boosters batteries have amp ratings, get 17amp or above with heavy cables, you can use them to run 12 volt light and fans.
Make sure they are not reconditioned for resale.
You need to keep charged every month, mark on calender.If you do not use for 3-4 months it is important to discharge it some then recharge, it will last a lot longer.
15 amp or lower are not worth messing with, I learned the hard way.
Learn from my mistake.

Follow-up: Procrastinated on getting one. Santa had a DieHard Portable Power 1150 under the tree this Christmas. Heavy. Charged it up, used it to jumper my dad’s Tundra that had a dead battery to bring it into the shop. Easy to use, worked like a charm. Looks like it has bells and whistles, such as a light, air compressor, and 12V, regular plugs, and a USB power port. So, it’s going into my trunk as soon as it’s charged again.

Neither. Get a cell phone.

Frankly with the exception of a couple of times I let the battery go too long, in over 40 years of driving, I have only needed a jump twice.

The cell phone is useful for all kinds of problems.

Ask yourself this. “How many times over the past year would you have used either jumpers or a portable booster??” Then do a cost / benefit analysis…

I fully agree as a booster only… but feel that there are many other uses. I’ve used mine “0” times for jumping cars, but have used it camping 10+times, used the light in the work shop during many power outages and jumped 4 power boats with it. It still goes in the car and the add ons comes in handy even if I never use it to boost a car again.

Other uses not withstanding, why not invest in a good battery?

I use small 10 ga jumper cables with the 2" clips on them, got them for $3 but now they sell for about $15. They work ok as long as you give them a couple of minutes to transfer a charge to the dead battery before attempting to start. Since I’ve used them twice in the twelve years since I bought them, a couple of minutes isn’t a big price to pay.

BTW, one of the two times was for me, the other was to help a friend.

I always get a new battery the first time the old one even hiccups. Seems batteries give very little warning these days so heed the first one.