Your vehicle’s starter system and the battery can die at any given moment for a multitude of reasons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally left my headlights on overnight only to wake up to a dead battery and a car that won’t start.
There are a lot of additional culprits as well, such as a bad alternator. Regardless, when your car dies, it’s anything but fun. Luckily, your problems can be fixed with a reliable set of jumper cables. This is why I, like many others, keep a set in my trunk at all times.
With that said, there’s a lot of options out there for jumper cables and they aren’t all created equal, to say the least. When deciding which cables to go with, you might value cost over quality. However, cables are something you’ll rely on to get you out of an emergency situation so it’s important to find a quality set, regardless of price.
To help you narrow your search for the right jumper cables, we’ve put together a guide to help you understand the different types and what each one can offer you and your vehicle.
What to Consider When You’re Looking For Jumper Cables
1. Protection Against Accidental Contact
Jumper cables can always present a major shock hazard, even when used properly. After the positive and negative cables are connected from the “good” battery, it is important not to have any contact between the opposite clamps.
The best jumper cables protect against accidental contact by providing generous insulation around the clamps. For the sake of your safety, you should purchase cables that have heavy rubber or plastic sheathing protecting the clamps.
2. The Length of The Cables
It is best to invest in jumper cables that are 20 to 25-feet long. While 10-foot jumper cables are able to connect two front-to-front vehicles, it is not always possible to align the batteries so closely.
3. The Rating of The Cables
Jumper cables are usually rated by three factors: total amperage load, metallic composition, and the gauge of the wiring. The lower the gauge is, the more “heavy-duty” the cables.
Commercial trucks, RVs, and SUVs usually use a 1 or 2-gauge cable, while 4 or 6-gauge cables are frequently used as emergency cables for economy vehicles and standard passenger cars. It is important to know that any gauges higher than 6 could melt or short out in use.
4. Tangle Resistance
No one should have to face the dreaded “tangled Christmas lights in a box” dilemma during an emergency. When you need your jumper cables, you need them to be accessed quickly and without a hassle.
While a set of 25-foot jumper cables are naturally going to be bulky and difficult to handle, it is important to find cables that are marketed to resist tangling. The manufacturer’s product information will promote this feature. It is also a good idea to store your jumper cables in a special carrying case or in a storage spool in order to keep them in prime condition.
Even though most jumper cables look the same, they do have important distinctions. While some are meant for heavy-duty use, others are made for lightweight emergencies, like passenger cars with dead batteries.
Here are some features that you should pay attention to when shopping for jumper cables.
The jumper cable’s insulation is the only thing that protects the user from suffering from electrical shocks and burns, and so it must be of the highest quality. A thick layer of rubber or rubberized plastic that covers the entire surface area of the cable is ideal.
The insulation also has to hold up well in varying weather conditions, especially the freezing cold. It is also important that the clamps are protected with proper insulation in order to inhibit accidentally touching the positive and negative cables.
The entire jump-starting process relies on the clamps. Popular clamp choices are alligator-style clips with pronounced teeth and clips that can grip onto both top-post and side-post batteries. It is also important that the clamp’s supporting springs have the strength to provide a solid bite on the terminals and attach to the cable without weakness.
Storing Your Cables
In order to stay in working order, jumper cables need to be protected from the elements. Cracks in the insulation can stem from the heat of the sun and moisture can negatively affect the conductivity of the cables.
Because of this, it is important for jumper cables to be stored in a limited space, like a storage bag or harness that prevents tangles.
The Gauge & Metal Composition
The best conductors of electricity are solid copper and aluminum. While aluminum jumper cables are often less expensive, the gauge they offer might not be enough to properly serve larger vehicles. A copper-clad aluminum cable conducts electricity almost as well as a solid copper cable, but the compromise of the aluminum helps to reduce the weight and cost.
The Cost of The Cables
Jumper cables vary in cost depending on their purposes and the user’s needs, and since a lot is often riding on their performance, you should never purchase inferior cables simply because they cost less.
The most basic sets come with cables that are around 10 – 12-feet long and 6 to 12-gauge wires, and they normally cost between $5 and $12.
These should only be considered for emergency use. Acceptable jumper cables for less frequent emergency use are usually in the $12 to $25 range and are often suitable for vehicles that are standard or economy-sized. These cables are 15 to 20-feet long with a 4 to 6-gauge wire.
If you own a larger vehicle, a higher-end jumper cable is best suited for you. These cables are upward of 25-feet long and have 1 to 2-gauge wires. They usually cost between $25 and $75, and their clamps have no problem fitting on both side and top post batteries.
Choosing The Best Jumper Cables For You
No one wants to be broken down and stranded on the side of the road. You never know when an emergency will strike, and so it’s always a good idea to come prepared with a set of jumper cables in order to jump your battery or someone else’s.
This is an item that you’re going to use in the most inconvenient times: in the dark, in the rain, in the freezing cold. Because of their importance, jumper cables are never an item that you should buy for cheap.
It is a common misconception that all jumper cable sets do the same job, and believing this is an easy way to get yourself stranded despite having the proper equipment. You should not skimp on such an important piece of equipment.
The type of cables you buy is incredibly important, and when making your selection you should concentrate on a few basic things: the cable’s gauge and material, the type of cable insulation, the style of clamps, the cable’s warranty, and the instruction manual, and the method of storage.