Why Buy a Car Battery Charger?
The top performers in our review are the Stanley J5C09, the Gold Award winner; the Black & Decker JUS500IB, the Silver Award winner; and the Clore Jump-N-Carry, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a car battery charger to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 products.
With a sinking feeling in your stomach, you realize that you left your car lights on. At a hotel. Far away from home. Being stranded is a terrible experience. A dead battery can turn your reliable form of transportation into nothing more than dead weight.
Happily, car battery chargers exist. The name is a bit of a misnomer in this case, as we focused on devices that jump start your car instead of recharging its battery. With one of these in your trunk, you can get your car running again without needing another vehicle for a jump-start.
We looked at portable car chargers. You just charge the charger, then stick it in your trunk. These don’t need to be plugged in to anything when you use them. They can also be used as portable power sources for smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices. Some even come with secondary safety features like an air compressor for inflating tires.
So, which is the best car battery charger? And how can you know? We've compiled all of the information you need on this page and in our car battery charger reviews. If you are interested in learning more than what's on this page, check out our other articles on car battery chargers. You can also check out our individual car battery reviews. Without further ado, let's dig into the details.
Best Car Battery Chargers: What to Look For
There are many different kinds of battery chargers. Navigating all of the available options can be difficult. Some battery chargers are good for juicing up ATVs and motorcycles, while others are designed primarily for cars. ATV batteries have fewer cells than car batteries and don't hold as much energy. Using a charger designed for a car on an ATV could overload the battery, so it's important to get the right product.
We focused our lineup on portable battery chargers that can jump-start your car. We found the best car battery chargers by considering how useful each one would be in an emergency. These chargers aren't meant to maintain batteries or be used frequently. They're usually compact and available at a lower price point than other types of battery chargers.
So, how can you know how to pick the best car battery charger? Keep an eye open for the following:
Your car's battery needs enough juice to rotate the crankshaft until the engine starts and takes over. If your battery doesn't have enough power to rotate the crankshaft, then the engine won't start. That's where a car battery charger comes in. Starting an engine requires high amps, or cranking amps (CA), for a short time. In short, the number of cranking amps tells you how much power the jump-starter has to turn the engine over. A rating of 300 CA is enough to jump-start most cars. For cars or trucks that have large batteries, you need around 500 CA.
In cold weather, it's harder for the engine to get going, so you need a longer burst of electricity. The number of cold cranking amps (CCA) tells you how much power the jump-starter has in cold weather – 0 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. The more cold cranking amps you have, the better off you'll be in most cases.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know how many jumps you’ll get out of a car battery charger before it runs out of energy. Each jumping session varies so much that you’ll need to keep an eye on the charger’s energy levels and recharge as appropriate. Estimating recharge times for chargers is also difficult because manufacturers play it safe with their numbers. Some chargers may need all night, while others might be ready to go in a few hours.
Some products can trickle-charge your car's battery. This function is what battery maintainers, or trickle chargers, do. Essentially, you can hook the charger up to your car's battery and it keeps the battery in peak condition. This can be useful for old batteries or batteries that you don't use frequently.
Make sure your backup plan has a backup plan of its own. Car battery chargers with long warranties are less likely to fail you when you need them most. As with a spare tire, you don't want to need it, but it's immensely useful in an emergency. The best car battery chargers come with five-year warranties, while some only have 90-day warranties.
Spark-resistant clamps are nice to have, because they reduce the sparks that fly off when you connect the jumper cable to your car's battery. While not essential, these clamps give you some piece of mind.
Some battery chargers have a reverse polarity warning. If you connect the red jumper cable to the wrong side of the car battery, these chargers let you know by chiming or otherwise signaling a problem. This feature is useful if the charger has spark-resistant clamps. Without flying sparks, you might not realize you've connected the jumper cable to the wrong terminal.
How Jump-Starting Affects Your Battery
Jump-starting your car with a battery charger is pretty much the same thing as having another car do it. Many car battery chargers have the same type of battery, and it simply comes down to transferring electricity from one battery to the other.
Technically, jump-starting your car doesn't hurt its battery, as long as everything is done properly. If the jumper's cables are in poor condition or connected to the wrong terminals, then you could hurt your car's battery. An improper jump-start could cause other problems as well. Most modern cars have complex computers and other electronics in them, and it's possible to damage those with a bad jump-start. Always follow the proper jump-start process.
Car Battery Chargers: What We Evaluated, What We Found
Some car battery chargers are more capable than others. We researched 14 different models and narrowed that down to the top 10 products. Here's what we learned:
It's difficult to find a one-size-fits-all car battery charger. Most have some features, but not all. Some are very small and portable, yet lack useful extras like an air compressor. In short, you'll need to decide what features are most important to you and go from there.
A high peak amp doesn't always translate into higher CCA. Some car battery chargers advertise very high peak amps, well above 1,000. However, their CCA ratings are sometimes lower than other chargers with sub-1,000 peak amps. Peak amperage is a good indicator of possible performance, but for a more reliable estimation, look at each charger's CCA rating.
Jumper cable length varies widely. The cables in our lineup range from 6 inches all the way up to 7 feet. We found that longer cables are better because they allow greater freedom of movement.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in a way that best serves the consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our evaluation, nor was the evaluation method provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Car Battery Chargers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
We found the Stanley J5C09 is the all-around best portable car battery charger. It has useful emergency features such as an LED flashlight and air compressor, and it also sports an impressive 500 CCA rating. While it's one of the heaviest chargers we evaluated, it has a handle for easy transportation and built-in cable storage.
With the Black & Decker JUS500IB, you get a capable jump-starter. It comes with a two-year warranty, digital display and air compressor. The battery charger has enough juice to jump-start most vehicles. The 500 CCA rating means that it works even in very cold weather.
Clore’s Jump-N-Carry portable car battery charger isn’t the most compact product. However, it has a 425 CCA rating and peak amp rate of 1,700—the highest on our lineup. The built-in battery tester is a great tool to have if your battery is getting old. You can also use the Jump-N-Carry as a trickle charger.