We spent 30 hours researching 10 jump-starters and 10 car battery chargers costing under $100 each, and we narrowed that list down to suggest the best of both types. Our favorites here are based on power, portability, safety features and conveniences like USB ports and solar panels.
Be aware that jump-starters and car battery chargers are not interchangeable. Jump-starters can start up a dead battery without the need for a second car, essentially replacing traditional jumper cables. Car battery chargers keep power running to vehicles you don’t use often, like RVs or boats, so the batteries don’t drain from disuse. Keep in mind your specific needs as you choose which kind to buy.
Best Portable Jump-Starter
Portable Jump-Starter: Stanley
The Stanley J5C09 is our pick for best portable jump-starter and the most useful option for most people. Not only can it jump-start a dead battery, but it can also fill a flat tire with air, charge your phone, trickle charge a battery and illuminate an area with its LED flashlight. This jump-starter is a good tool if you have unused trunk space and want an all-in-one machine that can help out in a variety of roadside emergencies.
Best Ultra-Portable Jump-Starter
Ultra-Portable Jump-Starter: GOOLOO
The Gooloo GP200 is the best ultra-portable jump-starter because it’s about the size of a cell phone, so it fits nicely in a glove box. In addition to jump-starting your car, the GP200 can charge up to two mobile devices, such as a smartphone and a tablet, simultaneously. Don’t let its small size fool you though – this Gooloo model has enough power to jump-start a V8 gas or diesel engine, charge your smartphone, or a combination of both, multiple times before you need to recharge it.
Best Battery Charger
Battery Charger: NOCO Genius G3500
Based on our research, we believe the NOCO G3500 is the best battery charger because it can charge, maintain and repair 6V and 12V batteries, and you don’t need to change settings or diagnose problems to do so. Since battery chargers need to be plugged into a power source for long periods of while unmonitored, safety and smart charging features are important – the G3500 has the best combination of both.
Best Solar Battery Charger
Solar Battery Charger: Sunway Solar
The Sunway Solar charger is our pick for best solar battery charger because it uses the sun’s energy to keep your battery topped off. Even when they’re turned off, almost all vehicles use battery power to keep alarm systems and engine computers working, and this device can help avoid the steady drain caused by intermittent use. The term “charger” may be an overstatement – we prefer to think of it as a battery maintainer – but it’s a useful tool for an RV or boat, since you may not have access to a power outlet to plug in a traditional charger where you store yours.
Charger vs. Jumper: What’s the Difference?
Think of a battery charger as a preventative maintenance tool and a jump-starter as an emergency tool. A battery charger is most often used to maintain, condition and repair batteries. Most of them need to be plugged into a wall socket, so they can’t help you if your battery dies in a large parking lot or remote location. That’s where jump-starters come in handy. A jump-starter is a rechargeable battery that is small enough to keep in your car at all times, and it replaces the jumper cables you likely already have in your car’s emergency kit.
During our research, we identified two types of jump-starters: portable and ultra-portable. Portable jump-starters use a lead-acid battery like the one in your car and can start vehicles of any size in extreme conditions. They weigh around 18-pounds and are roughly the size of a plastic shopping bag, so you need some free trunk space to tote one around.
The best ultra-portable jump-starters weigh around 2 pounds and fit in your glove compartment. These small devices can start any small- or medium-size vehicle. In addition, they have USB ports you can use to charge your smartphone and an LED flashlight. Ultra-portable models use a lithium-ion power source, and you need to recharge them periodically based on how much you use them. You can expect to revive a battery more than 10 times in a period of several months before you need to plug yours into a wall socket to recharge.
Battery chargers are designed to condition and maintain your vehicle’s battery, though some of them can also jump-start a car – but they need to be plugged into a wall socket to do either. A charger can increase the lifespan of the battery in a vehicle you rarely use such as one in a vintage car, boat or RV.
If you need to charge or maintain a battery in a place you don’t have access to power, such as a parking lot, you may want to consider a solar battery charger. Solar chargers don’t have as many safety features or charging capabilities as the best battery chargers, but they can help maintain a battery that is used infrequently. You attach the solar charger to your windshield with suction cups or set it on your dashboard and charge the battery through the cigarette lighter plug or using traditional battery clamps.
It is inevitable that you, or someone parked near you, will end up with a dead battery at some point. When you add a jump-starter to your car’s emergency kit, you can get back on the road, even if no one is around to help. A jump-starter can also serve as a portable charger for your phone. Regularly maintaining and conditioning your car battery with a charger can potentially keep it from dying in the first place. Investing $60 or less in a charger can ensure you replace your car’s costly battery less often, no matter how much you drive.