May 07, 2023

Best Portable Jump Starters for 2023, Tested

Our car experts choose every product we feature. We may earn money from the links on this page.

We put seven jump starters through our real-world testing to determine which one is best for you.

We've all been there: You hop in your car, turn the key, and hear the dreaded click-click-click of a dead car battery that can no longer turn over your starter. Now you're late for work, your coffee is cold, and frustration sets in. This is where a portable battery jump starter comes in to save the day.

No need to wait for another vehicle to assist with jumping; you can do it on your own in seconds. But which kind do you need? Is one brand better than another? And how powerful does it have to be? We put seven portable jump starters through hands-on, real-world testing to help you decide which portable jump starter is right for you.

There are two basic types of car jump starters: portable jump starters and portable power stations. Portable jump starters are small and easy to store in your trunk (or even glovebox), while portable power stations can be kept in the garage for repeated use. The question of which kind you need depends on how you'll be using it. If you just want one to keep in the car in case of an emergency, get a portable jump starter. If you have a fleet of vehicles that need some help waking up in the morning, get a portable power station.

But how much power does your portable jump starter need for your vehicle? It can be confusing trying to decide with all of the numbers and power ratings out there, such as peak amperage, amp hours, cranking amps, and so on. Here's the bottom line.

Peak Amperage (Current): This is the figure most manufacturers boast loudest about—but it doesn't necessarily mean bigger is better. The higher the peak amperage rating, the more powerful a jump starter is (at least initially). For units powered by lead-acid batteries, peak amperage is an initial jolt of power that the device delivers, typically for 20-50 milliseconds, followed by 30 seconds of sustained amperage, which is categorized as Cranking Amps (CA) or Cold Cranking Amps (CCA), depending on the temperature.

However, portable jump starters with lithium-ion batteries cannot deliver high amperage for very long due to the risk of thermal runaway—a phenomenon that causes lithium-ion battery cells to go into an uncontrollable, self-heating state, which can result in fire. Most of them can only deliver high amperage for somewhere between two and five seconds, followed by a power cut rather than 30 seconds of sustained amperage.

Additionally, we reached out to the experts at Batteries Plus for some more clarification, and they said jump starters will typically list an approximate number of starts the fully charged device can complete until it needs to be recharged. In other words, a half-charged jump starter will deliver the same power, every time, until it's drained. It just won't deliver as many jump-starts as a fully-charged device.

Energy (Wh): The total energy that can be stored in a unit, measured in watt-hours (Wh), indicates how much juice a unit can ultimately output. The higher the number the more jump starts a unit will be able to do before needing a recharge.

Cranking Amps (CA) and Cold Cranking Amps (CCA): CA and CCA measure much lower than the peak amperage rating because they measure continuous power over 30 seconds. CA measures this at 32 degrees F, while CCA measures this at 0 degrees F. For those of us that live in cold climates, the CCA rating is especially crucial. Your vehicle's battery also has CA and CCA ratings, typically located on the top. You'll want a jump starter with a CA and CCA rating near (ideally above) that respective number, which is usually around 400–500 for your average passenger vehicle.

If the portable jump starter is unable to sustain high amperage for 30 seconds to meet the standards of CA and CCA, the sustained amperage output is called "Starting Amps" or something similar.

Figuring out the specs you need with these numbers can be very helpful in narrowing down which portable jump starter to buy.

The Car and Driver fleet doesn't consist of just brand new cars—there's a good group of clunkers out back that have been acquired over the years. To properly test these jump starters, we looked for a vehicle with a truly dead battery. We located one in a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX that worked perfectly. It took plenty of dash tapping, "C'mon, baby!"s and some dainty gas pedal footwork to get it started for the first time in months, but it worked.

We wheeled the ice-cold Eclipse into the Car and Driver garage and got to work. The car's battery was so shot that, during testing, we watched its juice discharge between each test with our voltmeter. This was very handy—we didn't have to discharge the battery manually after each jump. Once the battery discharged fully, we hooked up each unit and tried them out.

Because the car battery was drained each time we hooked a jumper to it, some of the portable jump starters would read the connection as a "reverse polarity" error (we hooked it up correctly, we promise). This was fascinating—but also unveiled a flaw with some of the new-style jump starters. Those without a manual override button would not recognize the connection, so they simply wouldn't work. We understand the need for this fail-safe, but the inability to override the error manually and get a jolt from the unit eliminated one of the jump starters we planned to test and required another to be stabilized with a new battery in order to go back and jump-start the Eclipse—not much help if you're stranded on the side of the road.

Along with checking if each jump starter successfully started the car, we also tested:

Comparing our notes on these parameters helped us choose which portable jump starters were the best and which didn't make the cut. Here are our top picks for the best portable jump starters.

Tested: Best Portable Tire Inflators

The Jump-N-Carry JNC325 is our choice for Best Overall Portable Jump Starter. We were impressed by the 24-inch cable length, the ease of use, and solid specs all across the board.

The JNC325 features just two easy buttons: power and override. During our jump test, we did need to press the override button, and the jump starter started the vehicle after that with ease. It comes with a soft carrying case that can store the cables, jumper starter, and charging cords.

The JNC325 boasts enough power to start just about any consumer vehicle on the road, is compact enough to store in the trunk, and features the specs you need to jump a vehicle anywhere, anytime. That's why it's our pick for the best portable jump starter.

Additional features:

If you're looking for a power station to jump your vehicle and top off the tire pressure, we recommend the Stanley J5C09D. It's not as portable as some of the other jump starters in this list, but it's fantastic for storing in the garage for jumping multiple vehicles.

The Stanley aced our jump test, starting the Eclipse without complaint. We were impressed with the easy-to-read control panel, nice clamps, and an adjustable light.

The other attractive feature to a large power station like this is the included 120 psi air compressor, which can be used to fill tires, basketballs, or other inflatables. And with nearly three-times the energy onboard compared to our favorite portable unit, this do-it-all power station will jump just about anything in your garage.

Additional features:

Portability is a key aspect when buying a jump starter, and it doesn't get much more compact than the NOCO Boost Plus GB40. Weighing in at a measly two pounds, it's the smallest jump starter in our test overall.

It's got decent power, an override button, an easy interface, and two work lights. It jumped our Eclipse once the override function was activated, but that one jump on a severely drained battery reduced the NOCO's capacity from full to just 25 percent.

With this size comes a lack of power storage; its 30 watt-hours is the lowest in our test group. (However, NOCO does offer other, more capable units with as much as three times the energy onboard.) We wouldn't recommend banking on getting more than one or two jumps per charge with this. The leads are also extremely short, and the clamps are difficult to squeeze. But if you're short on space and want to have a portable jump starter around, this is the one to get.

Additional features:

If you own a shop or a garage with a bunch of cars that don't care for cold morning starts, we believe the JNC770R is the way to go. It's the simplest large jump starter to use thanks to its lack of a tire inflator function. It simply jump starts cars well and often.

The thing we liked about the JNC770R the most is the incredibly long leads and curved-end clamps. This allows you to get at batteries that might be buried more than usual. The spill-proof lead-acid battery inside stores a wild amount of power—the 410 Wh it took to recharge was by far the highest in the test—which is why we recommend it for shops.

However, it's expensive and quite heavy. We also noticed that it's not very stable—it tipped over while resting on the engine after starting it. But if you need a reliable jump starter with oodles of oomph, this is the one to get.

Additional features:

The DeWalt DXAEJ14 power station features a 120-psi air compressor, and weighs less than the other large power stations we tested. It fared well in our test—most notably in stability and clamp quality. But there was one issue.

The beeping. This chatty Cathy beeped incessantly and obnoxiously, to the point where we were looking forward to turning it off. It beeps when turned on, beeps when hooking up, and beeps that it needs recharging. The controls are also a bit messy, with too much information shown at once on the screen.

If beeping doesn't bother you, this is a solid choice. But if you're like us, there are better, quieter options out there.

Additional features:

The AvaPow A28 boasts fantastic specs—high peak amperage and great energy storage. But unfortunately, it struggled in our jump test.

When we hooked it up, it immediately displayed the standby light. Because of this, it wouldn't deliver power to the battery. We had to disconnect the leads, connect it to a known good battery to bypass the standby light, and then hook it back up to the Eclipse. After that, the car started up.

But you can't have this happen in the real world, and that's why the Avapow is toward the bottom of our list.

Additional features:

The slim size and low weight of the Nexpow G17 is attractive, but it fails to do the job it's designed to do.

When we hooked it up to our Eclipse, it flashed the "reverse polarity" idiot light. Believe us, we're not idiots! We hooked it up correctly. We couldn't get this to change, and the G17 failed to start the vehicle—the only jump starter to do so. We believe the jump starter failed to recognize the extremely low battery, flagging it as incorrectly hooked up.

Combined with short leads, clamps that don't open wide enough, and a bulky case, we'll have to pass on this one.

Additional features:

We used a decrepit 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX equipped with a truly dead battery for our test. The battery was perfect for putting these jump starters to the test, as it drained on its own, and rapidly. This way we could jump the car, let it drain for a few minutes, and then jump the car again with the next unit.

We tried out each portable jump starter this way and uncovered a flaw that was featured in two of them: a lack of a manual override button. The car's battery was so low that two of the jump starters didn't even recognize it and would only start the vehicle once the manual override button was pressed. If the portable jump starter lacked this button, it would not start the vehicle.

As we tested each jump starter, we made extensive notes on other things we noticed as we used them. We also discharged each jump starter completely, and then recharged it fully, measuring the total energy it accepted using a Kill-A-Watt. Those watt-hour figures are included in our specs.

Here's the total parameter list for this test:

A jump starter simply provides a jolt of power to a vehicle's battery, providing the vehicle with enough juice to start the car on its own. Battery chargers provide a slow, steady trickle to the battery to top it off over a much longer period of time and then maintain that charge. Jump starters do not charge the battery significantly—that's where the vehicle's alternator comes in.

We talked to the experts at Optima batteries about this, and they recommend using a battery charger as soon as possible if you need to jump your vehicle. Alternators aren't designed to recover deeply discharged batteries, and doing so can decrease the life span of both the alternator and battery. In short, jump the vehicle, get where you need to go, and then put your battery on a charger for best results.

Yes, especially the smaller lithium-ion battery portable jump starters—that's what they're designed for. Store it in your glovebox, under the seat, in the trunk, wherever you can find room. Just note that extremely cold temperatures can weaken its potency, so we recommend recharging it every six months or so, just in case.

We'd recommend 15–30 minutes. This gives the alternator a chance to recharge the battery on its own. If you don't have this kind of time, make sure to put a dedicated charger on your battery so you don't prematurely wear out the alternator.

This test was conducted in an environment that provided equal testing procedures for each product: the Car and Driver garage. Upon tallying our findings, we agreed that our test provided enough information to recommend picks to our readers.

Hearst Autos combines the talent, resources, and expertise of three of the largest, most influential automotive publications in the world. The Gear Team has tested a wide variety of automotive products, parts, accessories, and gear, such as GPS trackers, portable jump starters, and windshield wipers.

We get our hands on each and every product we test. Most products are purchased; some are supplied by manufacturers. We don't need to game search engine algorithms for traffic, or promote lousy products solely to make a sale. We're more concerned with our legacy, our reputation, and the trust that our readers have in Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track to deliver honest opinions and expert evaluations.

Visit our Tested & Trusted page to see the very best in automotive gear. Read more about our product testing and evaluation process here.

Collin Morgan is an Associate Commerce Editor at Hearst Autos, where the former Rust Belt mechanic and gadget enthusiast presents the best gear for your automotive endeavors.

Jon Langston is an avid motorcyclist and gear collector whose work has appeared in Men's Journal, Cycle World, The Drive, Rider, Iron & Air, Motorcyclist, and more.

Best Sim Racing Wheels 2023

Best Cordless Impact Wrenches for 2023, Tested

Best Motorcycle Phone Mounts

TRD Watches Make an Awesome Gift for Dad

Truck Tonneau Covers for Every Need and Budget

Top-Rated Bike Racks For Your Car or Truck

Best Electric Coolers for 2023, Tested

Memorial Day Deals on Auto Parts, Tires, and More

Keep Your Paint Pristine with a Ceramic Coating

Reach Awkward Bolts With a Bent-Handle Ratchet

Fix It Like a Pro With These Mechanic Tool Sets

Best Power Inverters for 2023, Tested

Peak Amperage (Current): Energy (Wh): Cranking Amps (CA) and Cold Cranking Amps (CCA): 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX manual override button Jump-N-Carry JNC325 Stanley J5C09D. NOCO Boost Plus GB40 JNC770R DeWalt DXAEJ14 AvaPow A28 Nexpow G17 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX Would it jump-start the vehicle? Yes/No Recharge Energy Weight Ease of use Lead length Clamp quality Additional features Portability (for portable jump starters) Stability under the hood (for power stations)