If you have a car or motorcycle, having a portable jump starter is practically an essential accessory.
It is impossible to predict when your car will play tricks on you. Sometimes the battery just refuses to start after the car is parked. It is certainly a frustrating situation and all too familiar to experienced drivers.
Imagine that you go out by car with your family to the countryside and park it somewhat far away to be able to fully enjoy a walk in nature. However, when you return, you find yourself with an unpleasant surprise: when you try to start the engine you hear nothing other than that typical low battery sound .
Although in the trunk you have the cables to start the battery, you realize that there are no cars within a radius of 5 kilometers. So you can’t start the car. There is no other option but to call for help.
To avoid this type of situation, the ideal would be to have a jump starter at your disposal . These devices are capable of starting a car without having to depend on the help of other people.
Therefore, it becomes a very useful accessory to store inside the vehicle and use at any time.
What is a car jump starter? Types
A jump starter is a portable rechargeable battery designed mainly to start a vehicle as well as to allow charging electronic devices (mobile phones, camera, bluetooth speakers…) through one or more USB ports as a traditional power bank would .
Although it is popularly known as a jump starter , really, what it does is start a vehicle and not, of course, the battery. It is called that to distinguish it from a battery charger that does recharge the battery without starting the vehicle.
When the vehicle is started, the alternator is started, which provides enough energy for all the electrical components of the vehicle to work and at the same time, the battery of the vehicle itself is recharged.
In this way, after keeping the vehicle running for a while, when we stop the engine, it will be able to start with its own battery without having to use the starter again.
One of its great advantages is that it allows us to start our car at any time and place without the need to resort to an auxiliary vehicle, for this reason, it becomes an ideal accessory for the car that will avoid problems in an emergency situation.
clamps vs jump starter
With a starter you will never ask for help to start your car again!
Battery jump starters are obviously not all the same, there are several types that present specific technical data and are compatible with different vehicles .
Before buying one, it is necessary to verify that the product we are interested in adapts to all our demands and functions that we regularly fulfill with our car.
According to their dimensions, we highlight 2 types of battery starters:
They are compact and small starters that allow them to be transported in a practical way, even in the glove compartment of the car , and they have a shape that is vaguely reminiscent of an external PC hard drive.
Despite being extremely compact , these starters guarantee remarkable power and a high enough autonomy to carry out numerous emergency starts.
On the other hand, briefcase-type models have larger dimensions and are commonly equipped with a carrying handle, as can be seen in the photo below. Some also incorporate an air compressor in case you have a slightly flat tire.
Generally, this type of battery starters offer a higher power than portable starters and are ideal for use in large vehicles : vans, trucks, boats, buses …
Characteristics of a jump starter
Next, we analyze the main characteristics that a jump starter can have:
- Boot port
- USB ports
- DC port
- AC port
- LED Flashlight
How to charge a jump starter?
In the past, a starter used to incorporate a DC charging port (DC Input) and was recharged using a specific charger or power adapter (always included in the purchase).
Optionally, it could also be recharged by connecting it to the vehicle’s cigarette lighter with a compatible charger.
Later, new generations of starters with micro USB and USB type C charging ports appeared , although models with USB type C stand out for 2 reasons:
- It acts as an input and output port (input / output): in some models, in addition to recharging the starter, the USB-C port can be used to charge other devices with a USB charging port: mobile, camera, headphones, speakers …
- Faster Charging (Starter and / or Devices) : Generally, the USB-C port supports more power (15W) than a micro USB port (12W max). It is also compatible with the new Power Delivery (18W) fast charging technology.
The main advantage of a jump starter with a USB charging port is that it can be recharged with any USB charger (such as that of the mobile itself) instead of having to use a specific DC charger which, in addition, if lost or damaged, it would be more difficult to replace.
However, many vendors do not include the USB charger and this advantage can become a disadvantage and even an additional expense for some users, for example:
If the starter incorporates a USB charging port and supports 18W fast charging , it can be recharged with any USB charger you have at home (5W, 10W …) but, if you want it to recharge faster, you will need to use an 18W charger.
Normally, any user who has a mobile with fast charging has an 18W charger but, if this is not your case and you do not want to spend more money buying another USB charger , it may be more advisable to buy a jump starter with a DC charging port that always includes its DC charger, normally 15W (15V / 1A).
Technical specifications on a starter
We are going to identify the technical specifications of a starter to know how to choose the model that best suits the needs of each one (price, capacity, peak current …) and is compatible with our car:
Battery capacity (mAh)
A car jump starter incorporates a 3.7 volt (V) rechargeable battery at a certain capacity expressed in milliamp-hours (mAh).
The capacity indicates the amount of energy (Wh = V x Ah) that the starter has to start the vehicle and / or charge our devices when we use it as a power bank.
It is important to note that a starter with a higher or lower capacity does not determine whether a vehicle will start or not, it will only depend on the starting current it is capable of supplying.
In general, the more capacity a starter has, the more times we can start our car or the greater number of charges we can carry out to our devices (mobile, tablet, camera, speakers …) without having to recharge its battery completely again.
However, it is advisable that the starter battery is above 60% of its capacity to guarantee the starting of the vehicle .
Peak current and starting current (A)
Both the peak current and the starting current are 2 fundamental characteristics when choosing a starter for our car, as we will explain later in this section .
The peak current ( peak current ) is the maximum instantaneous current that can provide the starter in a short period of time (<1 s) to start the engine of the car.
In the event that the car does not start instantly, this current decreases to a constant value that the starter can hold for a few more seconds (3-5s) to try to start the engine. This value is known as inrush current ( starting current ).
While the peak current of a starter can vary between 300A and 2500A , the starting current always has a lower value than the peak and even in some models there will be a big difference.
How to choose the right starter for my car?
First of all, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with the specifications of our car battery . Normally, these are usually indicated on the battery itself.
As a general rule, when choosing a starter we must check the value of the cold start current (CCA) indicated by the battery of our car and look for a starter that is capable of supplying a HIGHER peak current (Peak Current) .
Remember that a vehicle requires more starting power in a cold environment and its battery may not provide it if it is old or badly discharged.
The importance of starting current
The peak current ( peak current ) of a starter is an instantaneous value which can be supplied for a few tenths of a second, for example:
If we have a starter that can supply 1200A of peak current and a car needs a peak current of 350A , then the starter would be able to start the car instantly.
However, if the car does not start instantly because it takes several seconds , the current that a starter can supply constantly drops considerably, that is:
The starter can deliver an instantaneous current of 1200A and maintain a constant current of 250A for at least 3 seconds.
This constant current of 250A is the so-called starting current .
So if initially the car requires a peak current of 350A to start and a constant current of 300A for 3 seconds, this starter would NOT be able to start the car because it can only provide a starting current of 250A (although initially it can deliver 1200A peak)
Once the starter has been selected based on the peak current, the next step would be to check the starting current ( Starting Current ) that it can maintain for a few seconds and choose the one that best suits the needs of our vehicle.
The problem is that some starter manufacturers do not indicate it and others mention it without indicating the seconds that they can maintain that current.
On the other hand, each car in particular demands a different starting current and, normally, it is difficult to know, since the manufacturer does not usually indicate it in the vehicle manual:
- Normally a car with a diesel engine demands a starting current higher than 300A .
- On the other hand, a car with a gasoline engine is well below that figure, and depending on the architecture of its engine, the starting current demanded could be less than 200A .
How many times will I be able to start my car?
When we buy a starter it is common to want to know how many times it will be able to start our vehicle.
However, we regret to tell you that there is no universal answer as it depends on many factors, including:
- Starter Power
- Starting current
- Vehicle tuning
As you have seen, there are many factors that influence to know exactly the number of times that a starter will be able to start our vehicle.
Although the truth is that, if its load is above 60%, it will give us several starting attempts.
Our advice is that, once we have managed to start our vehicle successfully, we always carry out a full recharge so that it is ready the next time we need it.
In addition, it is advisable to carry out a full recharge every 3 months if we have not used it before.
How to use a jump starter?
Regardless of the model you are buying, the instructions for using a starter are practically the same. We wanted to develop a small general guide to explain how to use it:
Before starting to use your jump starter, it is important to take all necessary precautions to guarantee your safety, that of the car battery and the rest of the equipment. Since starting your car requires the use of electrical voltage, you must be careful at all times.
But don’t worry, although there are electrical risks associated with starting your car, using a portable jump starter is much safer than starting it by connecting it to another car’s battery.
Before starting your adventure with a jump starter, keep the following safety precautions in mind for good practice:
- Make sure your vehicle and jump starter are completely shut down before beginning the battery jump start process.
- Take the keys out of the ignition to make sure all parts of the vehicle are turned off for the first step.
- Never connect the red (+) and black (-) clamps to each other , or allow them to be connected through an electrical conductor. You could cause a short circuit and the jump starter may stop working. (Although most already have short circuit protection)
- Check that there are no flammable liquids or items near your car or jump starter during the process.
- Turn off both your vehicle and the jump starter.
- Next, connect the jumper cables to the device itself.
- While the vehicle is still off , take both ends of the jumper cables in your hands. You should have a red end and a black end, in the form of tweezers.
- Connect the red clamp (+) to the + terminal of the car battery.
- Connect the black clamp (-) to the – terminal of the car battery.
- Make sure that the clamps are well fixed to the battery terminals, so that when the car is started they do not come loose and produce a short circuit when they come into contact with each other.
Starting the starter
After checking that the clamps are in the correct position, you can turn on the jump starter, but still don’t start your car.
The jump starter must be turned on first to “stimulate” the flow of electricity from the device itself to the car battery. It will take a little time to get everything ready for the car start.
Next, start your vehicle. This will allow the jump starter to send a flow of current to your car battery that will normally start the vehicle’s engine in no time.
Since the jump starter acts like a supercharged portable battery and is designed to provide short bursts of power in large quantities. However, running the starter motor for too long will prevent the starter from working properly afterward.
You only have to actuate the vehicle’s ignition switch for a maximum of 5 seconds. As soon as you actuate the ignition, the starter motor kicks in, due to the burst of energy that the starter sends to the starter motor through your car battery.
At this point, the portable starter is providing its maximum amount of power possible.
This is why it is best to only operate the starter in short bursts to match the power of the starter, giving the starting voltage and current necessary for the vehicle’s engine to start.
If you try to crank the starter motor for 5 seconds and the vehicle’s engine still won’t start , don’t try to keep starting the car for an extended period. Wait 3-5 minutes between attempts.
If you keep trying the car engine, you will put too much power on the jump starter, which can cause it to overheat or short circuit, causing permanent damage to it.
Make another 5 second attempt after the starter is ready to provide full power again. The vehicle’s engine should start after a few more tries.
If it still does not start, we will see later what to do in these cases.
Once you have successfully started your car, you must turn off the jump starter. Then remove the black wire (-) first and then the red wire (+) .
Remember that your jump starter works best when fully charged, so be sure to recharge it as soon as possible, even if it hasn’t drained its battery since the last time you used it to start your car.
What to do if the car still won’t start?
If your car still won’t start after 5 or more attempts to reset the battery, there are a few things you can do to try to fix this:
The first thing is to turn off the starter and then fix the position of the clamps on the terminals of the car battery . Sometimes they can be too loose or not in the correct position.
Try attaching the black clamp (-) to another part of your car’s body instead of attaching it to the negative post on the battery.
Move the clamps in a twist to literally squeeze them against the battery posts.
If none of those options work, your battery may have died . Possible reasons could be corrosion and acid leakage or burst electrodes within the battery itself.
At this point, the best thing you can do is find a towing service that will take your car to service.