Data Doctors: Tips for buying car battery jumper packs

Q: I’m looking for a portable battery that can double as a jumper for my car battery, but the range in price is so wide, I’m not sure what to get. Can you help?

A: If you own a car with a combustion engine, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll be faced with a dead battery. Having jumper cables in your car is a great idea if you can find another vehicle to connect to, but controlling your own destiny with a portable jumper makes more sense.

The starting price of these battery packs is so cost-effective, it’s kind of a no-brainer to have one for each car in your family.

Bonus: Many of these portable battery jumper packs take up less space than jumper cables.

It can get confusing — there are lots of options. Some are basic; some include an air compressor for your tires. The more options you want, the higher the price and the larger and heavier the unit.

Cranking amps

The first specification that you’ll want to focus on is the cranking amp rating; it must be adequate for your type of vehicle. Some battery packs may also refer to this as the “starting amps.”

Gasoline engines require less power to jump than diesel engines, and the more cylinders you have, the more cranking power you’ll need.

Here are some basic cranking amp requirements, according to

  • 4-cylinder gasoline engine: 160 amps
  • 4-cylinder diesel engine: 350 amps
  • 6-cylinder gasoline engine: 210 amps
  • 6-cylinder diesel engine: 450 amps
  • 8-cylinder gasoline engine: 250 amps
  • 8-cylinder diesel engine: 650 amps

Keep in mind that these ratings are based on temperatures above freezing, so if you live in a really cold climate and you plan on keeping the battery in your car, check the Cold Cranking Amps rating.

Peak amps

This rating is usually roughly double the starting amp rating and is important for the initial start of your car. While the cranking amps are more important, it’s always best to get the highest peak and cranking (starting) amps that you can afford.

Battery bank options

If you also want to be able to charge up your smartphone or tablet, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper power interfaces for your devices.

A standard USB port will work for your portable devices. If you want the ability to charge more than one device at a time, you’ll want to look for multiple ports, preferably with a 2.1A rating.

Larger batteries may also have a 110v plug for charging laptops or for powering other devices that need to be plugged into power.

UL 2743 certification

The lithium ion batteries used in these battery packs do have potential issues if they aren’t well constructed, so look for the safety certification from Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL 2743) – the testing standard for portable power devices.

Cigarette lighter charger

I like this feature because it allows you to plug it into your cigarette lighter to recharge it while you are driving.

Ken Colburn is the founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on his Facebook page or on Twitter.

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