- by Bryan Veldboom - updated on 9/16/2021
Jumper cables can be a real lifesaver when your battery goes dead, but how do you tell the difference between a good and a bad pair? Keep reading for tips on what to look for when buying jumper cables and how Batteries Plus can help you find the right pair for your vehicle's needs.
When selecting a set of jumper cables, you'll want to pay attention to five separate things: wire gauge, insulation, cable length, clamps and the amperage rating. Before we get into that though, let's define a few terms first. At some point, you may have heard jumper cables referred to as booster cables. These are just two different terms for the same thing and can be used interchangeably.
Wire gauge refers to how thick the wires are. This will be designated by a gauge value number between 1 and 12. The lower the number, the thicker the cables will be. Thicker wires are more effective because they allow more electricity to pass through them.
A 6-gauge or 4-gauge set of cables will be perfect for most vehicles. If you have a vehicle with a particularly large engine, you may want to look for a 2-gauge set of cables. Cables with a gauge rating of 1 are really only needed for heavy-duty vehicles such as diesel trucks. One other thing to keep in mind is that the lower the gauge value, the more expensive the cables will be.
Much like with wire gauge, thicker is the way to go. Higher quality cables will have thicker insulation, which will help prevent the issues mentioned above. But why do you need insulation? First off, it helps to prevent a superheated arc, which can occur when the wire is exposed. These arcs can be dangerous to both you and your vehicle. Insulation also helps to protect your cables' wiring during winter. Cold temperatures make the wiring more brittle. Insulating the wires protects them from cold weather and helps prevent them from breaking.
Anyone that's ever had to jump start a car knows how difficult it can be getting the two vehicles aligned in order to connect the cables. A longer set of cables will give you a greater leeway in where the charging vehicle can park. A set of ten-foot jumper cables will do fine when the vehicles are facing one another, but that's not always practical. If you want the charging vehicle to be able to pull up behind the stalled one, you'll want cables that are at least 20 feet long.
When shopping for jumper cables, look for a set with heavy-duty clamps that feature a good strong grip and a solid set of teeth. You'll also want to make sure that the handles are insulated properly with a thick coating of rubber.
The material the clamps are made of is also very important. Solid copper is one of the best conductors of electricity, followed closely by aluminum. Aluminum cables are generally less expensive than a copper set, but the gauge may not be low enough to handle larger vehicles. Also, be aware that copper plated cables won't work as well as a solid copper set.
The bigger your vehicle's engine, the more amps of power you will need to jump start the engine. For most standard size cars, a set of cables rated for 400 amps will be sufficient. More powerful vehicles such as trucks and SUVs will need somewhere around 800-1000 amps in order to turn over the engine.
When it comes to jumper cables, you get what you pay for. Inexpensive jumper cables are far more likely to fail than a higher quality set. If the insulation wears away, you'll want to replace them. Ditto, if the wires break.
Copper plated cables typically have less conductive metals underneath their copper coating. Once this copper plating wears away, they'll be far less effective. You'll also want to be careful when storing jumper cables that you don't fold them as this can damage the internal wire. Coil them in a loop and keep an eye out for any tears or cuts in the cable's wire.
Batteries Plus has everything you need for your vehicle emergency kit. Find jumper cables at Batteries Plus from brands like DieHard, Noco, Deka and Quick Cable. Looking for a way to jump your car without another vehicle? Check out our selection of portable jump starters.
Now that you have the right jumper cables, learn how to safely jump start your car. Are you constantly having to jump start your vehicle? Our blog has plenty of additional articles that can help. Learn more about "6 Things That Drain Your Battery" or find the answer to "Why Won't My Car Start? Is the Battery, Starter or Alternator at Fault?"