LAST UPDATED: April 27, 2021
Hands-On Review: Best Jump Starters for Emergency Starts and Portable Charging
We tested the best portable jump starters on the market so you don’t get caught unprepared.
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PUBLISHED ON April 27, 2021
An engine-starting powerpack that fits into your glove box sounds like a revelation. If it works, it'll be a real game-changer. But if “12-hour” laptop batteries and “500-mile” range electric cars are any indication, sales-pitch promises don’t always live up to real-world results.
Portable jump starters promise to make unwieldy jumper cables a thing of the past. But here’s the hardest part: It’s easy to find out if your “all-day” smartphone battery really lasts all day, but unless you kill your car battery on purpose there’s no way to know if a portable jump starter will work when you need it most.
Do portable jump starter expectations meet up with dead-car battery reality? We wanted to know, too. Read on and find out if these jump starters stood up to two old cars, three dead batteries, and a simulated worst-case scenario torture test.
A rugged, fully automatic portable jump starter with consistent performance and built-in safety measures that get the job done.
- Stout clamps and heavy gauge cables
- Automatic operation eliminates guesswork
- Overload and short-circuit protection
- Only one input and one output port
- Fabric storage pouch can allow accidental activation
- Higher cost than others
Full-featured, this portable jump starter and battery pack hits the right combination of quality, versatility, performance, and cost.
- High quality and performance
- Multiple output and input charging ports
- AC charger and 12V adapters included
- Large hard case others may not fit in some gloveboxes
- Accessories and jumper cables a tight squeeze in their compartment
This compact, no-nonsense jump starter boasts honest performance claims and determined results despite its small size.
- Trusted name brand
- Stands up to repeated punishment
- Grippy coating helps the battery pack stay put
- Lower battery capacity than the competition
- Not suitable for large engines
- No instructions included
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
How We Tested Portable Jump Starters
We put our jump starters through three different tests three different times — because the absolute worst time to discover a portable jump starter doesn’t work is the most likely time that you’ll need it.
First, we tested each jump starter on two old 4-cylinder vehicles with questionable but definitely dead batteries in below-freezing temperatures. Next, we hooked up a third marginal battery up to a carbon pile load tester and logged voltage and amperage. The load tester simulates a starter motor current draw and then some. We charged all the jump starters and let them rest overnight in the frigid garage before each test.
CHALLENGE ONE: STARION TURBO
The 1987 Mitsubishi Starion had a nearly 10-year-old battery that barely held 12 volts after a month in the frigid cold. It was dead. The battery failed a load test and couldn’t budge the cold, thick oil in the Starion’s turbocharged 2.6-liter 4-cylinder. Electronic fuel injection means the Starion's engine usually starts on a single starter crank, so by the numbers the jump starters should be fit to do the job. Battery voltage varied slightly through the jump start attempts, hovering in the 10-11 volt range.
CHALLENGE TWO: STARLET
The 1982 Toyota Starlet had a 5-year-old battery that passed the load test and held 10 volts for 15 seconds. We topped off the battery with a charger and let it sit overnight. The following day, we disconnected the ignition coil wire and killed the battery by cranking over the Starlet’s carbureted 1.3-liter 4-cylinder peanut grinder with the lights on. Battery voltage read about 11 volts by the time turning the ignition key brought nothing but the dreaded click. It was 24 degrees when we hooked the coil wire back up to the distributor and had at it.
FINAL FIGHT: LOAD TEST
We saved the carbon pile load test for last. A load tester simulates the amount of electricity a starter motor needs to crank over an engine. With our load tester connected to a discharged battery, we could test each jump starter in a controlled environment. We hauled out a third spare car battery, charged it, and let it sit overnight. The battery passed a load test in the morning, holding 10.5 volts at 200 CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) for 15 seconds, so we used that as our baseline.
Each jump starter was subjected to all three load tests three times, with a full charge in between tests. Test one simulated a jump start with a 100 CCA load; test two boosted things up to 200 CCA; test three maxed out the load.
None of the jump starters we tested melted or flamed out like a cheap hoverboard — but none hit its advertised peak output, either.
Benefits of Portable Jump Starters
- Reserve Starting Power. Stowed in a glove box or map pocket, rechargeable lithium batteries can (theoretically) retain a full capacity charge for up to three months for reserve engine starting power.
- Device Charging. The ability to charge a smartphone or device battery is a valuable benefit, especially for those whose jobs require a laptop and long hours behind the wheel.
NOCO has been in the automotive battery technology business since 1914. The Ohio-based company’s current in-house design, engineering, and testing teams create premium consumer battery chargers, jump starters, solar panels, and portable power devices. The NOCO GB40 took our best overall title with its consistent performance, and it’s only the second most powerful model in the NOCO jump starter lineup.
Tacklife offers a wide range of products for the home and automotive market with an eye on quality at a reasonable price. The product lineup includes everything from hand and power tools to specialized lawn and garden equipment, like a pool-cleaning robot or outdoor fire pits. We liked the T8 Jump Starter’s quality and performance and used their clamp multimeter to measure DC amperage in our load test.
Sears launched its DieHard automotive battery in 1967 with a thin-wall translucent case that made room inside for larger plates and a more powerful battery that fits into the same space as older thick wall designs. Sadly, Sears is gone, but DieHard lives on — in new TV commercials with Bruce Willis.
Portable Jump Starter Pricing
- Under $50: Expect smaller capacity batteries and some larger capacity units on sale in this range. Be wary of durability and safety, though, and don’t count on precocious claims.
- $50-$100: This is the sweet spot of portable jump-starting power for most 4-cylinder vehicles and some large-displacement V8 and diesel engines. All of the jump starters tested here came in under 100 bucks.
- $100 and up: Expect to spend more for portable jump starters with high-capacity batteries and heavy-duty cables for large displacement V8 and diesel-powered truck engines. More power is better than less.
Peak vs. Cranking Amperage
The single most important thing we learned in our test of these portable jump starters is to ignore peak amperage claims; we didn’t see one of these units hit their advertised peak amperage number. Battery capacity and cranking amperage are the critical numbers. Sustained cranking amperage helps a dead car battery turn over the starter motor and start the engine.
Charging Ports and Adapters
If charging up or powering multiple devices and accessories is required, look for a jump starter with lots of output ports and adapters. Some have various options, but many come with nothing but a standard micro USB charging cord and single output port. All of our test units quickly charged up a couple of phones, and 12V adapters can recharge the jump starter’s battery pack while you drive.
A flashlight is a vital part of any onboard vehicle tool kit, and all of the jump starters had one or more built-in LED lights. Since most of these units are flat and rectangular, the jump starters with lights on the ends or corners worked out better than the others. Just set the battery pack on a fender or nearby underhood spot and turn the light towards the battery terminals. Some of the jump starter lights featured built-in warning and SOS emergency modes.
- Engine Size. A 6.6-liter 8-cylinder diesel engine needs more jump-starting power than a puny 1-liter, 3-cylinder gasoline engine. An abundance of power is better than a shortage in both cases.
- Battery Condition. Portable jump starters only work if the car battery still has a little bit of life left, and some won’t work at all below a specific voltage. Only the NOCO GB40 could boost severely discharged batteries.
Best Portable Jump Starter Reviews & Recommendations 2021
Consistent and determined jump-starting performance earned the NOCO Boost Plus GB40 the best overall jump starter title. The rugged, simple, and fully automatic GB40 model didn’t have as many charging ports or secondary features as the rest of the pack, but it didn’t need them to turn the engine over.
It took a few tries to fire the Starlet engine; the pushrod peanut grinder finally fired up on the third try. We hauled the unit over to the bench for its first load test and waited 30 seconds. It held 9V for 15 seconds at a measured 142A; maximum load netted 250A. The NOCO hit the same numbers through the following two load tests — and it automatically shut down after each one.
The NOCO GB40 only has one output port but as a jump starter, its long, heavy gauge battery cables stomped the competition. It comes with one charging cable and (unfortunately) a fabric drawstring storage pouch that had us wishing for a hardshell case.
The NOCO might cost a little more than the others, but it took the guesswork out of jump-starting with predictable reliability.
Tacklife packs plenty of features into its T8 jump starter. The high-quality unit came in a zippered hard case with a selection of 12V adapters and a 120V AC charger for quick home recharging.
Jumper cable quality was a step above the rest, and the Boost control module features large buttons and bright, clearly labeled indicator lights. We engaged the Boost function straight away on the Starion, and the T8 started the turbocharged 4-cylinder on its first attempt with 88 percent charge remaining. Round one, Tacklife.
Non-boosted performance did not impress the Starlet. We waited 30 seconds after connecting the T8 and turned the key. Not even a click. The T8 turned over the starter motor on Boost but did not start the engine. Redemption came on the third try, and the Starlet engine clattered to life.
Quality and features make the T8 a versatile choice and, if all else fails, the battery has a built-in compass.
The DieHard was the smallest, least powerful, and oldest portable jump starter in the bunch but it hung in there and still managed to get the job done. DieHard packed decent power into a package a little wider than a deck of playing cards.
The pint-sized battery pack gave a solid performance on the Starlet with two faults in a row followed by a successful start, with 76 percent charge remaining. Load testing shed some light on its jump-starting performance. The DieHard was fussy at first but then held 9V at 200 CCA for about 7 seconds. Maximum output hit a measured 200A and the unit faulted out with 50 percent charge remaining.
The DieHard came with a charging cable and drawstring pouch but no operating instructions. Still, its compact size makes the Die-Hard a viable choice for smaller 4-cylinder cars.
Impressive power in a small package makes the boost-equipped Gooloo an excellent value. Given the Starion battery’s sorry state, we activated the Boost feature right out of the gate. After about 15 seconds on Boost we turned the ignition key and the Gooloo started the Starion engine like a boss. The battery pack did not fault and the gauge read 100 percent charged after the successful start.
We disconnected the clamps, hooked the Gooloo back up, hit the button marked Boost, and counted 15 seconds. Gooloo kicked over the starter like the Starlet had a new battery and unleashed the Starlet’s 1300 cc’s of fury.
Unboosted load test performance netted next to nothing, just 2-4 volts for a few seconds at 50 CCA. The Boost button brought the voltage to about 12.5V. The unit faulted into Shutdown mode immediately on its first load test but held 10 volts for 10 seconds at 200 CCA when challenged again. We measured just under 200A maximum output before automatic shutdown with only one bar on the charging meter.
We liked the Gooloo carrying case more than its clamshell-cased competitors. Two pockets under a flip-up velcro top flap made storing the battery cables much more manageable, and an external mesh pocket kept charging cords from getting tangled up inside. The Gooloo survived all three load tests with reasonably consistent results.
Audew’s manually activated Boost performance was the most powerful of the bunch, but its longevity and reliability were called into question on our load test. Still, if you’re looking for max power, the Audew delivers.
After hooking up the cables to the nearly depleted Starion battery, we pushed the Boost button and headed over to the driver’s seat. The fully charged Audew cranked over the starter with authority and the engine fired right up. Impressive. The charge gauge dropped to 75 percent at first but recovered to full power in a few minutes.
Audew’s unboosted performance on the Starlet was not as impressive but then, none of our starters was. Boost mode was a different story. One click of the Boost button and a 15-second countdown and the starter spun the 1300cc pushrod 4-cylinder to life. We moved the Audew onto the bench for its final fight with the load tester.
Boost brought initial voltage up to 14.5 on the dial, and the Audew held 11V at 200A for about 10 seconds on its first 200 CCA test — before faulting into Shutdown mode. The unit recovered to a full charge overnight but immediately shut down on its second and final load test.
The Audew performed well until it didn’t, and this may be a case of the adage “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” [We reached out to Audew for comment and will update this story when we get a response. —Ed.]
Jump Starter Tips
- Safety first. Car batteries are full of corrosive acid and create flammable hydrogen gas while charging. Battery explosions are relatively rare, but they can and do happen. Inspect the battery case for swelling and leakage. Do not attempt to jump-start a damaged battery.
- Clean contact. Corroded or loose battery terminals might be why the battery died in the first place. Clean the battery terminals as much as possible and give each terminal a downward twist to make sure they’re tight on the battery posts before connecting the jump starter clamps.
- Practice and patience. Practice connecting the jumper cables before stowing the jump starter. During an actual emergency, give the jump starter a minute or two before turning the key.
- Take charge before you jump. Topping off your phone battery won’t draw too much juice — and you might need the phone to call a tow truck anyway.
Q: Can I Overcharge a Jump Starter?
Unless the unit is damaged or defective, no. Built-in circuitry should turn off charging automatically once the battery is fully charged. We discharged, recharged, severely discharged, and recharged our test jump starter lineup several times without a problem.
Q: Which Battery Cable Clamp Goes Where?
The red clamp goes on the positive battery terminal (+) first (positive battery posts often have a red plastic cover), and the black clamp goes on the negative battery terminal (-) next. Remove the cables in reverse order and don’t let the cable clamps contact any metal parts — or each other.
Q: How Many Times Will a Jump Starter Recharge my Phone?
Depends on the battery capacity. But always check your phone or device’s battery before using the jump starter; you may need to call for help if the engine doesn’t start.
Q: Will a Jump Starter Charge My Car Battery?
Probably not. Portable jump starters work by teaming up with a depleted but not completely dead car battery. Their combined power starts the engine.
Q: Why Does the Jump Starter Keep Clicking?
It means that the jump starter is trying to charge the car battery back up. The clicking is a power cycling safety measure that prevents the car battery from drawing too much current too quickly and sending the lithium battery into thermal runaway. (If you’ve watched flaming hoverboard videos, you’ve seen thermal runaway. Not good.)
Q: What Size Jump Starter Do I Need for My Engine?
The jump starter with the largest capacity battery and highest cranking amp rating that you can afford. Most 4-cylinder engines can get by with lower capacity and amp jump starters, but larger displacement engines with more cylinders demand more power.
Compact rechargeable lithium battery jump starters can be an outstanding modern alternative to jumper cables, but power management and quality are crucial factors. Our best overall NOCO Boost Plus GB40 packed heavy-gauge battery cables and foolproof power management that delivered consistent and repeatable results.
When shopping for a portable jump starter, ignore peak amperage claims. Use battery capacity and cranking amperage as your guide. Remember, a larger engine requires a more powerful jump starter.
[NOTE: We tested several other portable jump starters that either didn’t pass our tests or didn’t work at all. We’ve reached out to the various manufacturers for comment and will update this story when we get a response.—Ed.]