The Best Battery Cables for Emergency Situations
Crank up the power with a new set of battery cables
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BY Robert Bacon / LAST UPDATED ON December 7, 2021
Battery cables aren’t the most glamorous automotive upgrade you can make, but they can be one of the most necessary. If your battery cables start to go, your engine suffers and, if they fail, the only way you’re moving is on the back of a tow truck. But battery cables can be fun too, like if you’re making some performance upgrades that require more amperage or you move the battery to make space. The problem with choosing the right aftermarket cables is that they’re all so seemingly similar. Thankfully, the buying guide below is designed to help you understand the key features that matter, as well as a list of the best battery cables on the market today.
These are reliable cables from a trusted brand that can handle enough amps for practically anyone. Ultra-flexible insulation and fine-stranded copper mean you can contort these cables any way you like.
- Pure fine-stranded copper
- 1/0 AWG cable
- Wide operating temperature range
- Tin-coated copper lugs
- 2 feet long
- Could be too thick for some spaces
- Higher-end of the price spectrum
These cables are handy replacements that won’t break the bank. They’re reliable but don’t ask too much from them as they’re 6-AWG.
- Great value for money
- Lugs pre-attached
- Oxygen-free copper
- Just 6-AWG
- Only heat-resistant to 100 degrees Celsius
These cables offer all the high-end features of our best overall pick but are slightly thinner and, as a result, cost less.
- Pure fine-stranded copper
- Wide operating temperature range
- Tin-coated lugs
- 600V rating
- Could be necessarily thick for small engines
To choose the best battery cables on the market, I employed a comprehensive research methodology and evaluated dozens of battery cables before choosing the top contenders. Although I haven’t personally tested these products, our selection is informed by consumer testimonials, expert reviews, discussions on relevant online forums, and our institutional knowledge of the automotive industry.
I visited the Car Talk and Mechanic Advice subreddits to get a more informed opinion of what automotive enthusiasts and experts felt about the products on the market. I also checked out offroaders.com to get a technical understanding of how cable length, AWG, and amps work together.
Some brands are already well-established in this niche, and priority was given to their products. However, other lesser-known brands were also evaluated. The main features taken into consideration were AWG, price, insulation quality, copper quality, lug quality, length, reliability, durability, and warranty. Battery cables were immediately disqualified from consideration if they were unreliable or wore out too quickly.
Best Battery Cables Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Battery Cables
The WindyNation 1/0-AWG Copper Battery Cables are rated the best overall battery cables, as these cables are reliable, durable, and more than competent in most situations. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t need cables for high-amperage applications, then check out our value pick, the Cable Matters 6 Gauge Battery Cable.
What to Consider When Buying a Battery Cable
If this is your first time buying battery cables, getting to grips with their technical features can be a bit daunting. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find a guide that lays everything out in an easy-to-understand format. It’ll cover the types, brands, and key features to consider before picking the right cables for you.
Types of Battery Cables
PVC insulation is available in multiple insulation sizes including GXL, GPT, TWP, and HDT. Most automotive batteries come with GXL wiring since it has a small diameter, and can fit in tighter spaces in trucks and trailers. GPT features extruded insulation and is typically used for general circuit wiring. Its recommended working temperature range is -40 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
TWP is a small, lightweight, and lead-free option with a maximum temperature rating of 221 degrees Fahrenheit. Lastly, HDT is the least common option but offers the best physical protection since it features the thickest walls. It can be used in automotive and marine applications.
Cross-Linked Wire Insulation
Cross-linked polythene or XLPE cables are made through a process of cross-linking to prevent slippage and, as a result, do not shrink or soften at high temperatures. They have a high working temperature range of -59.8 to 257 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, they can be used to power parts of the engine components where higher heat resistance is necessary. In addition, cross-linked cables are more resistant to stress cracking, aging, and corrosion in polluted environments.
There are two common types of cross-linked cables: SXL and STX. STX has the thinnest walls and is the best choice for vehicles with limited space. SXL wire has the thickest insulation for enhanced temperature resistance.
Battery Cables Key Features
American wire gauges (AWG) are a standard set of wire conductor sizes. The lower the number, the larger the diameter of the wire. So a 2-AWG cable is thicker than a 4-AWG cable, for example. Think of your battery cable like a pipe and your battery as a water tower; the thicker the pipe, the more water that can flow through it. So, if you need a lot of power to start a high-compression engine, you’ll need a large-gauge wire to transport the power from the battery to the starter.
Most 4-cylinder engines will work well with 4-AWG cables, but if you’re working with larger high-compression or diesel engines, you’ll need thicker cables. The exact gauge for you will depend on the amperage drawn from your appliance and the length of the cable. Here’s a useful chart to help you work it out.
The length of your battery cable is equally as important as its gauge. If it’s not long enough, you’re not going anywhere. So you’ll need to judge the distance between your battery’s terminals and your starter motor. The longer the distance, the more resistance your cable will encounter. So if you’re going to run a battery cable from your trunk, for example, it’ll need to be longer and a thicker gauge than if the battery was under the hood. For most people, however, a 2-foot cable should be fine.
If you want your cables to last then you’ll need to invest in ones with high-quality insulation and copper. Most cables are wrapped in a PVC jacket and, if you live in a particularly cold part of the world, you’ll need to make sure the jacket can withstand low temperatures, or it will crack. Likewise, if it gets extremely hot under your hood, the jacket will need to withstand high temperatures. The majority of manufacturers list their cables’ maximum and minimum operating temperatures.
The quality of the metal in your cables will determine how conductive and durable they are. Pure oxygen-free copper (OFC) is a great choice but, if possible, opt for tin-plated copper. If you can get cables that use fine-stranded copper, that’s even better again as the wires will be more flexible and less prone to fractures. Although copper is quite resistant to erosion, it can deteriorate in humid conditions. Tin-plated copper is more resistant to humid conditions and, therefore, more durable than pure copper.
As mentioned, the thicker the cable, the more amps you can run through it. But that doesn’t mean your car is compatible with a large-gauge cable. If you’re tight on space under the hood, then you’ll want the thinnest cables possible, which can still fulfill your amperage requirements. Before buying any battery cables, it’s a good idea to consult your owner’s manual and see what gauge it recommends. You’ll also need to make sure that the lugs on the end of the cables are compatible with the terminals on your battery and starter motor.
When choosing cables, you’ll need to decide whether you want ones with lugs already attached. If you buy raw battery cables, you have to cut them to size and crimp lugs to the ends. For most people, buying cables with pre-attached lugs will be the best option—just make sure they’ll fit the terminals on your battery and starter before purchasing. Tin-coated copper lugs will be the most durable and resistant to corrosion.
Battery Cables Brands
WindyNation was founded in 2009 and based out of Ventura, Calif. All of this brand’s products are made in the USA and are on the higher-end of the price spectrum. The cables from this company consist of fine-strand copper and are insulated by a flexible PVC jacket, so are perfect for anyone who needs to bend the wires around awkward spaces. All the cables come with tin-plated copper lugs that have been attached with a 6-ton pneumatic crimper. These wires are built to last and come in gauges and sizes to suit all needs.
Temco was founded in 1968 and has grown to become a trusted name in the electrical hardware industry. It’s based out of Fremont, Calif., and manufactures all of its cables in the USA. Anyone who’s working on a project that involves long battery cables should consider this brand. The company sells large-gauge cables in bulk, making it a go-to option for custom car builders. Temco has one of the best warranties in the industry, as the manufacturer claims it has an indefinite warranty and will replace your product even if it’s been misused.
Cable Matters was founded in 2009 and is based out of Southborough, Mass. This isn’t the brand for anyone with a large or high-compression engine, as it doesn’t manufacture battery cables larger than 4-AWG. But its battery cables are suitable for 4-cylinder and marine engines, as well as golf carts. Cables from this company don’t have all the high-end features that we see from other brands on this list, but they’re great value and reliable. All products from Cable Matters come with lifetime support and a one-year warranty.
Tips and Tricks
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and battery cables. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Before buying any battery cables, consult your owner’s manual to see what AWG it recommends using.
- Measure the length of the battery wires you had been using before purchasing new ones to ensure that you don’t get left short.
- Always wear protective gloves when handling electrical cables and never let separate cables touch each other.
- Buy color-coded cables, like a red and a black one. The red cable normally attaches to the positive terminal and the black is usually used on the negative terminal.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: What's the best gauge for battery cables?
A: The best battery cable for you will depend on the amperage your appliance needs, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. For many people, a 4-AWG cable will meet their needs, but if your vehicle uses a large engine, you might need a larger cable.
Q. How do I test a battery cable?
A: Connect one of the battery cables to your battery’s terminal and the other end to a multimeter. If you’re testing the positive battery cable, connect it to the positive terminal, but if it’s the negative cable connect it to the negative terminal. The multimeter’s reading will indicate whether your cable should be replaced.
Q: Which battery cable do I hook up first?
A: Hook the positive cable up first and then the negative.
Q. Which battery cable do I disconnect first?
A: Disconnect the negative cable first and then the positive.