What's the best jump starter?
August 24, 2009 7:48 PM   Subscribe

My beloved wife too often leaves her lights on and drains her car's battery. Her colleagues have always been there to provide a jump start, but I want to get a jump starter that she can carry in her trunk. I find many on the web, so seek your recommendations.

She's a brilliant teacher, but not much of a mechanic. Fool-proof would be nice. Also, weight is a factor, so she can lift it out of the trunk. Quality and durability are utmost concerns. An air compressor is not desirable, nor is a radio, light, or other bells and whistles. And, you get what you pay for. Any ideas?
posted by partner to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it an old Civic by any chance?

Anyway, you can easily connect a buzzer that goes off when you turn off the car with the lights on. Solve the problem at the source.
posted by meta_eli at 7:55 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

What kind of car is it? There should be an audible chime that reminds her to turn off the lights, as meta_eli points out. If there isn't and it's reasonably young, you might have that serviced.

In addition, if it's a newer vehicle (i.e. 2000+), I would not risk one of those cigarette lighter "jump start" units. They merely trickle-charge the vehicle's existing battery and, if poorly made, can wind up frying important bits of the car's electrical system. My advice, if you're for sure you want a portable jump starter, would be to go to Auto Zone and buy a device that's basically a battery with hard-wired jumper cables attached. This shouldn't be too heavy and should cost around $40-50. Show your not-mechanically-inclined SO where to connect the device (black goes to some unpainted metal surface first, red goes to red) you should be good to go. These devices need charging from A/C power once every six months or so just to make sure they stay topped off.
posted by fireoyster at 8:04 PM on August 24, 2009

If she can't remember to turn the headlights off, will she remember to keep the jumpbox charged? Also, while a jumpbox might save her commute home, every time she completely drains the car battery she's taking roughly a year off it's life, and buying new car batteries is going to get very costly quick. I'd instead look into getting an aftermarket chime or buzzer installed that will remind her to turn the lights off; treat the disease, not the symptom.
posted by bizwank at 8:07 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a range, and you're right. You absolutely get what you pay for. To give you an idea of the range, there's this, this, and this.

Weight might be a factor but, honestly, the small cheap ones don't pack a whole lot of punch. Expect whatever you buy to have some heft.
Honestly, if price is no object, just buy the Snap-On one. It's heavy duty, no bells and whistles, and you could probably jump start a plane with the 1700 peak amps.
If the Snap-On booster is too much money (and it is) ToolTopia has a great selection. I can't vouch first hand for any of those brands, but I'm always happy with what I buy from ToolTopia. If you spend in the $100-$150 range, you'll likely be very satisfied with your purchase. Going cheap will leave you stranded for sure. I bought a $30 booster from Pep Boys a while back and, after charging it for 24 hours, it died jumping its first car.
Most boosters are foolproof, too. Red for positive and Black for negative is universal.
As part of this purchase, you might want to think about upgrading the battery in her car to something like an Optima Red Top that can withstand her constant discharging abuse.

black goes to some unpainted metal surface first
PS. This is not the case. Always hook the positive side up first. When hooking up the negative side first, you will always get a substantial spark as you connect your positive cable to the battery. That's dangerous because the gasses that battery generates can potentially be ignited by that positive side arc. On the other hand, the negative (ground side) will virtually NEVER arc when you hook it up to the body ground. Positive should be connected first and disconnected second.

posted by Jon-o at 8:20 PM on August 24, 2009

It sounds like she might be better served by an AAA membership.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:24 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jon-o: On the other hand, the negative (ground side) will virtually NEVER arc when you hook it up to the body ground.
No, the -ve side has just as much chance of arcing as the positive side, and the arc can be the same size. Polarity has nothing to do with it; it's the fact that the last connection closes the circuit & allows current to flow that causes the spark.

You're right when you say the point is that you make the last connection, where the circuit between vehicles or batteries is closed, away from the potentially explosive gases generated from the battery. But, if anything, making the last connection on a bare metal part of the body has more chance of causing sparks, purely because it'll likely be covered in an insulating coating of rust, grime, or oil.
posted by Pinback at 8:33 PM on August 24, 2009

Dude, I can't remember the last time that I hooked a negative jump cable to the body or block of a car and saw a spark. Theoretically, I'm totally with you. Practically, I simply never experience arcing when I complete the circuit on the ground side. Even when I install a battery and I have to make both connections directly at the terminal, the negative post just doesn't arc and crackle like the positive post does. I mean, it's purely anecdotal and not scientific, but it is what it is.
posted by Jon-o at 9:12 PM on August 24, 2009

Just as a counterpoint, I bought the absolute cheapest battery jumper model that my local ACE hardware store sold. It was some kind of no-name made in China model and cost about $20 and had no frills. It has worked flawlessly for me every time I've needed it, which was many times over a several year period because I drive the car in question very infrequently and it had a dying battery to begin with. Maybe I just got lucky, but really all you're buying here is a gel-cel battery, there is hardly anything else to it that can go wrong.

As far as weight is concerned, if she can lift a gallon of milk she could lift this one.

But I do agree that the hardest part of this kind of device is remembering to take it inside to plug in it regularly. Even the POS unit that I have has a little indicator/test button that will tell you if it needs charging.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:40 PM on August 24, 2009

Get a Volvo where the lights are connected to the ignition? Or is that just in Europe..
posted by lundman at 11:00 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to do this with my old Camry, and in the end I wired up the lights to automatically turn off as soon as I opened the door if the engine was off.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:44 AM on August 25, 2009

On what lundman said....

Talk to a mechanic and have them set the car up so that the headlights are only on when the ignition is on. It's not rocket science and should only cost a couple hundred bucks worth of labor, wire, fuse and relay. On some new cars you may even be able to ask the car to perform this function for you if your mechanic has the factory's magic computer.

P.S. In some cases the car might be too clever and you might get a warning light saying your headlights are out.
posted by paanta at 5:50 AM on August 25, 2009

The best solution for this is to fix the headlights, not add an additional recovery step that will have (as noted) and askme in a few months of "Where can I buy a reminder system to get my forgetful wife to charge her jumper box?".

The issue is your wife's memory. Having something else to remember won't help you at all, just move the issue.

Canadian cars have daylight running circuits, for reference. I recently brought a car to Canada and it looks like it will be less than an hour of labour and some fiddling in the fusebox to put daylight running lights onto a Californian car. This is an easy fix. There is no harm whatsoever with running lights the whole time (many countries have declared it safer, in fact) so looking into even a factory installed method of having the lights going on and off with the ignition are possible your best option. If you struggle, then order an aftermarket daylight running kit from a Canadian store/website and have a mechanic fit it for you.
posted by Brockles at 6:35 AM on August 25, 2009

No idea how well it works, but here's a very simple howto for making your own warning buzzer for $3.50.

Any starter worth it's money is going to be heavy. It is, after all, basically a car battery in a plastic box. You aren't going to successfully jump your car with a dozen AA cells...
posted by twine42 at 6:59 AM on August 25, 2009

Another way to look at this is to modify the pattern of your wife parking the car. If you set up a mental checklist, you go through it all the time as a habit, even if the lights aren't on. I use this:

1. gearshift to park
2. parking brake on
3. keys turn off
4. lights off
In my head it's just 1-2-3-4 as I go through the motions.

if you can think of a way to make it rhyme or have a rhythm to it, better yet. Like the checklist for a man to leave the house:
wallet and
(saw this in a movie)

Having said all that, I think I'm going to look at those how-to's for setting up running lights or warning buzzer. :-)
posted by CathyG at 9:12 AM on August 25, 2009

Just as a point of reference, some of us don't run down our batteries due to headlights, but rather due to leaving on the map light or dome light. In which case the ignition-headlight connection wouldn't work. Not sure what the situation is here, so maybe some clarification would help...

(I may/may not have had some recent experience with this...)
posted by NikitaNikita at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2009

i second a buzzer. It is fairly easy to by yourself. The automatic option is fine, but won't help with the habit. It will make it worse.

And I think it was
watch and

Worlds fastest Indian if I remember right. I say it some days as i walk out of my place. Just as a reminder of everything I should have.
posted by Climber at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2009

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