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While we’re on the subject of useful emergency equipment …

Do you carry a jump starter in your vehicle and if so, what are the characteristics you looked for?

I’m curious, because the prices are all over the place and oddly, the model with some of the best features, this Stanley pictured below, is one of the least expensive.

screenshot-from-2016-12-30-16-43-16

It’s not only a jump starter, but it’s got an air compressor for filling tires, USB ports for charging two electronic devices at the same time, a light and more. Yet it’s about half the price of some that do little besides jump starting.

Now some of the much more expensive ones, like this 2,000 peak watt CAT do offer greater oomph on the charge and I can see why that would come in handy for a hefty vehicle. But this Schumacher has features roughly similar to the Stanley and gives just slightly more oomph, but it costs nearly double. Very space-age looking. Nice — but what makes it worth paying so much extra for?

The Stanley is the best-seller and I can see why. But I’m at a loss for how to parse the real relative value of these things.

Also, if you have a jump starter and you’ve had to use it to kick life into a dead battery, how well did it work for you? What was its capacity and did it have enough power to do the job? Have you had any problems with it, such as the jump starter itself being dead when you needed it? (After all, they are mostly just big batteries and need to be charged periodically.) Inquiring minds want to know.

15 Comments

  1. jed
    jed December 30, 2016 5:34 pm

    The Schumacher has an inverter. Hard to judge what that’s worth, as I’m not seeing any specs listed for it. One commenter says 400 W surge, 200 W continuous, and if that’s modified sine wave, then it ain’t worth the dollar premium. Point of reference: Samlex 300W Pure Sine Inverter at $145.

  2. Bear
    Bear December 30, 2016 5:45 pm

    I’ve got a Sport Pac Portable Power Generator — a jump starter with a 300W inverter. It will start my truck. I carry it on road trips, but not just around town. Mainly though, it’s emergency house power. It’ll keep my cell phone and computer going, and I can maintain its charge with my portable PVC panel (a homebrew setup) or from the truck.

  3. Claire
    Claire December 30, 2016 5:50 pm

    Oh, now that’s a smart use, Bear. Hadn’t thought of that.

    jed — Thanks. Yes, one of the problems in evaluating the jump starters is the inadequate descriptions in some of the listings. From the photos, it’s clear these devices do more than the written descriptions say. And do they do those things well or poorly?

  4. Coyote Hubbard
    Coyote Hubbard December 30, 2016 6:19 pm

    I have that exact model you pictured. Havent had an issue with it in about 9 months… and I use it daily almost since then to start my car. I keep telling myself to buy a new battery, but the old as dirt (84 GL) Subaru has a dead ground that would kill a new battery in no time. Never used the compressor on it, but have used the cig socket for things here and there, and the USB power for stuff.

    Rated starting needs for my Sube is 525 amps, so this works fine.

    Now that it is it winter, i do charge it every other day and leave it out of the car in the warm house except when im on the road of course. So far, its been doing its job fine.

    Now, if we get an EMP, my car will work, but will the Stanley…

  5. jed
    jed December 30, 2016 10:26 pm

    I found the manual for the Schumacher. It states, This inverter uses a nonsinusoidal waveform. Which is what I suspected. I don’t actually expect any of these types of units to provide pure sine wave AC.

    I think the only answer, absent finding a trusted source who’s actually used one, is to do a web search on the make/model, hope to find the owner’s manual, and maybe some unbiased reviews. These days, it seems a web search for almost anything will bring up a plethora of “guide” and “comparison” sites which seem to exist primarly to bring in ad revenue. Well, some of those might be useful for getting a bit more information. One of the ones I found mentioned the quality of the jumper cable clamps – something that hadn’t occurred to me as a thing to look for, but it surely more important than whether it has a cheesey LED light attached to it. (YMMV, but I always have good flashlights around, so that feature is less important to me.)

    If you want to drag it into the house during a power outage, then having an inverter built in is probably worthwhile. I’d want one with both 12V and 5V (USB) output.

    OTOH, there might be something to be said for the simplicity of keeping a spare SLA battery and jumper cables in your car, and sticking it on a battery tender once a month.

  6. GIJeff
    GIJeff December 30, 2016 11:00 pm

    Heya Peeps,

    The compressor, inverter, and charging ports are all practically zero dollar adds that give the manufacturers impressive looking feature sets. Nice to have, but not worth any real money. The compressor is a casual use item, I tried filling the trailer tires I recently bought and the one on the Stanley unit, which is a fairly high end unit, shit the bed before the second tire was filled. Ignore the inverter, you likely won’t get much or any use out of it, discount the usb ports, you can buy cig lighter usb converter units for a dollar or two.

    Pretty much what you need to worry about is the size or capacity of the battery. Also a lot of the newer units have safeties that disallow you to use the jumper cables to power anything that doesn’t already have a voltage, as the Stanley does. My older Cobra didn’t have a safety like that and it was easier to use to power things because the machine didn’t have to read a voltage to put power to the alligator clips. Also it’s nice if the unit has it’s own charger instead of a wall wart. My Stanley just plugs into any extension cord. I currently use it to back up the car battery, power the led lights in my trailer, power the exhaust fan in my trailer and charge my cellphone when I’m using the trailer. The draw is so low on these items it will take a week or so of pretty continuous use to run down the battery enough to need charged.

    GIJeff

  7. Arthur Murray
    Arthur Murray December 31, 2016 3:29 am

    Jump ‘N’ Carry JNC 660, got it for $99.99 on a Gold Box deal. I charge it semi-annually, only used it a few times, don’t carry it around town (I have 30 ft commercial (read: 000 gauge copper from a tow truck supply outfit) jumper cables for that). Uses a regular extension cord for charging, nothing special required. Be aware on jumper cables that Chinese stuff permeates the market now, and it’s copper-coated aluminum; definitely not the same as pure copper cables, but much cheaper, in every sense of the word. Real large gauge pure copper jumper cables are mucho $$$.

    I’ve seen the “pocket size jump starters” advertised, never even handled one so I have no idea how well they work. I’m suspicious, though, because jump starting a car is amperage (current draw) intensive and bigger batteries have more.

    I’d suggest going with a device that’s only a jump starter. Having only 1 function means less chance for problems. If you need an air compressor (why?), if it’s tires, I’d suggest looking at high quality manual tire pumps; Amazon has a Joe Blow for $40 (and other models for more), they’re rugged, reliable, don’t need electricity to work, and spare parts are available (rebuild kit is <$10). If you absolutely have to have a powered air compressor, you now have 1600 watts (2000 surge) to run a small one with the Honda EU2000. Which also has a 12 volt output (a Honda 12V battery charging cable from Amazon is <$13). I know Joel really likes his 12 volt compressor, but my manual pump has never failed me. (Rude questions: how well will a 12 volt air compressor work when the car battery is dead? If the car gets jump started do you want alternator output going to battery charging or to running an air compressor? And, what's the amperage draw on the compressor versus the circuit capacity (read: fuse size) on the cigarette lighter you plug it into?).

    FYI, 115 volt battery chargers today have "safety circuits" that will prevent charging a battery that's completely flat or nearly so. The "safety circuit" prevents charging because if it cannot detect a battery is connected – which requires a certain minimum voltage in the battery – it prevents damaging the charger from a direct short between the + and – terminals. Zero current flow, zero risk iof damage. Also zero charging of your battery, but that's not their problem. There's a simple work-around with Schumacher chargers, don't know about others (unplug from 115 volts, maintain +/- connection to battery, wait 30 seconds, hold down both buttons, plug back in to 115 volts, when the charger cycles on release the two buttons; this puts the charger into unrestricted maximum charging mode – which will damage the charger (and the battery) if left that way longer than 5-6 minutes – but puts enough charge into the battery to raise voltage enough for the charger to detect the battery. After 5 minutes, unplug charger from 115 volts, wait 30 seconds, plug back in. Should charge normally form there).

    As for lights, would you rather have a decent flashlight that fits in your pocket or a 10-15 pound gizmo with a light on it? I'd suggest instead a good LED headlamp + spare batteries – on your head for hands free, in your hand for directing light other places where you want it.

  8. Len Savage
    Len Savage December 31, 2016 5:28 am

    Hey Claire,

    I have had good success with this unit:

    https://www.walmart.com/ip/21804453?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=0&adid=22222222227016811762&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl3=40839827672&wl4=pla-78652913072&wl5=9010893&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=8175035&wl11=online&wl12=21804453&wl13=&veh=sem

    Made in china and the brand is “hung” on it as I have seen the same unit yellow and black under the Stanley brand.

    It’s like a leatherman tool….Not exactly the proper wrench, screwdriver, knife, or tool but small and handy when you need it. I used the crap out of every feature when I went on location and during a couple of power outages.

    I ripped one apart (I learned a lot by pulling it apart) and used its innards in “simple jack” (video of Simple Jack) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0duWhIrMoFY

    I found the same batteries that stores the power in the unit are about $20 on amazon/ebay….meaning when the battery dies (as all do eventually) the unit is serviceable and with a screwdriver you just change it out. The very same battery is used in some robots, and in emergency lighting units.

    I’m sure there are others out there better and worse, just my experience with this one was satisfactory….

  9. s
    s December 31, 2016 12:14 pm

    I used to have a cheap version of the Stanley unit, basically a 12v gel cell with jumper cables, a flashlight, and a 12V socket. It worked fine until the battery died after 6 or more years. It was much too heavy and bulky to carry in the car all the time, it lived in the garage.

    I switched to the Antigravity XP10. This little thing is a monster. Light and small, easy to carry with you in the vehicle, although you can’t put it in checked luggage on an airplane. OK to carry on, for now.

    They claim it will produce 600 amps, and start a 7.3 liter engine. I’ve used it to start a 6.4 liter (390 cubic inch) engine with no problem; it spun the engine faster than the lead-acid battery ever did. I’ve also rescued several motorists who needed a jump, without the bother of maneuvering my car, opening the hood, and connecting my battery to a potentially faulty circuit.

    It has a flashlight, 2 USB ports, a 12 volt port with multi-adapter to fit pretty much every charger, and a 19V port for laptops. There are chargers for AC and car lighter sockets. It comes with a carrying case that holds all the cords and adapters, 10x12x3, and weighs 2 pounds.

    Pricey at $179. They have smaller/cheaper versions, and there are many competitors. I wanted this one because I knew the battery on my 390 cubic-inch engine was getting on in years, and really didn’t want to get stranded. Space and weight are important considerations for me. As far as I’m concerned, that one save paid for it.

  10. Claire
    Claire December 31, 2016 2:32 pm

    Here’s a Living Freedom Amazon link for the Antigravity XP10 that s linked to: http://amzn.to/2hFj2gQ

    Definitely pricey, but elegant concept!

    s, what do you think of the XP5 version for a small 4-cylindar car?

  11. Claire
    Claire December 31, 2016 3:53 pm

    Len — I love it. But … Simple Jack? Simple Jack? Oh, that takes me back to Tropic Thunder!

  12. Ruth
    Ruth January 1, 2017 9:04 am

    I used to carry a really really cheap one. It was great when It worked. But it wouldn’t hold a charge in the cold. Which was of course when I really needed it. Its been a few years, I guess I ought to take another look at them…..

  13. s
    s January 1, 2017 10:04 am

    I’ve only used the XP10, but their claims on that one seem pretty accurate. They rate the XP5 as being able to start a 4-liter engine. That should be more than adequate for most compact cars.

  14. Claire
    Claire January 1, 2017 11:11 am

    Antibubba — Interesting one, though I would hate to be dependent on pedal power! I’ll be curious to hear if anybody’s tried one of those.

    s — Thanks, the XP5 seems quite reasonably priced, all things considered.

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