How to use a portable jump starter

Dead batteries tend to happen for a variety of reasons, and no matter what it is, it’s guaranteed to be frustrating. Some situations are prohibitive to getting another vehicle close enough to use booster cables, and it’s often anxiety-provoking to jump-start a car with dangerous moving parts just a few inches away. Fortunately, there are now portable jump starter packs available for just that purpose.

You’ll find inexpensive portable car jump starter devices for under $40 or nearly $2,000, but most jump starter packs are in the $100 to $300 range. They often do more than just boost a dead battery as well.

This guide will explain what portable car battery jumper packs are all about, show you how to use a portable jump starter, and describe the difference between a jump starter and a battery charger.

What is a portable jump starter?

In a situation where you jump-start a dead battery on a car, truck, boat, RV, or motorcycle, you connect booster cables from the terminals of the recovery vehicle to the dead battery’s posts. It uses the donor’s battery storage and alternator’s power generation to quickly enable a start. 

Essentially, a portable jump starter does a similar function without needing a second vehicle. It’s more convenient, faster, and its size makes it perfect to use remotely and take with you when there’s no help around for miles. 

Inside the jump starter is a compact yet powerful battery that can often start an engine more than a dozen times over without being recharged. Two leads come out the side – a red positive lead and a black negative lead – that clamp to your battery terminals without worrying that you’ve mixed up the order between the vehicles. It’s almost foolproof, and you’re unlikely to fry any electronics with it. 

The massive price range is due to the power capacity and other options the portable car jump starter contains. One of the main determiners is the type of battery it possesses. Lead-acid and lithium-ion jump starters are the two main variants, and Li-ion is smaller, more powerful, and lighter, thus it’s more expensive.

Some higher-end boosters can jump-start 6-volt, 12-volt, and 24-volt systems. Others have USB chargers built in, or they could have LED work lights, and others yet have an inverter to power 110-volt household devices. While some are simply jump starters, others are multi-tools.

How to use a portable jump starter

Time needed: 30 minutes

As with any equipment you purchase, read the instructions to get specific directions on its functions and safe operation. Using a portable jump starter is something every driver should know, and it’s a great idea to test it out before you actually need it in a time-sensitive situation.

  1. Charge it up

    Most portable jump starters come with some juice in the battery when it’s delivered, but charge it fully before you need it. Usually, it’s a common household plug and a port on the side of the device.

  2. Figure out your connections

    Some booster packs have hardwired cables while others have quick-attach options. Determine which connectors you will need and get your jump starter set up.

  3. Attach the cables

    Connect your jump starter to the battery directly, if you can. Clamp the red cable to the positive (+) post on the battery and the black cable to the negative (-) post. Often, you’ll get an indicator light up or a tone if you’ve connected it wrong.

  4. Place it in a safe location

    Prop the device up so that it won’t be in the way of moving parts when the engine starts.

  5. Turn it on

    If there’s a power switch, now’s when you turn it on. Never turn a portable jump starter on before it’s connected properly and you’re about to crank the engine over.

  6. Start the engine

    Crank the engine over until it starts. If the problem was battery power, your engine should fire right up.

  7. Disconnect the jump starter

    With the engine running, turn off the power switch (if equipped) and carefully disconnect the cables from the battery posts.

If you’re looking to charge a USB device like a smartphone or power a small appliance like a toaster while you’re camping, use the outlets like you normally would at home. For some portable car jump starter packs, you won’t need to turn the power switch on while for others you will. 

Battery chargers vs. portable jump starters

Portable jump starters are fantastic in a pinch, but there’s a reason you have a dead battery you need to boost. Plenty of drivers will boost the battery and just drive, hoping to replenish the charge. In some cases, this works, but not always. It can result in sulfation or a surface charge that could leave you stranded again. 

It’s best to use a battery charger to fully charge your car’s battery as soon as you’re able. These devices meter power at a slow, steady rate so your battery’s health isn’t compromised. 

You can buy a portable jump starter at AutoZone from some of the best brands in the industry to get your engine running again. Wondering what the best option is for your needs? An associate can help you find the most applicable option for your situation.

FAQ/People Also Ask

How do you use portable jump starter power? 

In most cases, it’s as easy as connecting the two cables on the jump starter to your battery posts and cranking the engine over.

How do you jump a car with a portable charger?

Connect the red clamp to the positive post and the black clamp to the negative post. Then, turn the portable charger on and crank the engine over.

How do you jump start a dead battery with a jump starter? 

Just like jump-starting a car with booster cables, connect the cables to your battery terminals. Then, switch the device on and start the engine.

How do I know when my jump starter is charged?

Each device has its own signal that it’s charged. Some have a small screen with a charge percentage on it while others have status LEDs you can monitor.

How long does it take to charge a portable jump starter? 

The charge time depends heavily on the size and battery capacity. It could take under an hour or it could take several hours to charge the car battery jumper portable device. Check your owner’s manual for specific charge times.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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