If you've ever been unable to start your car on a cold morning, you know the importance of getting a quick jump. Until recently, this meant either having an auto club membership or relying on the kindness of strangers, but in in recent years a new solution has come to market: the portable jump starter.
Car battery jump starters and chargers are dense little storage bins for electrical energy, and many come with useful built-in accessories. They'll recharge with standard extension cords, wall-plug adapters, USB ports in running vehicles or cigarette lighter-style 12-volt male adapters. Most portable battery jump starter options offer some combination of these four recharge opttions.
What else can they do? Let's see: power your high-draw laptop computer. With a built-in air compressor it can inflate your raft at the lake or a low tire before you head home from the airport. How about an AC inverter so you can plug in a radio, a lamp or another small appliance? And maybe a dual USB port to charge your phone and another USB device at the same time?
Check out these three top-performing portable jump starters, as judged by CNET's Roadshow team.
WHAT Antigravity Batteries XP-10 Micro-Start
THE COST $199.99
AVAILABLE FROM antigravitybatteries.com
Antigravity's XP-10 Micro-Start was rated best of all in Consumer Reports' most recent test of lithium-ion jump starter portables — cited in particular for its ability to deliver repeated car jump jolts after competitors had been drained. This car jump starter has a multimode LED flashlight and multiple USB charging options for electronics. Antigravity says it will jump V8s up to 7.3 liters. This device is a bit pricey compared to lesser portable jump competitors, but quality counts.
WHAT Black & Decker Portable Power Station Jump Starter PPRH5B
THE COST $119.90
AVAILABLE FROM blackanddecker12volt.com
This is the Swiss Army knife of portable car batteries and chargers. The Black & Decker Power Station features multiple recharge options, a work light, a 120-psi air compressor, USB taps and a 500-watt AC inverter with two plugs to run small appliances. That all makes it truly handy, with a solid 17 amp hours of stored power. It's a heavyweight battery at 20 pounds, but it's also smartly packaged with a convenient grab handle. The Power Station does it all.
WHAT Schumacher ProSeries 2250 Jump Starter
THE COST $377.99
AVAILABLE FROM batterychargers.com
From a trusted name in automotive electrics, the ProSeries 2250 gets 100% satisfaction from buyers on several shopping sites. This car jump starter has a vibration-resistant absorbent glass mat battery, a 400-watt AC inverter with two plugs and enough cranking amps to start just about any light-to medium-duty vehicle with a dead battery out there.
Best of all, it comes with one of the largest capacity batteries you'll find. Schumacher says it can feed a 200-watt AC draw for 55 minutes, and 100 watts for 90 minutes.
The following CNET staff contributed to this story: the CNET Roadshow staff and copy editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit cnet.com.