If you’ve gotten stuck with a dead battery, you know how important it is to have jumper cables in your car. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to never have the misfortune of turning the key and your car won’t start, but battery failure is the number one cause of vehicle breakdowns. It can be hard to tell that there’s a breakdown coming up, and after one occurs, your dead car battery diagnosis may surprise you.
You may not always be able to spot the signs pointing to an imminent battery failure, so you’re better off having a set of jumper cables with you than not having them. Cables come in different gauges and knowing what gauge is best for your particular vehicle will help you make the right purchase decision.
What Is the Best Gauge for Jumper Cables?
A cable’s gauge tells you how thick it is. The thicker the cable, the greater the amount of electricity that can pass through it. Jumper cables come in gauges ranging from 1 through 12. It may not sound intuitive, but the higher the gauge number, the thinner the wire is. A 1 gauge jumper cable is therefore the thickest and can carry the greatest amount of electricity. This gauge is for heavy-duty use and may reflect an overkill approach to most jump-start situations.
Mechanics generally recommend a 4 gauge jumper cable for full-size, intermediate and compact cars. The thicker wire in a 2 gauge cable will, however, be better suited to the needs of vans, pickup trucks and sports cars. Even the best motorcycle batteries have a lower power rating than car batteries, so a 10 gauge jumper cable should cover most bike needs.
How Do I Choose a Booster Cable?
Jumper cables may also be called booster cables because they “boost” a discharged battery from another power source. When choosing a booster cable, there are other factors to consider than wire gauge, such as the cable’s length. You don’t get to pick the spot where your battery dies. Where you get stuck can make it difficult for another vehicle to give you a battery boost if it can’t get close enough to yours because the cables are too short.
A 10-foot cable might be less expensive than a 20-foot cable, but it may only enable you to get your car started if the other vehicle is directly facing yours. A longer cable length can make a big difference if your car is stuck in a pull-in parking slot with other vehicles parked around it. Under these circumstances, you may appreciate the flexibility afforded by a longer cable length. A long enough cable would allow another vehicle to boost your car from the rear.
How Important Are the Cable Clamps?
Cable clamps come in alligator-teeth or parrot-beak styles. The alligator style tends to be a popular choice because of its better grip. Conductivity is also an important factor. Solid copper clamps can provide better long-term service than those made of CCA, which is copper-coated aluminum.
Your choice may come down to a combination of factors that include cable gauge, length, clamp type and cost. Head out to a reputable auto parts dealer and you’ll be sure to find both expert advice and a wide selection of booster cables to choose from.