Car batteries fail. It’s a fact. Most of us have jumped in our cars and heard that dreaded click at one point or another. The dashboard lights go dim, and nothing happens when you turn the ignition.
The problem is, it always seems to happen at the most inconvenient time. We are either in a rush to meet someone or already late!
One of the quickest ways to get you up and running again is by jump-starting your car from another battery, using jump leads. But which set of jump leads should you buy? We answer that question in this brief article.
1 Gauge vs. 2 Gauge vs. 4 Gauge: Differences to consider when buying jumper cables
#1 Difference: Thickness of wire
Wire thickness is one of the most important factors when choosing your jumper cables. But what do the gauge numbers mean? In reality, it’s simple, with 1 gauge wire being the thickest and higher number gauges getting increasingly thinner.
Why is wire gauge so important? Simply because the thicker the wire, the more current it can carry.
Jump-starting a car with cables needs a very high current flow for a short time. Too thin a wire gauge and the cable will not supply enough current to start your car. In addition, using a thin cable can be dangerous. The current flow will most likely exceed the maximum allowed for the cable, which will quickly cause over-heating and can melt the insulation.
The difference in jumper cable continuous amp rating is based on the thickness of the wire. This is different from the peak amp rating, which could be much higher but only possible for a few seconds.
- 1 gauge cable: Single-core 1 gauge wire is rated at 180 amps, and this drops to 55 amps if there are 43 cores or more.
- 2 gauge cable: Single-core 2 gauge wire is rated at 170 amps, dropping to 57 amps for cables with 43 cores or more.
- 4 gauge cable: A 4 gauge single-core is rated at 120 amps, reduced to just 35 amps in a cable of 43 or more cores.
#2 Difference: Type of Wire
There are basically two types of cable to choose from, either solid copper or copper-clad aluminum.
Solid copper cables can carry much higher currents than copper-clad aluminum cables. They also offer much less electrical resistance and therefore generate less heat in the cable. Either is acceptable, but if you can afford solid copper, it is the better choice.
#3 Difference: Length of Cable
Short cables may seem like a good idea, as they take up less space. However, longer cables are far more flexible when connecting two car batteries. The last thing you want to do is push a car with a flat battery to hook up to the vehicle with a good battery.
For this reason alone, buying cables of longer length is preferable. At a minimum, 20 foot cables are okay, but cables of 25 feet or 30 feet will make your life easier.
How do I choose a Jump Start Cable?
First, consider what you will be using them for. If you only need them for emergency starts of your car, then a thinner gauge set will be fine and give you years of reliable service. If you own a large motorhome or truck with large engines and high-capacity batteries, then 2 gauge or 1 gauge will be a better choice.
Once you know which gauge cable you need, look for fully insulated, good-quality clamps. Lastly, check that the cables remain flexible in cold conditions if you live in a cold climate. Trying to straighten frozen cables is not only a pain but will damage the wires at the same time.
Jumper Cable Recommendations
Below are the best choices for jumper cables based on the wire gauge size.
Best 1-Gauge Jumper Cables For Large Engined Vehicles
Best 1 Gauge Cables for Occasional Use
At around $55, the Energizer 1 gauge cables are the mid-priced option in this group. Boasting an impressive 800 amp peak current rating, fully insulated clamps, and 25 feet long, they make an excellent choice.
The cables are copper-clad aluminum instead of solid copper, but the thick vinyl insulation offers excellent protection.
They include a quality carry bag in the price, making these Energizer cables ideal to keep in your trunk in case of emergencies.
Best Budget 1 Gauge Jumper Cables
The Cartman heavy-duty booster cables give you excellent jump-starting performance at a reasonable price. You get 25-foot cables with a peak current rating of 800 amps, making them ideal for large SUVs and small trucks.
Of course, at a low price, there must be some compromises. In Cartman’s case, the cable is copper-coated aluminum (CCA), not solid copper. The other cost-saving is in the clamps, where the plastic covers only protect the handles.
If you are confident using cables for jump-starting, these downsides probably won’t bother you.
The Ultimate Jumper Cables for All Uses
If you are looking for the ultimate jump-starting cables, then the THIKPO G130 fits the bill. Made from pure solid copper 1 gauge cable and 30 feet in length, they are perfect for most vehicles. The heavy-duty clamps are entirely covered in rubber for safety and feature strong springs for safe connection.
Offering a 1,000 amp peak current rating, the cables are suitable for cars, trucks, and SUVs with up to 8-liter gasoline engines or 6-liter diesel engines.
Add in a two-year warranty and the sturdy carry case, and these are jumper cables for life.
Best 2-Gauge Jumper Cables For Medium Size Vehicles
Best 2 Gauge Jumper Cables
Another choice from Energizer, but this time it’s their well-priced 2 gauge alternative. This set is perfect for mid-to large-engine-sized vehicles at $20 less than their similar 1 gauge product but still giving 800 amps peak current.
They wrapped the copper-clad aluminum cables in thick vinyl insulation, and they remain useable at temperatures down to -40 degrees celsius. Compared to the 1 gauge offering, this set is shorter at 20 feet but long enough for most intended applications.
If you don’t intend to jump-start huge engine vehicles, these could be perfect for your trunk.
Good Alternative 2 Gauge Jumper Cables
These 20 foot long, 450 amp jumper cables from TOPDC offer an excellent choice for mid-sized engine vehicles. The thick cable insulation remains flexible, even at -40 degrees celsius, while the fully covered clamps protect you from getting a shock.
They supply a battery post cleaning brush, along with a connection guide and strong carry bag. For occasional use, to jump-start cars, motorcycles, and small vans, the TOPDC cables should give you years of reliable service.
Best 4-Gauge Jumper Cables for Smaller Vehicles
Best Fully Featured 4 Gauge Jumper Cables
If you need a set of jumper cables for emergency use on your car, then the Energizer 4 gauge set is all you need. Rated up to 400 amps, peak use, with clamps that can take 1000 amps, they have plenty of current capacity.
Built-in to the fully coated clamps are functional LED lights, perfect for when you break down in the dark. The only real downside to this jumper cable is the length at 16 feet. If you are jumping one car from another, you will have to position the vehicles carefully.
Best Lightweight 4 Gauge Jump-Starter Cables
The AstroAI jumper cables are the only set here that has UL testing standard certification. If the UL standard is essential to you, and you are only jump-starting smaller vehicles, then buy this set.
However, compared to the Energizer 4 gauge set, the AstroAI has a weak peak current capability at just 235 amps. That’s okay for smaller batteries but may prove a limiting factor on larger-engine vehicles.
These cables are 20 feet long on the plus side, making connections between two cars relatively easy.