There are so many vehicles and so many different types of jumper cables on the market; have you ever wondered ‘What size jumper cables do I need?’ It’s not that complicated, the following chart will give you an idea of what size you need.
Find your car type or similar on the left-hand side and follow across, to the right. For a more detailed explanation of the items on the chart keep reading, below the chart.
I did leave off hybrid cars and diesel vehicles because they require specialized equipment.
JUMPER CABLE QUICK REFERENCE SIZE CHART
TOPDC Jumper Cables
TOPDC Jumper Cables
Full Size Car
Minimum: 6 Ga
SUV / Minivan
Energizer Jumper Cables
Minimum: 4 Ga
Energizer Jumper Cables
Minimum: 4 Ga
Energizer Jumper Cables
Minimum: 4 Ga
Minimum: 4 Ga
- Ga= Gauge
Below are some things to consider when selecting a good set of jumper cables. Read through below to educate yourself and make an informed decesion on the size jumper cables you need.
- JUMPER CABLE QUICK REFERENCE SIZE CHART
- What are some factors to consider when choosing a set of jumper cables?
- What gauge jumper cable do I need?
- Jumper Cable Amperage
- What are the red and black colors on Jumper Cables?
- Can jumper cables shock you?
- What happens if I accidentally reverse the jumper cables?
- Damage to the battery.
- Damage to Electrical Components
- Damage Due to Reverse Polarity
- Damage to the Jumper Cables
- Final Thoughts…
What are some factors to consider when choosing a set of jumper cables?
There are basically four things to consider when choosing the best set of jumper cables for you:
- The gauge of the wire
- The length of the cables
- The material of the clip
- The type of insulation
So let’s take a look at each one of these factors in determining the best jumper cable for you. The gauge of the wire we have already discussed. But to recap, in general, the lower the gauge the better off you are. A 4 gauge is recommended, but you may be able to get away with a 6 gauge wire, for a small car. For a large pickup, a 1 or 2 gauge wire may be appropriate.
What gauge jumper cable do I need?
In the above chart, I gave a recommended gauge and a preferred gauge for your set of jumper cables. The thinner gauge may be less expensive, however, it may not be able to get the job done.
I bet you didn’t even know that this would matter to you. What is the gauge of jumper cables? The gauge refers to the thickness of the wire. The thicker the wire the lower the gauge number. The thicker the wire the more electricity is allowed to pass through and the quicker you can jump your car battery. Most mechanics recommend jumper cables that are 4 gauge in thickness. Why?
So a typical range of jumper cables will run from a 1 gauge to a 12 gauge wire. So what do you need to consider when choosing a set of jumper cables? Given the information, we already have a 1 gauge jumper cable is a pretty heavy-duty, while a 12 is considerably lighter.
For instance, a set of jumper cables with a gauge rating of 10 would jump-start a severely drained battery (not a dead battery) during the warm summer months.
This is probably not the set of jumper cables you want to be carrying around with you. As mentioned, most mechanics recommend a jumper cable with a 4 gauge rating, this will suit most of your needs and in most circumstances.
How Long Should Jumper Cables Be?
This may be even more important than the gauge of the wire. Why? Well, when your battery dies or your car doesn’t start. your car may not be in the most convenient of positions. So you need to have a wire that will be able to give you some flexibility.
While ten-foot jumper cables will be good enough for two vehicles facing each other. You may not always have this luxury.
Having a longer set of jumper cables will give you much more flexibility in the positioning of your car. A longer set of jumper cables will allow you even to pull up behind a car and jump start it from the rear.
A shorter set of cables will be less expensive. Again, if the jumper cables can’t reach to do their job, what good are they?
I had a set of cables that was eight feet long, I thought that was long enough until I tried to use them. I practically had to have the bumpers of the cars touching in order to be able to connect the two batteries together.
A 10 – 15 foot set of cables would have been much more ideal. However, the gauge of the wire does come into play here. A lower gauge wire will typically be longer because more current can move through the wire. Hence the recommended 4 gauge wire jumper cables.
The material of the clip.
The clip is the end that makes the connection to the battery. This is the first and last point of contact for the electricity to make its way from one battery to another. The clips on jumper cables have a copper appearance.
This is important because those clips are either made of copper or are only plated with copper. Copper is a great conductor of electricity so the clips that are only plated will not be as good.
After a few times using the cables the copper plating will wear off and the cables won’t work as well. Because underneath the copper plating is steel, which does not conduct electricity as well, in turn, you will have a more difficult time jumping your car. In contrast, the cables that are made of copper will continue to conduct electricity even if they are a little scratched up.
How can you tell if the cables are made of solid copper? The best way is to read the manufacturer’s description. Or if you are ordering online, read the customer questions. The price will also be a good indicator. The more expensive jumper cables will be made of a more conductive material.
Thickness of the Insulation
This is another important factor in considering what jumper cables you are going to purchase. This is especially important in colder climates. Generally speaking, the more expensive the jumper cables the better the insulation will be.
In colder climates, this is important because the cables can get brittle if left out in the cold temperatures. So, if it’s ten degrees outside and you unroll your jumper cables, you could risk actually breaking the wire. Good insulation will protect the wire from this.
Also, better insulation will resist wearing down quickly. If there is exposed wire on the cables, you could cause a superheated arc somewhere you don’t want, namely anywhere. You risk damaging your car, shocking yourself, or possibly an explosion.
So, yes you could pick up a cheap pair of cables that will do the job. However, if you invest a little more money you can have a better set of cables that will last longer and not fail you when you need it.
Jumper Cable Amperage
What is Jumper Cable Amperage?
The simple answer is; amperage is how much current your car engine is trying to pull to get started again.
A small car with a small battery will require less amperage to start than a large pickup truck or SUV. If you are driving a Honda Civic, jumper cables rated 400 (A), will allow more than enough power to jump-start your car.
Conversely, a large V-8 pickup truck will require more amperage to turn the engine over. So, you will need a set of jumper cables rated 800 (A), in order for your jump to be successful.
Since jumper cables are somewhat universal, we can speak in general terms when selecting jumper cables. Again, 400 (A), will be sufficient for most cars. To be safe, for a small pickup truck (i.e. Toyota Tacoma), a 600 (A) set of jumper cables would be a safer bet.
Can I Have too much Amperage?
Jumper cable amperage ranges anywhere from 150 (A) to 1000 (A). The lighter weight cables are on the lower end of this range, while heavy-gauge cables are on the higher end.
So, where do you fall? You want to make sure that your jumper cables will allow enough amperage to turn over your vehicle. If the jumper cables are placed correctly, you won’t overload your battery if you have more amperage than you need.
However, if you don’t have ENOUGH amperage; then the jump start won’t work because there is not enough juice to turn over the engine.
Let’s look at a real-life example. You have a full-size Honda Accord. Hypothetically, it takes 200 (A) to turn the engine over. In your emergency car kit, you have a 400 (A) set of jumper cables. Assuming you properly place the jumper cables, you will jump-start your car. With no damage to your car.
Let’s take the same example and say you have a cheaper 150 (A) set of jumper cables. This set of cables will not provide adequate amperage that your car will need to get the engine started.
The point? It is better to have a little more oomph in the cables than not enough.
What are the red and black colors on Jumper Cables?
The red and black colors on jumper cables allow you to distinguish between the positive wire (red) and the negative wire (black). These correspond to the positive and negative terminals on your battery. When jump-starting your car you need to connect the positive (RED WIRE) to the positive battery terminal and the negative (BLACK WIRE) to the negative terminal.
On your battery, there may be several ways you can tell the positive terminal from the negative terminal. First, you will see a large ‘+’ sign for the positive terminal and a large ‘-’ sign for the negative terminal. Also, you may see a thick red wire connecting to the positive terminal and a thick black wire connecting to the negative terminal.
Can jumper cables shock you?
One of the fears that you may have when trying to jump-start your car with jumper cables is that you can shock yourself with the cables. The short answer is maybe, but you have to take very deliberate steps to do it.
If you follow the steps outlined here; you will not be in danger of shocking yourself. Without getting into the math (which I don’t understand) the amount of voltage that a car battery produces (12v) is very low. Your body offers up to much resistance for a truly dangerous current to travel through.
The connection across the battery offers much less resistance than your body, so the current travels through the automobile. I have used jumper cables dozens of times and have never been electrocuted or received a shock. Just exercise some common sense and follow the outlined procedures and you will not shock yourself.
It should be noted that you can cause sparks by touching the ends of the jumper cables together. DO NOT DO THIS. This is dangerous because it can cause the battery to explode. You will also ruin your jumper cables.
There is plenty of amperage in a car battery to cause the jumper cables to melt. So while the voltage is very low and probably will not hurt you, the amperage is high enough, that when mishandled could lead to injury.
There are components of a car’s electrical system that can cause a shock or for you to be electrocuted, this is your ignition system and spark plug wire. However, if you are simply jump-starting your car you shouldn’t be anywhere near these systems.
Finally, Hybrid vehicles are a different matter. I do not recommend jump-starting a hybrid. I don’t have any experience with them. From what I understand, they carry significantly more voltage than your standard car battery. Please follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures when dealing with a hybrid vehicle.
What happens if I accidentally reverse the jumper cables?
Again, follow the steps outlined here so that this does not happen. But if you are the curious type, this is what can happen if you reverse the polarity on your jumper cables. Hint…It’s bad, don’t do it.
Damage to the battery.
This should go without saying, you will damage or destroy not only the dead battery but also the donor battery. The batteries are designed to produce a large electrical current to start the car.
When the positive of one battery is connected to the negative of the other battery the result is a superheated battery very quickly. This is no joke because it will cause the internals of both batteries to melt, thereby destroying the battery.
When the internals of the battery begins to heat up it produces hydrogen gas. This is bad for several reasons. The outside plastic casing of the battery is also getting very hot and starting to melt.
The melting casing combined with the pressure from the hydrogen gas on the inside will cause the casing to crack. At this point the battery is useless, but also you are now at serious risk of explosion. The hydrogen gas is highly volatile and any little spark will ignite the gas.
Damage to Electrical Components
Worse than damage to the battery is the possible damage to the other electrical components in your vehicle. This could range anywhere from some simple fuses to the alternator to any other component in the electrical system. There are fuses in place to protect your vehicle from such a surge of power, and these can be easily replaced.
A more serious component that can be damaged is the alternator. This is particularly true of the donating car. If you leave your car running for any length of time with the cables reversed you could seriously damage the alternator of the car that is supposed to be helping you. The alternator is the car’s powerhouse, if that is damaged, all bets are off you are going to need some more serious repairs.
Damage Due to Reverse Polarity
When the jumper cables are used incorrectly, the polarity of the car’s electrical system is reversed for a short period of time. Think about all of the electronic systems in your car.
There is the main computer, the ignition system, lights, power windows and locks almost everything is controlled by an electrical system. There could be unknown damage to any of these systems after incorrectly trying to jump your car. Take the time to do it right, it doesn’t take any longer.
Damage to the Jumper Cables
At this point, this should be the least of your concerns, but you will probably irreparably damage the jumper cables. Remember, reversing the positive and negative cables causes the batteries to heat up very quickly. All of that heated electrical current is traveling through the jumper cables.
This will cause the clamps themselves to melt and be unusable and possibly weld themselves to the battery terminal. It will cause the insulation to melt, which you can burn yourself on and expose the wire; which exposes you to raw electrical current. Most likely you will need a new set of jumper cables after this experience.
This wasn’t meant to scare you. As I have mentioned before I have jumped started cars using jumper cables dozens of times and never once have I reversed the polarity of the cables. Just take your time and pay attention, respect your vehicle and you will be fine. Now at least, you are aware of the consequences of being careless.
Selecting a set of jumper cables is not rocket science, but you want to make sure that you get the right size that will do the job. The chart above is a little on the safe side. Going a little bit bigger and a little bit longer will cost you a little more money; but when you need the jumper cables you know that they will work. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.
Safe travels people…