Being a superhero in real life doesn’t require a costume or superpowers. You can be a hero on the road simply by carrying a jump starter with you that can help re-start a stranded car. Having jump starting gear on hand in the winter time is key because batteries are placed under stress in cold weather and often need a re-start.

Before trying to jump-start your vehicle, it’s smart to have a basic understanding of how a car battery works. In a helpful article, Firestone explains some key points. The battery uses a chemical reaction to create electrical power. Cables deliver this power from the battery to the vehicle’s starter, which requires voltage to start the engine.

When the battery doesn’t have enough power to deliver the voltage needed for the starter, the vehicle won’t start. When your battery is low on power, you can jump-start the battery by giving it the boost of power it needs to allow the car to start.

Car batteries eventually wear out and fail. Most vehicle batteries will last for three to five years, according to NAPA. Extremely hot weather isn’t good for the lifespan of the battery, though, and neither are constant short trips of 20 minutes or less.

Cold weather also creates problems for a car battery, as the cold weather stresses and drains the battery, causing it to struggle to generate the initial burst of power needed to start the vehicle. That’s why a vehicle can be more difficult to start in cold weather.

Types of jump starters

There are a few different types of jump starters you can buy for your car.

  • Jumper cables: With a set of jumper cables, you receive two cables with clamps on either end. Jumper cables give you a quick means of starting a car with a dead battery, according to Popular Mechanics, as long as you have a charged battery available, too. Make sure the jumper cable is 4- or 6-gauge in size and is as long as possible. Check with the user manual for your vehicle for any specific instructions on jump-starting the car safely.
  • Portable jump starter: A portable jump starter delivers a jolt of electricity to the battery of your vehicle as you’re trying to start it, according to JumpStart Expert, giving the drained battery the boost it needs to start the vehicle. Portable jump starters, which store power like a battery, will need to be charged before they can be used. But you don’t need a second vehicle available to use this device to jump-start a car with them.
  • Trickle charger: A trickle charger typically will plug into a wall outlet and deliver power to a battery over a long period of time. This is different than the sudden jolt of power a portable jump starter delivers. With a trickle charger, you’re trying to keep the battery at a high enough charge level that it will be able to start the car when needed. For example, you may keep a battery on a trickle charger overnight when the temperatures are really cold.

Before using any type of jump starter, make sure you know exactly how to use it safely. If you make a major error in setting up the jump starting device or use it incorrectly, you could create a dangerous situation. After all, we are dealing with electricity here. Or you could cause damage to your vehicle. In other words, when jump starting a car, be careful, use common sense, and ask for help when you need it. Now on to our top picks for the best jump starters you can buy.