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Booster cables

You literally get what you
pay for when buying booster cables. The primary quality and price determinants
are gauge size followed by clamp type and overall cable capacity.

A great example of the range
in prices for booster cables can be found at O’Reilly Auto Parts, which offers
one of the widest selections on the market. A pair of 10-gauge O’Reilly cables
(10 feet) costs $11. Next in price order comes an 8-gauge pair (12 feet) for
$22, followed by a 6-gauge pair (12 feet) for $26, a 4-gauge pair (20 feet) for
$36, a 2-gauge pair (20 feet) for $45, and a 1-gauge pair (25 feet) for $104.

So is the extra money for a
pair of 1-gauge cables worth it?

That depends on the size of
engine you’re trying to jump and the weather conditions you’re working in.

A pair of 10-gauge cables
could jump a small car with a weak battery (as opposed to a completely dead
one) if it were the middle of summer. But those same cables would fail to boost
a large tractor with 24-volt batteries that are drained in the middle of
winter. (For further information, see “Starting Power Requirements” on page
36.)

The bottom line is larger
gauge cables have greater current capacity.

Electrical current, measured
in amps, describes the number of electrons flowing through a circuit. Simply
put, amperage is how much an engine is trying to suck through the wiring
whether that be a battery cable or a pair of jumper cables.

So if you’re trying to jump
a battery with 200-amp potential from a 200-amp booster battery using a pair of
jumper cables with 80-amp capacity, bad things might happen.

High levels of current
running through a small amount of conducting material may cause that material
to heat up. And if the circuit is left running for too long, the conducting
wire (and the insulation surrounding it) may be destroyed as a result of this
heat.

Also bear in mind that
engines consume direct current (DC), which becomes less efficient at conducting
electricity (compared to alternating current) as a circuit (like jumper cables)
grows longer. Therefore, shorter cables are more efficient at transferring
power than a longer set, unless those cables are larger in diameter.

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Here are three things to
consider when shopping for booster cables.

1.  The Wiring.

Make sure the wire is made
of pure copper and is wrapped in insulation that provides adequate temperature
capacity.

2. Clamp Amperage Capacity.

A quality difference between
low-cost and high-cost cables can be found in the clamp. Cheaper cables often
employ clamps with no more than 150- to 200-amp capacity. Notice the 500- to
700-amp capacities for the cables in the table on page 34.

3. Clamp Type.

There are performance
differences between clamp types. Standard-type couplers (alligator-type or
crocodile-type clamps) can offer large amperage capacities and are great for
reaching into tight spots.

But the most aggressive,
tight-clamping, and durable clamps around are parrot-jaw types.

Parrot jaws grab onto
terminals like a bulldog on a fresh bone and are less likely to be pulled off
if the jumper cables are tugged on.

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Other clamp features you’ll
want to look for when buying cables include:

  • Strain-relief connection
    (where the cable attaches to the clamp), which alleviates unwanted tension on
    cables.
  • Clamp springs that are
    made of surgical steel as they maintain their coil strength.
  • Jaws that are made of 100%
    copper as they offer exceptional current-carrying ability and reliable
    connection.

One Drawback

There is one drawback to the
heavy-duty cables, and that is their weight. For example, those 10-gauge,
10-foot O’Reilly cables mentioned before weigh less than 5 pounds. In
comparison, the heavyweights featured in the table tip the scales at 15 to 20
pounds.  

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