A portable car battery charger is one tool you’ll want to have handy, even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it. It’s especially important if your vehicle has an older battery or electrical problems that cause the battery to go dead at all the wrong times. I bought one of the smaller battery boosters that plug into the cigarette lighter, a perfect solution for an older compact car that often refused to start in cold weather. Most people choose one of the larger portable jump starters, because they have more power.

As the term implies, a portable car battery charger can be stored in the glove compartment of your car or in the trunk. That way, you’ll have it handy just in case. You won’t get stuck with a dead car in the mall parking lot, and you won’t need to call a friend with jumper cables or ask your insurance company to call a tow truck for you. Most of these small battery boosters will get your car going in just a few minutes, and some models can do the job without you even opening the hood.

I highly recommend the emergency battery chargers that plug into the cigarette lighter plug, like the one I own. These chargers are best for smaller cars, because they may not have enough stored power to charge a completely dead battery in a larger vehicle. There’s no need to open the hood of the car, and there’s no chance of hooking jumper cables to the wrong battery terminals.

Larger jump starters that include built-in jumper cables are better for bigger cars and trucks. Some of these units also include an air compressor to use to pump up automobile and bicycle tires, and some jump starters have warning buzzers that let you know if you’ve connected the cables to the wrong battery terminals.

Depending on the model, some portable battery chargers can be left plugged into a wall outlet in the garage at all times, so the unit is always charged up and ready to be used in an emergency – or just when you need to blow up a beach ball. Others need to be unplugged occasionally, and smaller ones should be plugged in for a few hours once a month or so. It’s important to carefully read the documentation that comes with the unit you buy, so you’ll know it’s ready to use when you need it.

The most popular jump starter now being sold on amazon.com is the Stanley J5C09 500 Amp Jump Starter with Compressor.Portable Car Battery Charger This unit is a bit heavier than some folks like, but the performance and convenience of use seems to make up for its weight. Unlike my in-car battery boosterPortable Car Battery Charger, the Stanly model comes with jumper cables, so you do need to open the hood — but it has enough power to jump-start larger cars and pickups, which an in-car booster cannot do.

Choosing a model that matches your needs and the size of your car battery seems to be the key to being satisfied with your choice of charger.