When my car battery died, my son came over to give me a jump. The jumper cables looked rather small, maybe 5/16 inch, including insulation. He got them from a website that sells close-outs and features only one item per day. Well, I hooked them up -- no spark. I found that to be a bit odd, so I left them on for a while, but the battery did not charge. I disconnected the cables and measured the voltage at the clips -- 12V. I figured there must be a high-resistance contact somewhere.
Later, after other cables got my car started, I did a post-mortem. I examined one of the wire crimps, and it looked like only a few strands were crimped and the rest must have been cut off by mistake. Not so! After cutting off the alligator clip, I noticed that the cable was almost all plastic, with just a tiny core of copper -- maybe #22 AWG. This is not good enough for lamp cord, but maybe speaker wire. Who makes jumper cables out of such thin wire? Monkeys!
This entry was submitted by Noor Singh Khalsa and edited by Rob Spiegel.
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I have to agree re: contingencies. The story gets better: the emergency kit came with a "socket set", 1/4" drive. Small, cheapie sockets that are driven by a plastic-handled drive. I tried to use them to remove the 10mm nut on my battery post, and the plastic handle broke away from the metal shaft on the first try. BTW, I'm not going to name the website where he bought it, but it rhymes with POOT.
That's crazy that there were plastic socket drive parts, and such small gauge jumper wires!
But, I have to defend the mentioned *oot site. I've bought many items from there over the years, and like anywhere else, you have to know what you're buying. I like my "leakfrog" water detectors that I got from that site, and I've even bought my first flat screen TV from there and haven't had any problems with the stuff.
Besides, where else can you buy a random "Bag Of Crap"? :)
This seems like an extreme case of what I have almost always found with combo emergency kits. Take a checklist of what should be in such a kit and then try to include items that nominally fill every need on the list for a combined total material cost of $2.99 or less. Jumper cables? check(speaker wire). Socket set? Check (plastic). Road flares? Check. Never mind that what are labeled "road flares" would, in any other context, be labeled "book matches."
Occasionally, I've found a kit with some decent components and a decent case. That at least provides a starting point. Replace the junk either now or over time with more robust components, and you might have a useful kit.
Yes, I actually have an expendible toolkit with sockets & open-end wrenches that I bought for about $30 at Wally World which I toss in the vehicle for outings, and it's been useful a number of times. I wouldn't pull the head with the tools, but I wouldn't scream for blood if they were stolen, either. But I draw the line at brittle plastic handles. It's dangerous enough as it is, pulling terminals off an unfused energy source, 60-100A output, that produces hydrogen gas as well. May years ago, while pulling the +24V lead off of a jeep battery set, I contacted the chassis with the other end of the metal wrench, and it instantly welded. What a mess!
My jumper cables are long, very heavy, and a bit awkward and cumbersome to use, but they get the job done every time. One recent evening I was walking through the university parking structure after teaching my class when two damsels in distress inquired whether I had jumper cables. Paraphrasing Paul Hogan's Crocadile Dundee character, I pulled mine out of the boot of my car, saying, "THAT's a jumper cable!" I have always made sure my wife has high-quality jumper cables in her car and knows how to use them safely, and we have done a few jumper cable and flat tire change drills in our driveway.
Reminds me of a 220 volt plug strip I bought over in asia once. Out of curiosity I hacked it open and discovered unisulated wire no larger than 22 or smaller gauge wire bused along the receptacle poles. And people over there use these to run appliances! They would never get a UL rating over here.
Was the powere strip for use in "USA" kind of 220 service or "Asia/Euro" service? Years ago I rewired a decorative lamp that we bought in Egypt. The lamp was wired for Egyptian 220/240 volt service. It takes less current at 220 than at 110 to deliver the juice to powere a 20 watt lamp, and the original conductors were too small for 110/120 volt service. In the US, we use 220/240 because we need more power than we can safely/economically get with 110. We expect high current conductors for our 220. So I'm wondering if your power strip was intended for lamps and low power electronics rather than the window air conditioner. Then again, maybe it was indeed just cheap junk.
Before anyone makes "carte blanche" statements about wire gauge & load, it is imperative to understand that there are several "standards" in effect when it comes to wiring practice. For example, anyone who has ever owned an electric cook range, will know that when the house was wired for it, the electrician ran a "fat" cable to the dedicated receptacle, or IF the range was direct-wired, then the cable lay on the floor behind the range. But, IF you remove the back access panel to the range, you'll no doubt see two very small gauge wires (AWG #12) running from the main terminal block. These conductors feed the entire range, so, when you're cooking that 25 lb. turkey in the oven, and all four top burners are on w/ the potatoes & vegetables, etc., the entire load of that range is being fed by those "light" gauge wires.
Now, I'm NOT suggesting that light gauge cable is OK for battery jumper cables. Quite the contrary! What I am suggesting is that one cannot apply one standard for wire-sizing for ALL applications.
In the case of the battery jumping, it's the in-rush current to the starter motor that is MOST important, since that can easily be in the order of 500 to 750 amperes for that brief transient moment to overcome all the static friction & inertial load that the starter motor must overcome.
Spend $70 and get a "Jiffy Jump" or equivalent. Keep it in your trunk and top it off every 3 months or so. I've used mine for about 5-10 years now and it's never let me down (with lot's of jumps under its belt over that time).
It has a load connect switch so you can connect it directly to the dead battery without worrying about a spark blowing your face off (not with the Jiffy Jump, but I've had batteries blow, not pleasant).
Not sure how dangerous 22 AWG wire would be in jumper cables. It would very quickly burn an open into the circuit, and then never conduct again. "No SparK" would imply that the circuit were still conductive when you disconnected the clamp from the battery post. That cable would have long ago ceased to have a complete connection.
Jumper cables are a particular interest to me - Living in Texas, where even a really good battery won't last more than 2-3 years, I have done more than my share of jumping cars (wife's + 2 kids' cars) We also tend towards diesels in my family, so the cable weight is not the only thing that matters. Those stupid little side posts, for some reason placed in close proximity to a substantial piece of steel, give me the heebie-jeebies every time I try to connect the positive cable. It can be difficult to get a good connection capable of supporting more than a few amps.
I have a cool little DC ammeter that I can lay right onto the cable to see how much current is running, if I have a decent connection.
I have 4-5 sets of pretty decent cables that I bought at a club that rhymes with "Pam's"
I've had relatives in the family (most now deceased!) that WOULD NOT spend the extra "dime" to buy high quality tools. They'd always buy the least expensive, cheapest-looking tool, and then RE-buy them when they failed after brief use. The irony of this is that in each case, the person was very successful in life, both financially & otherwise. So, who's to say or criticize??????
I have, over the course of a 50 year career doing every job imaginable, consistently regretted purchasing cheap tools. I still have and use Snap-On mechanic's tools purchased 35 years ago. After melting a few sets of jumper cables, I made a 30' set of #1 tinned copper with tin-plated clamps. Cost was around $100 just in materials, but these cables have jump-started diesel trucks, bulldozers, boats, heated frozen fasteners using a carbon rod and are still as good as the day I made them. The 'jumper' cables that plug into a cigarette lighter socket will charge a dead battery given enough time (to charge a 100AH battery that is dead ideally takes 5 hours at 20 Amps, two and a half hours to get it to 50%) and that's assuming you don't blow the lighter fuse. They are a fire hazard though and can really shouldn't be sold as "jumper" cables. The cheapest "jumper" cable set you'll ever buy is a Triple A membership.
There are many degrees of quality and dependability across the various price levels of hand tools. Since about 10 years, the inexpensive steel tools mace in China have been rising in quality from absolute garbage to quite-acceptable, in regards to steel properties; but even when the steel can be acceptable, dimensional tolerances could not. Some Chinese factories have learned from the quality control systems when fabricating tools for formely famous American brands (Sears Craftsman comes to mind), and are now selling perfectly usable, strong enough and more or less acceptable handtools at less tha half the price of other more recognized tools. Being that, in some cases it could be attractive to buy those in order to save some cash and still have the tools for not-so-frequent use and everyone is happy.
But as many of you know all too well, a good-to-high quality tool won't fail upon you at a critical time; knuckles and (possible serious injuries) will be saved and it is a real pleasure when you know you have the best (or close to) tool in your drawer.
Spending money on good quality tools is very good advice!
I was recently asked by a young man if I could give his car a jump start. It was not the ideal situation, it was raining, in a jammed store parking lot, and his car was an older Toyota that had seen better days. The guy produced a set of old, thin, junky set of jumper cables, with some insulation broken away.
Although I was very leery about jump starting his car under such bad conditions, I decided to give it a try. Of course, I connected his jumper cables to our cars myself, not counting on his knowledge or ability. I was careful to not ground any bare wires on metal parts of either car, and keep the bare wire portions off the wet parking lot surface. When my car with big V8 and big battery would not turn-over the little 4-cylinder engine, I told him he has more problems than a battery, and said sorry I can't get you started. I told myself I will never try that again, since I put my own car in jeopardy using such inferior jumper cables.
I own a excellent set of heavy-gage jumper cables myself, seldom used and not carried in my cars, and still in good shape after over 20 years. It really pays to purchase quality tools that can be relied upon when needed! I remember buying the most expensive jumper cables available with the thickest wire and heaviest battery clamps, rather than cheap.
I too noticed a couple decades ago that nice-looking, "hefty" jumper cables were more plastic "filler" (3/8" dia.) than copper wire (1/32" dia.) and totally not suitable for the high current a starter motor requires. This was before copper prices surged upward, and my company was throwing out old wires as they rewired the machine shop. I salvaged two 20 foot lengths of 00 wire to make a super set of jumper cables tha would work across the garage. To travel in my family's vehicles, I made sets of No. 2 wire about 8 feet long. The hadest part was trying to wrap the two wires together in a pleasing manner and painting a pair of red clamps black for each set.
I've observed several newer vehicles in which the engine comparment did not have room for a battery, which resulted in the battery being hidden in a remote location. If one looks carefulley under the hood, one could find a positive post covered by a red plastic cap. When jump starting, use this post for the red/positve cable and some part of the engine for the black/negative cable.
There are several ways to make cheap booster cables:
1. Make up your own wire gauge. Instead of using standard gauge wire diameter, invent your own standard. For example, 4 AWG cable should have at least 0.204" conductor diameter, but you can invent a new standard, and call wire that is 0.040" diameter "4 gauge cable." Beware of cable that it is not marked with a known wire-gauge standard, such as "AWG."
2. Make them very short. Never mind that it will be inconvenient for the user. Booster cables should be at least 15 feet long to be easy to use.
3. Use cheap clamps and don't pay attention to how the cables are attached to the clamps.
4. Use an impractically small cable diameter, because many consumers are ignorant and your profits will be huge until people figure out you are producing useless crap.
5. Don't use copper cable because it is expensive.
A good pair of booster cables should be 15 - 20 feet long, and made of 4 AWG (or larger, not likely larger) stranded copper cable. If the cable diameter is less than this, in most cases, there will be too much voltage drop during (attempted) cranking. Do the math: 0.26 milliohms per foot X 30 feet X 300 A = 2.3 V drop, excluding the clamps and connections. Any more voltage drop than this, and the cranking voltage will drop well below 10 V, which is usually too low for good cranking. With smaller-diameter cable, you can charge a battery, and wait until it is charged before cranking (if the battery will hold a charge). Expect to pay more than $50 for a pair of useful booster cables, and more than $100 for a good pair. If the price is under $50, be very suspicious.
I have made a few sets of jumper cables for my own use, and the best wire seems to be a fairly fine stranded cable that I picked up someplace, similar to welding cable but only about 0.300" diameter, with conductors about 0.25 diameter. They work for cranking as well as for charging. And the way to avoid having a problem with cheap clamps is to run the wire up to the tips of the clamps so that the high resistance of the steel, clamp does not matter.
I have seen jumper cables that were made from solid aluminum wire, with polyethlene insulation, which might be adequate for one use. They had been abandoned in a parking lot, probably after one use.
I think the best description of 22ga "jumper cables" would be "fraud." One can go up in conductor size, and admittedly, relatively short cables of 10 or even 12 ga wire will often get a car started, although cold oil and a large, high-comporession-ratio engine may defeat those thin cables. Jumper cables ought to be at least 4 ga or larger, and they ought to be made of something like welding cable - very flexible cable with many small conductors. As for having a nice set of jumper cables at home, well, they are more likely to be needed out on the road somewhere, and it's better to have your own, adequate jumper cables than hope that the guy who stops to help you has adequate cables (or any at all).
Jumper casbles are particularly necessary when starting a car with an automatic transmission (most cars today) since many cars with ATs cannot be push-started, and the few that can, often require a push to a relatively high speed - 20-30 MPH. Conversely, I have push started cars with manual transmissions by simply getting out and pushing them manually across a parking lot, then jumping in and engaging the transmission and popping the clutch (it's easier if the parking lot pushing direction is level or downhill.....). And I have had a few cars - 1950's 1960's vintage Triumph Herald and Peugot 403 - that had a dog on the front of the engine for a crank (which was also the jack handle). The good old days.
I bought a cheap overseas set of jumper cables when I was 17 and threw them in my trunk. When it came time to jump my car, I watched in horror as the cables caught fire. Monkeys terminated the black clamp with a red clamp and vice versa.
It's a damn wonder that one or both batteries didn't explode. It did kill one of the batteries though.
Notarboca, I had a very similar experience "jumping off" my son's Bronco. He had a pair of cables that looked very suspect and were proven to be just that. We hooked them up, started my car and made an attempt to start his car. After about a minute of revving my engine I smelled burning insulation; shortly thereafter saw smoke coming from under his hood. The cables were melting before my eyes and were exceedingly hot, much too hot to remove. Not only did that experience destroy the cables but also his battery. When removed, I noticed virtually no crimp locking the cables clamp to the strands of copper wire.
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