Is the "Auto Starter" a viable jump-starting alternative?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

My husband and I enjoy your column each week. Thank you for the
fun and useful information. (Editor's note -- this letter may have been
mistakenly sent to Tom and Ray.) Enclosed is an advertisement for the "Auto
Starter," a portable battery that you carry in your car to use for jump-starting
if your battery dies. It sounds almost too good to be true. We'd appreciate your
evaluation. -- Nancy

RAY: Unfortunately, Nancy, your evaluation is pretty much right-on. This is no
miracle cure for the dead battery.

TOM: According to Consumer Reports, the Auto Starter consists of a bunch of AA
batteries. They're packaged in a box that is about 8 inches long and 2 inches on
each side -- small enough to store in your glove box. The Auto Starter plugs into
your cigarette lighter and is supposed to allow you to start your car when your
battery dies.

RAY: And it might work -- under the best of conditions. If you leave your lights
on for a couple of hours, and your battery is just weak but not dead ... and you
live in Florida, it'll probably get you started. But if you left your lights on
all night, or your battery is stone-cold dead, there's no way this thing is going
to get you going.

TOM: Then there's the cost. It costs $56, which is a little less than a brand-new
battery costs.

RAY: If you're really concerned about dead batteries, you'd be better off with a
device made by Prestone called "Jump It." It costs about $90, but it's much more
substantial than the Auto Starter. It's about the size of a gallon of milk and
weighs a lot more, but it has a built-in handle. And it contains a serious 12-
volt battery that WILL start all but the biggest engines, even when the battery
is dead.

TOM: It's a little harder to use because it connects to the battery via cables
rather than the cigarette lighter. It also needs to be recharged periodically
(it's got a gauge on the side, so you'll know when). But it's much more likely to
actually help you when your battery dies, Nancy.

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