When a machine has a dead battery, work stops until it’s up and running again. Farmers have three options to charge batteries:
Jumper cables. Every true farm pickup has at least one set of jumper cables behind the seat or semi-buried in the rubble in the bed. In order to start a diesel truck or four-wheel-drive tractor, jumper cables need to be at least four- or six-gauge braided wire to transfer high amperage without overheating.
Quality jumper cables have insulation that stays flexible in cold temperatures and heavy-duty clamps that work with both top- and side-terminal batteries. To reach batteries in awkward locations, 16' to 20' cables are ideal.
Battery charger/battery booster. A 120-volt battery charger/booster that plugs into a wall outlet can slow-charge a dead battery or boost the battery to immediately start the machine.
“The face plate on a battery charger/booster tells the story,” says Jim O’Hara of Clore Automotive. “There are economy units rated at 200 amps, but farmers probably want a 250-amp unit.”
Even the best 120-volt powered battery charger/booster can be brought to its knees by an undersized power cord.
“If you plug a charger/booster into a 150'-long, 16-gauge extension cord, the unit is going to end up getting less than 100 volts and not working properly,” O’Hara says. “We recommend a 50' extension cord be at least 12-gauge to get full power to a charger/booster. A 100' cord needs to be 10-gauge, and a 150' cord should be 8-gauge.”
Portable booster packs. Booster packs go by a variety of names and designs, but they are basically a high-discharge, lead-acid battery in a carrying case. The computerized circuitry boosts a battery through a pair of short battery cables.
Booster packs jump-start vehicles in locations where there is no electricity to power a 120-volt battery booster or where it is difficult to get another vehicle close enough to use jumper cables.
“Booster packs are all about convenience,” O’Hara explains. “A small unit fits behind the seat and will provide four to 10 starts for a V8 car or pickup before it needs recharged.
“Big boosters weigh around 39 lb. but are designed to start big diesel engines. You can figure on around the same number of starts from the larger units, depending on the size of the engines you’re trying to start,” he adds.
Small units retail for around $65. Larger units capable of starting diesel trucks or tractors sell for more than $500. Because battery boosters are literally portable lead-acid batteries, they have the life expectancy of batteries, which is about four to six years.
“The nice thing about larger units is you can replace the batteries,” says Chris Kubik, Schumacher Electric. “Our large units have battery doors, so you can replace just the batteries and reuse the carrying case, circuit boards, cables and clamps.”
An influx of low-quality battery boosters from foreign manufacturers into the U.S. market have created a “buyer beware” situation.
“A good test for the quality of any battery booster is the quality of cables and clamps,” O’Hara says. “If they use stiff plastic insulation on thin-gauge cables and the clamps are weak, then the internal circuitry is probably poor quality as well. That raises important questions about the safety and durability of the product.”