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Michelin Smart Cables jumper cables

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Michelin Smart Cables package contents

Michelin Smart Cables package contents

Photo © Aaron Gold

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A set of jumper cables used to be a must-have; today, cell phones mean that help for a dead battery is just a phone call away - provided you have cell service and an hour to wait. Having a set of jumper cables makes it possible to be on your way in minutes.

The problem is that jump-starting a car isn't as easy as it looks. Hook the cables up wrong and the risks run from a nasty spark all the way to vehicle damage, a battery explosion, and personal injury. Michelin has introduced Smart Cables, which purport to make jump-starting a foolproof process. Do they work? Read on.

Pros

  • Eliminates one of the major hazards of jump starting
  • Foolproof hook up
  • Includes a hard-sided carrying case

Cons

  • Clamps are awkward for small hands
  • Won't work on a completely drained battery

Description

  • Electronic jumper cables that automatically determine battery polarity
  • Retail price: $40
  • Package includes cables, hard-sided carrying case
  • Compare prices

Guide Review - Michelin Smart Cables jumper cables

Larger photos: What's in the package - More photos

As the owner of several older cars, I've had to jump-start a dead battery more times than I can possibly remember. And yet despite being as familiar as can be with the process, I still get a little nervous when I hook up the jumper cables. The hazards of jump starting are very real, and many drivers don't even realize the potential danger.

That's where Michelin Smart Jumper Cables come in. Notice that, unlike conventional jumper cables, Michelin Smart cables are not color coded. Hook up either clamp to either battery terminal, and the electronic box in the middle automatically detects the polarity and ensures that the proper connection is made. It is literally impossible to hook the cables up backwards. Green LEDs (link goes to photo) on either side of the Smart Cables' electronics box light up to tell you when the cables are connected securely. This means the hookup process is quick and foolproof, even when the battery is dirty or it's too dark to see the "+" and "-" symbols. The cables even come with a durable hard-sided carrying case, which is a nice bonus.

Though handy, the Smart Cables do have some limitations. The wide angle between the grips and strong springs make them awkward to use (link goes to photo) for people with small hands (like me). And they don't work 100% of the time -- the "dead" battery must have some residual voltage to power the Smart Cables' polarity sensor. That said, they don't need much power; I tried leaving my car's lights on overnight, draining the battery to the point where the engine wouldn't crank and the warning lights could only manage a faint glow, and the Smart Cables worked just fine. But when I tried jump-starting a car that had been sitting unused for several months, the battery was drained too low for the Smart Cables to work. (I was able to start the car with regular jumper cables.)

Michelin Smart Cables retail for around $40, roughly twice the cost of a decent set of conventional jumper cables. To me, they're worth the price -- jump starting presents some very real hazards to you and your car, and while Smart Cables don't make this a 100% safe process, they do eliminate one of the most common mistakes. As an alternative, you may want to consider a battery booster box, essentially a portable battery. Booster boxes cost $50-$100; they don't require a second car for a jump start, but they do require proper hook-up, meaning they're not as foolproof as Smart Cables, and they must be kept charged to work. Or you may want to simply join AAA and call someone to do the dirty work for you... provided you have cell phone coverage and time to wait. Even so, it's still good to carry a set of jumper cables just in case, and the ease and safety provided by Michelin Smart Cables make them a sensible choice. -- Aaron Gold

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Disclosure: Review sample was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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