Michelin Smart Cables jumper cables review

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.P

Here's the problem: 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

Expert review: Michelin Smart Cables jumper cables

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

As the owner of several old 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 always get a little nervous when I hook up the cables. The hazards of jump starting are very real, and many car owners 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 their limitations. The wide angle between the grips and strong springs make the clamps awkward to use (link goes to photo) for people like me who have small hands. And the cables don't work on a completely dead battery -- the "dead" battery must have some residual voltage to power the Smart Cables' polarity sensor. That said, they don't require much residual 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 too low for the Smart Cables to work. (I was able to start the car with regular jumper cables.)

A good value?

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. The new generation of micro-boosters are small enough to fit in a glovebox, and they don't require a second car for a jump start. However, they do require proper hook-up, meaning they're not as foolproof as Smart Cables, and they must be kept charged to work -- and they also cost about twice as much as Michelin's Smart Cables. Alternatively, 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. 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

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