Keeping a charger for your car battery is always a smart decision, but it’s important to know you’re getting a reliable product. This buyer’s guide covers five of the most popular and highest quality car battery chargers available. When you read this guide, you’ll prepare yourself with the necessary knowledge to save money and keep yourself and your car battery safe by choosing the right charger the first time.
There are a lot of bad car battery chargers out there, and they can shorten your battery’s lifespan. If you want to be sure to keep your battery functioning for as long as possible, be sure to read this guide and keep it handy while you’re shopping for the best deals.
Here’s a simple table outlining the main specs and features of each of the battery chargers I’m going to explore in this buyer’s guide. Keep this chart in mind as you read the detailed reviews later on, and look over it again to help with making your final decision.
Best Car Battery Chargers of 2017
|6V, 12V||0.75-26||Battery repair|
|Battery Tender||12V||1.25||Temperature comp|
Full/float auto charging
|BLACK+DECKER||12V||15, 25||Engine start|
NOCO G3500 – Best Lithium Car Battery Charger
I could tell immediately upon unboxing this product that it had a wide variety of options—and it also seemed quite well-made.
Too Much for Some Users:
Before going on with what I anticipate will be a glowing review of one of the smartest car battery chargers on the market, I will say that the NOCO Genius G3500 isn’t for everyone. If you only need to charge one working 12v battery that isn’t being used too often, the extra bells and whistles on this product are likely to bring you a headache rather than battery bliss.
They also drive up the price of this unit a bit.
However, if you have a wide variety of battery charging needs, or if you anticipate needing to bring back a completely dead or partially defective battery, the G3500 may be the best choice for you. Its automatic modulation of the charging process based on the calculations of its onboard microcomputer helps it charge batteries with problems until they’re like new again.
In addition, this unit can charge a wider variety of battery types than most car battery chargers, including the following:
- Regular 12 volt lead acid batteries
- 12 volt AGM batteries
- 12 volt lithium batteries
- 6 volt batteries
The unit also offers features such as “cold mode” and “repair mode” that allows you to more efficiently and safely tailor the unit to the needs of a particular battery and situation.
Adding it All Up:
While the instruction manual for this unit took me a great deal more time to read than those included with most other battery chargers, I was highly impressed with its wide array of features and its ability to charge so many different types of batteries. I even charged some friends’ batteries just to see how far the G3500 would stretch, and it got the desired result every time.
Battery Tender – Best Portable Battery Charger
I was excited to test it out when I placed an order for it and was impressed with the product’s design and manufacturing quality upon opening it.
Most car battery chargers are fairly easy to use, but this may be one of the easiest of all. I had it hooked up within a minute or two of unpacking it, and it functioned almost automatically.
How it Works:
The charger is fast, but not as fast as some other models that offer 3 amps and above of current. However, this can actually be a good thing if you’re planning to leave this charger hooked up to an infrequently-used battery for a long period of time: a lower current means you’re even more protected against overcharging than with other smart charge models.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with this product and used it to charge batteries (from different brands) in a car, truck, and motorcycle. It recharged all three and kept them charged safely and efficiently, and even recharged a very dead battery that I thought was a goner for sure.
The entire process was simple and efficient.
Things to Watch Out For:
However, I do contact customer service for all the products I review, and I was not impressed with the efficiency of the Battery Tender customer support system. It makes sense to me that they would be consistently busy because their products are so popular, but it does worry me a bit in case I need to act on this product’s 10-year warranty at some point in the future.
That being said, the unit is very well made and doesn’t seem likely to develop problems even over the course of years of use.
Schumacher – Best Car Battery Charger and Starter
Schumacher’s customer service wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t bad either, and I had a new unit shipped out to me fairly quickly.
I wouldn’t even have mentioned it, but I’ve heard of friends and fellow reviewers having similar problems.
That being said, it didn’t often reach its 50 amp peak power when set to the 50 amp mode—but I hardly wanted to use the 50 amp setting anyway, because of the risk of overcharging.
The Benefit of 50 Amps:The 50 amp setting did provide enough power to jump start batteries with a fairly decent success rate and is a nice feature for emergencies when the battery is almost completely drained.
Black and Decker – Best Heavy Duty Charger
Black and Decker, a brand I’m most familiar with because of its household power tools and appliances, has set out to create a car battery charger that is both very versatile and quite easy to use with its BC15BD model.
Upon this unit’s arrival, I was impressed by its construction and the wide array of features described in its instruction manual, as well as its simple, mostly automatic operation. I continued to be impressed as I put the charger to work.
While many other units offer a current selector switch or different “modes” for charging batteries, this unit decides what amperage to provide (between 0 and 15 amps) automatically by reading the battery’s current charge.
It essentially operates in 3 stages: a high amperage fast charge to get the battery up to around 80% capacity, then a modulated charge where the amperage is steadily decreased to get the battery safely to 98% capacity, and then a float charge stage, where low amperage power is provided to get the battery the rest of the way to full charge and maintain it there without overcharging.
At first, I was a bit skeptical about a unit that does all this automatically and does not allow for much user control over the process, but when I actually charged a few batteries with the unit I felt much better about this. I detected no problems, and it charged every battery I tested it on without overcharging it.
In addition, the BC15BD offers a repair mode to reduce the buildup of solids inside the battery, increasing overall capacity. I tried this on a few old batteries that were almost completely drained, and it brought most of them back to full functionality (though this can take up to five days of continuous charging).
The unit also provides some nice diagnostics and can tell you whether or not your alternator is functioning properly if you charge a battery while your engine is running.
A Secondhand Warning:
I will note that while I personally didn’t have any problems with the unit when it arrived, I’ve heard from friends and some automotive professionals I know that Black and Decker may have some of the same quality assurance problems as Schumacher. If you purchase this unit, be sure to check that it works right away—though this is good advice to follow with any brand of any product!
I would mostly recommend it for charging flooded lead-acid batteries, as I worry about not having enough control to prevent overcharging of AGM batteries—though I had no trouble charging two AGM motorcycle batteries with this myself.
Motopower – Best Car Charger for Home Use
I was skeptical as to how well this unit would actually work due to its very low price compared to some of the other most popular car battery chargers out there but found that it worked quite well for a wide variety of applications.
How it Does What It Does:
The MP00205A is one of the simplest chargers on this list to use, as its functions are all controlled by an onboard microprocessor that communicates with your battery to determine exactly what it needs. It uses a modulated charging process to provide high amperage at the beginning of the charging process and lower amperage as your battery gets closer to capacity.
I was impressed with this unit’s compact size and automatic function: this is a great unit to have on hand wherever you are. Its clear and concise LED readout is also helpful, and easily let me know where each battery was in its charging process at a glance.
A Slight Drawback:
This unit only provides 800 milliamps of power, which is good in that it makes overcharging even less likely than with other smart chargers, but bad in that this unit will take quite a while to charge most 12 volt batteries to capacity. However, for such an affordable and easy to use unit, this is hardly a major drawback.
Before you decide on one of the battery chargers I’ve reviewed above, it’s a good idea to dive a little deeper into the world of car battery chargers. The upcoming sections will help you learn how to use a car battery charger, important notes on different types of batteries, and how to choose the best charger to suit your individual needs.
How to Use a Car Battery Charger?
- Remove the negative battery cable from the negative terminal.
- Remove the positive battery cable from the positive terminal.
- Make sure that your charger is not plugged into an electric outlet and that the power switch (if applicable) is in the off position.
- Connect the positive cable from the charger to the positive terminal.
- Connect the negative charging cable to the negative terminal.
- Turn on your charger and dial in the appropriate settings (if applicable).
- Monitor the charger frequently throughout the charging process to ensure that there are no problems.
- Do not touch or move any of the charger cables while the charger is operating.
- Turn the charger off and unplug it before removing the charger cables from the battery.
- Disconnect the negative charging cable first.
- Disconnect the positive charging cable.
- Reattach the positive battery cable.
- Reattach the negative battery cable.
How Many Amps Do You Need?
Many auto enthusiasts new to battery maintenance are overly concerned with amperage when it comes to buying the best car battery charger—and this can lead to good people getting ripped off by unscrupulous charger manufacturers.
Most car battery chargers offer at least two settings: a “fast charge” (high amperage) and a “trickle charge” (low amperage). While a fast charge charges your battery faster, it also increases the risk of overcharging and doesn’t allow as much time for any restorative processes or diagnostics to work.
A trickle charge takes more time but is better for your battery in the long run.
That being said, there is one useful feature of a charger that can offer a very high amperage—it is much more likely to be able to jump-start your car immediately.
All in all, anything between 750 milliamps and 20 amps is probably fine for actually charging a 12-volt battery while jump-starting while requiring sustained bursts of at least 40 amps.
Can You Charge a 12 Volt Battery?
Yes, 12 volt batteries are the most common automotive battery size, and therefore are the ones that are easiest to charge with almost any charger on the market. With almost no exceptions, car battery chargers should charge 12 volt batteries.
Is It Possible to Charge a Dead Car Battery?
This is probably the most common question I get from people looking for advice on car battery chargers. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple one—sometimes you can bring a dead battery back, and sometimes you just can’t.
Usually, it’s the circumstances of the battery’s “death” that determine whether or not it can be charged back up. If a battery has simply been sitting a long time in storage, or if you left your car’s headlights on all day and night, you can probably bring the battery back (though it may require some extra work, and doing this sort of thing regularly isn’t good for the battery).
However, if a battery has been run down and recharged many times, or has simply stored and discharged electricity for many years, it may simply have reached the end of its life cycle. While proper maintenance, a great charger, and a little know-how can keep your battery running properly for a very long time, no battery lasts forever.
If you’re wondering whether or not you can bring back a dead battery, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Has the battery completely died before?
- Did you get this battery secondhand (or did it come with the vehicle)?
- Have you failed to properly maintain this battery in the past?
- Has the factory warranty on the battery lapsed?
- Has the battery ever been overcharged?
- Does the battery look physically distorted or damaged?
If the battery isn’t physically damaged, bringing back a dead battery is at least worth a shot.
What is AGM on a Car Battery Charger?
AGM charging, often listed as a special feature or separate mode on a battery charger, is a function designed to charge AGM batteries.
What is an AGM Battery?
While AGM batteries work with essentially the same chemicals as batteries with a liquid acid mixture inside, these chemicals are stored in glass sheets instead of in a liquid form.
This makes these batteries much safer and prevents some of the common lifespan-reducing problems associated with liquid lead acid batteries, such as the buildup of chemical solids within the liquid (known as sulfation).
Do I Have an AGM Battery?
AGM batteries are most often used in motorcycles (because they will not spill acid in the event of a crash, and because they are smaller and more lightweight) and luxury vehicles (because they can better handle the high electricity discharge required for amenities like heated seats, high-end sound systems, etc.).
You can also buy an AGM battery to replace the flooded lead acid battery in almost any car.
- FLA (Flooded Lead Acid)
- AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat)
- Gel (or Gel-Filled)
If none of these is displayed on the label, you’ll have to do some detective work. Look up your battery’s model number, which is required to be either printed on the label or embossed onto the shell of the battery itself.
Do I Need an AGM Battery Charger?
The answer here is both yes and no. If you have an AGM battery, you don’t necessarily need a charger meant specifically for AGM batteries—but using an AGM mode on a charger designed to work with AGM batteries will most likely improve your battery’s performance and lifespan.
In addition, if you’re charging an AGM battery with a charger that doesn’t have a specialized AGM mode, be sure to charge low and slow. While overcharging isn’t good for any battery, it can be more damaging to AGM batteries than other types, so always charge AGM batteries at the lowest possible amperage.
Important Safety Information: Which Terminal Do You Hook Up First?
I know I’ve already covered it here in this buyer’s guide, but I’m going to cover it again because it’s one of the most important parts of charging your car battery. Completing the battery’s circuit before you’re ready can have disastrous consequences from frying your electronics to shocking you or even exploding your battery.
The negative terminal always completes the circuit.
The electricity essentially flows into the battery through the positive terminal and back out through the negative. Because there’s already power stored in the battery, the negative terminal can be “hot” even if there’s no charge coming in through the positive terminal.
The negative terminal should never be connected to the battery without the positive also being connected.
This means you should always remove the negative terminal first and attach the negative terminal last.
What is the Best Car Battery Charger on the Market?
Throughout my extensive testing and review process, I found the Battery Tender Plus (021-0128) to be the best charger available. Its simple design, energy efficiency, and solid construction were all major factors in my decision to name the Battery Tender Plus the best of the best.
Though I found the Battery Tender Plus 021-0128 to be the best charger overall, I would recommend a different car battery charger for certain users and situations. Depending on the situation, I would recommend either a NOCO Genius model such as the G3500, the Motopower model I reviewed above, or a different Battery Tender model.
NOCO Genius Series Advantages
Earlier in this buyer’s guide, I reviewed the NOCO Genius G3500 UltraSafe Smart Battery Charger. I liked this one a great deal, and though it wasn’t quite as simple as the Battery Tender Plus, I did find it to be the most versatile charger on the market, and of a very high quality.
Therefore, if you have a variety of batteries of different voltages—for example, if you have a motorcycle or marine vehicle as well as a car—the NOCO Genius G3500 may better serve your needs than the Battery Tender Plus.
In addition, NOCO offers several other models in its Genius series, including the following:
The G750, G1100, and G3500 can all charge 6 volt and 12 volt batteries, while the higher amperage models (from the G7200 up) are intended for 12 volt and 24 volt batteries.
If you think you might need to charge a 24 volt battery, or you’re interested in the jump starting feature, one of the higher amperage models may be best for you.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re interested in the features and versatility of the Genius series but are willing to deal with a longer charging time in exchange for a lower price, the lower amperage models may be your number one choice.
Other Battery Tender Model Advantages
The Battery Tender brand offers a few other models, including the following:
While the Battery Tender Plus is still the model I would most often recommend, the others may be better suited to some particular circumstances. For example, stricter environmental laws in California and Oregon mean that only the Battery Tender 800 and the Battery Tender Plus High Efficiency may be sold in those states.
All the models work in essentially the same way and provide 12 volts of power (to charge 12 volt batteries). However, the Battery Tender Junior and Battery Tender 800 provide their power at 750 milliamps and 800 milliamps respectively, meaning that they will charge batteries a bit slower than the Plus models.
The Plus High Efficiency is a more expensive but more eco-friendly and less electricity-guzzling model.
The Motopower MP00205A: A Safe and Worthy Budget Choice
While I was a little skeptical upon first purchasing this unit that such a cheap product could truly compete with those from major brands, I was impressed with this unit’s safety, intelligence, and compact size throughout my testing procedures.
To tell the truth, recharging batteries is still a difficult art and science, and even the best companies haven’t absolutely perfected it yet. That being said, I can confidently recommend the Battery Tender Plus, the NOCO Genius G3500, the Black and Decker BC15BD, and the Motopower MP00205A.
While I personally find the Battery Tender Plus to be the best on the market, any of these four units will work well for virtually any consumer. You should focus on finding the best battery charger for your situations and needs.
- Simplest Charger: Battery Tender Plus
- Most Versatile Charger: NOCO Genius G3500
- Best Charger for Diagnostics and Jump Starts: Black and Decker BC15BD
- Best Budget and Compact Charger: Motopower MP00205A
The fact that I found so many problems with the Schumacher SE-5212A is proof of how difficult charging car batteries can be: this model is one of the most popular out there and is backed by the name of a respected manufacturer, but it still doesn’t live up to my standards.
In addition to enjoying the best of the car battery chargers that are available now, I’m excited to see what develops in this field in the next five to ten years. If there’s a company that can provide the simplicity of the Battery Tender Plus or the Black and Decker BC15BD with the option to get as especially focused as the NOCO Genius G3500, I’m sure they’ll get to the top of the car battery charger game soon.
I hope this guide has helped you find the ideal car battery charger for your needs, and that you’ll keep watching the car battery charger market for even more innovative products that are sure to be released soon.