We've already shown you how to jump-start your car with standard jumper cables, but if you don't trust yourself to remember all six steps in our guide, Michelin may be able to help with its new Smart Jumper cables. This set of jumpers features inline electronics that take most--but not all--of the guesswork and danger out of jump-starting a car.
There are two physical differences that seasoned automotive enthusiasts will notice between the Smart Jumper cables and, well, dumb jumpers. The first is that where standard jumpers have red and black clamps on each end, marking the positive and negative connections, all four of the Smart Jumper's connections are the same electric blue. So, how do you know what's positive and what's negative? As it turns out, it doesn't matter.
The second physical difference is likely the most important: the control box of electronics mounted about a quarter of the way on the cable. The control box monitors the connections at both ends of the Smart Jumper cables and notifies the user with a pair of green LEDs when the proper connections have been made. If the electrical connection between the two vehicles is improperly made, the lights will not illuminate and power will not flow between the batteries.
In addition to just monitoring the flow of power, the Smart Jumper cables feature surge protection that prevents sparking while making connections or electrical spikes which could damage either connected vehicle. There's also built-in polarity switching, so it doesn't matter which clamp is connected to which terminal--which explains why all of the clamps are the same color. You could switch the positive and negative connections on either vehicle back and forth and the Smart Jumpers would sense and redirect the flow of power.
So, the user simply connects either clamp to either terminal on each end of the cables. Once the connections are properly made and both lights are illuminated, the dead vehicle may be jump-started. Sounds easy enough, right? Not exactly.
Although the Smart Jumpers will let the user know when they've made the right connections (and won't punish them if they don't), actually making the connections is still in the hands of the user--including the engine block ground connection that most would-be jump-starters forget to make. Fortunately, there's an illustrated connection guide right there on the back of the control box to remind users of what needs to go where. Additionally, during our testing, we weren't able to get one of the status lights to illuminate after making the correct connections. However, after switching the ends of the cables from one vehicle to the other, both lights illuminated. This was confusing considering that these Cables should be smart enough to make the switch for us. It looks to us that there still may be a bit of know-how required when using the Smart Jumpers.
One more minor issue that we had with the Smart Jumpers is that they didn't ship with a carrying case or bag, like most standard jumpers we've tested, which means they'll likely end up loose and tangles as they flop around in your trunk. For cables that are roughly double the cost of standard cables, we'd expect at least this small convenience.
So the Smart Jumpers aren't completely idiot-proof, but they will prevent an idiot from electrocuting himself or damaging a vehicle involved in a jump-start. That, for us, makes these $40 jumper cables worth their price premium over a $20 set of standard cables.