Product review: Black & Decker Simple Start 12-Volt Battery Booster (spoiler: it’s junk)

Up in Tahoe on Friday, Sophie needed to nap while Sammy and Kimi were ready to start sledding, so I read in the front seat of our Forester while she slept in her car seat. After her 45 minute nap, we joined in on sledding. But when we were all done and I went to start the car: Nothing. Dead battery.

Fortunately, a kind man parked right next to us gave us a boost. Instead of the traditional jumper cables, however, he had a self-contained unit. He just hooked it up to our car battery, pressed a button, and a few seconds later I could start the car. (I think it was a Duracell DJUMP.)

So why the dead battery? Maybe I left a light on while I was reading. But on the other hand, the Forester is six years old and still on the original alternator and battery, so I suspected one or the other might have gone bad. Better to be cautious in snow country, so I had them checked out; turned out everything was fine. We had no further trouble with the car up in Tahoe.

The kind gentlemen had mentioned that his self-contained starter was only $20 at Radio Shack. Figuring this was a handy gadget to own, I stopped by a Radio Shack to pick one up, but they’d never heard of it. No luck at an auto parts store or Rite-Aid up in Tahoe either.

This morning Kimi tried to start the car, and again: dead battery. But this time I had certainly left a light on — after driving home last night and unpacking, I had been careless.

None of our neighbors were home, and we don’t have a set of jumper cables (whoops), and we didn’t have time to wait for AAA, so we took my car. I dropped off Kimi at work and the kids at school, and stopped by Target intending to buy some jumper cables.

There I spied the Black & Decker Simple Start 12-volt Battery Booster. This is a car starter with a twist: It doesn’t use jumper cables connected to your car battery. Instead, it charges the car battery through the 12-volt DC adapter (you know, that thing that used to just be a cigarette lighter, but now seems to be the universal source of power for anything, including pizza ovens).

The Simple Start also doubles as a flashlight and a cell phone charger. Smaller in size and cheaper than the competing battery starters that connect to the car battery in the more usual way, this seemed to me like a product that would be useful for my wife. After all, if she were ever stranded with a dead battery in the rain, she wouldn’t even need to get out of the car. Its compact and light, and designed to be stored in the glove compartment.

Now even if this product worked (note foreshadowing), it has two downsides, as disclosed in the manual. (Neither of these limitations are disclosed in the text on the external packaging, naturally.)

  1. It has to be charged for 15 hours before first use.
  2. Once you plug it into your cigarette lighter and switch it on, it takes 15 minutes to charge the car battery to the point where you can switch on your engine.

I don’t know about you, but when I find out I have a dead battery, it’s because I just started the car, which means I need to be someplace, so I’m not really in the mood to wait 15 minutes (let alone 15 hours).

A bit deterred, I pressed on and plugged the thing in and started to charge it at work this morning. Strangely, it seemed to already be charged, since the green light was solid instead of flashing. But just in case, I let it charge for over 9 hours. The green charged light never changed state. The flashlight seemed bright. It looked to be ready to use.

So, this evening, following the instructions, I set it to charge the Forester’s battery. Everything seemed to be working fine, so I left it for the prescribed 15 minutes. I returned to find it had switched itself off. Full of hope, I then tried to start the car.

Nothing.

Hmm.

I took it inside, plugged it in, and made sure it was still fully charged. Reassured by the solid green light, I took it back outside, and tried again. Once again, it flashed in the way that indicated it was hard at work charging the car battery. I waited the 15 minutes once again.

The moment of truth? Nothing.

I tried using a different adapter in the Subaru, since the manual said that some adapters may not have the right connection.

Now the thing just beeped at me, indicating that it thought the Forester’s battery was charged. But it was wrong. Dead battery wrong.

I called the customer support number listed on the manual. They were only open until 5 pm Eastern (apparently not caring about West Coast customers’ needs at all), so that was no help.

I tried once more, using both different possible adapters, and again the thing just beeped crazily at me.

That was four attempts with no success. FAIL.

I knocked on my neighbor’s door and asked him if I could borrow his jumper cables. They worked just fine, and our car started instantly.

In researching the Simple Start on Amazon, I find now that it has gathered 87 one-star reviews out of 189 total reviews. So it’s not just me. For most customers, this thing simply does not work.

It seems to me that for a product such as this, reliability is the most important feature. If you need a jump start, you really need it. I wonder, then, how Messrs. Decker and Black could, in all conscience, release this product and keep selling it for more than a year, when some 46% of customers find that it does not actually do its job at all.

We will be returning this junk and acquiring a set of jumper cables instead. (I will probably give the Duracell product a shot as well, since I saw it work first-hand.)

And now there are 88 one-star reviews at Amazon.

16 Responses to “Product review: Black & Decker Simple Start 12-Volt Battery Booster (spoiler: it’s junk)”

  1. slacy Says:

    The thing I find funny about these “portable starter” or “portable booster” devices is that it seems to me that the cheapest, easiest thing would be to go to Kragen, buy a small (motorcycle?) 12V battery and a set of jumpers. If you’re up at Tahoe, take the extra battery indoors while the main car is outside to make sure that it doesn’t freeze, and you should always have something that’s good for a few extra cranks when your main battery is dead. Just “jump” from the second spare, right?

    (NB: I’ve never tried this, so I’m not positive that it would work, but I bet it would be just fine)

  2. Stephen Says:

    Yup, agree 100%. I liked the idea of this gadget because it seemed very easy to use, and I thought it would be safer if Kimi was ever stuck somewhere (since she wouldn’t need to leave the car). Plus it had the flashlight and cell phone charger functionality.

    Price wise (I paid $52 at Target), it’s equivalent to a spare car battery and a set of jumper cables.

    I think it’s a great idea for a product: Self-contained, simpler, and safer than the more traditional solution for this problem that you describe.

    Too bad, then, that this thing doesn’t work at all.

  3. Scrappy Says:

    Oh dear… I know first-hand how much it sucks to have a dead battery (John’s is dead 75% of the time now). You should have given us a call since we were both home today – we could have jumped you, I mean your car in about 15 minutes total! Well, hopefully you have a set of jumper cables now.

    My experience with those gadgets is similar. When I was trying to get my motorcycle battery recharged, same thing where it read that the battery was already charged, but it wasn’t. The hassle of having to buy it, try it, hate, and then return it is the worst.

    Hopefully your battery woes are over for the time-being! =)

  4. Dave Zatz Says:

    I think we must be synchronized! I left a dome light on yesterday AM my car battery was dead. At some point my mom sent me some gadget from Brookstone that also uses the internal AC adapter cigarette lighter. At which point I must have tossed my jumper cables. So this AM, I plugged one end into my outlet and strung the other to Melissa’s car and read the manual. It takes 5-30 minutes to charge the battery enough to start it. So basically, we both have to sit there for 30 mins with her car on and then I have to drive around for another 30 mins. Forget that. (And forget it if you’re counting on a stranger for help.) After 5 mins, I didn’t have enough juice to start the car, so I sent her to work and called AAA. Who arrived in 15 minutes – faster than the charge might have taken. Anyway, I’m back in business and will be replacing this silly gadget with old fashioned jumper cables.

  5. Stuart Says:

    Hate when I buy something that turns out to suck when needed.

    Now I have a BarCode app on my phone. When I’m considering an impulse buy in a store, I just enter the barcode number from the products UPC into my phone and it displays the lowest price found online, and includes amazon reviews.
    Very handy.
    http://fastpricecheck.com/

  6. Seth Says:

    Thank you for contributing to the Amazon review community!
    http://www.amazon.com/review/R32XPYNPYHJHVB/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

  7. Lord Gek Says:

    Shoot, I thought the “Black and Decker” name meant something more than just shoddily made crap from parts yonder.

  8. Erin Says:

    I am SO glad to have found your review. Although it is a bit late. We bought the simple start about 3 years ago. We figured it would be a good thing to have. Funny thing is after the initial charge we left it in the box until recently not having the battery die once. Our son was born on Halloween and with it being so cold and the car getting up in age we figured it might be a good idea to keep it charged and in the car. So we charged it, or so we thought. Our car battery was dead today. So we went to use it and of course it doesnt work. it just beeps endlessly. We try to plug it in and charge it and it just beeps and beeps. black and decker customer service is NO help at all. They dont seem to get the fact that it just doesnt work and that its not going to work even if i talk nice to it and unplug/plug it in 5000 different ways. and we cant return it after 3 years. “we’re sorry, we just cant help. you shouldnt have bought it.” nice black and decker, nice. Apparently we are not the only ones. This is one of the biggest wastes of money ever. Thanks for telling your story.

    ~Erin

  9. Step Says:

    Man the same thing happend to me with this charger?
    Anyhow I stumbled on a sale at Wall Mart for a Stanley 300 amp charger for $19.00!.
    You are suppose to let it charge for 24hrs first usage. But being the impatient man that I am I plugged it into my wall at home with extension chord and hooked it up. It charged in about 5 seconds flat. Needless to say I will be using this next time my son decides to leave the van light on after basketball practice :) Nice features included a usb port which will come in handy I’m sure. $19.00 was a steal found out that they cost from $40.00 and up usualy. I would recomend this rather then any other portable other then jumper cables which you can’t go wrong there.

  10. Renato Says:

    From Italy: don’t buy it, it didn’t help to charge a small battery of a Lancia Y (1300 cc) and a Volvo V70 D5. It doesn’t work! I didn’t buy a “chinese” jump starter because I wanted to be sure to have a good help in case of need, so I bought a Black and Decker because I trusted this brand: big mistake. 50 euros thrown away…

  11. Norb Says:

    I’ve been checking out reviews on this booster/charger and saw this comment on Amazon.com:

    “Lucky for me, someone wrote five days ago that with some cars you have to turn the ignition key to the “accessory” mode (i.e. car radio on) before you can charge through the cigarette lighter.”

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R2L1YA2IBBGZ10/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm/

    The product would probably get better reviews if more people were aware of this fact. The charger can’t work unless it has a connection to the battery. Black and Decker would be doing themselves a favor by mentioning it in the instructions.

  12. Stephen Says:

    Norb, interesting. I think I did try that, but hard to remember from over a year ago.

  13. Ron Wielgus Says:

    I do recreational gold prospecting in remote areas in Arizona and California. I never leave home without my fully charged spare 12v DieHard car battery and jumper cables. Once, I left my headlights on and drained my pickup’s battery stone dead. My spare car battery and jumper cables probably saved my life out there in the boonies, and I had no trouble starting my engine and getting out of there. My advice is to buy a new auto battery and jumper cables and forget about these gimmicky products that don’t work.

  14. Darlene Bradshaw Says:

    I cannot under stand all of the complaints. You must of just got a bad CHARGER. Cause I’ve had my jump~start box for around 6 to 7 years.
    And I have never had a problem with it starting anything. It has to be fully charged thought. I have gone for a year & not needed to use it. When I do need it. I just plug it in the wall & let it charge, tell all the lights are lit up.
    Work’s every timed for me. Every thing on it, does. It’s one of the best thing that I have ever bought. I am a single female & I don’t like always asking for help. So this is the best. I totally LOVE MINE. It has definitely paid for it’s money more than once.

  15. ScottS Says:

    The first issue You ran into with the B&D Simple Start is you didnt properly charge it. You need to press the button TWICE to put it in charge mode. And it will continue to beep continiously during the charge cycle unless you lie to it. Simply put, plug the wall charger in AND plug it into the car’s cigarette lighter socket (one that has power while the car is off) for a good 6 t0 12hours or monitor it until it says it is fully charged. Never over charge it after that as the small batteries in it cant handle over charging. And that 15 minute charge it was talking about? Thats how long it should be hooked up to your CAR to boost your battery before trying to start your car. The Simple start isnt like one of the larger jump start boxes that has a larger battery in it, And no matter what kind you have, ALWAYS recharge it after use and once a month so it will work when you need it. All rechargeable batteries self discharge over time, and need regular maintenance so they work when you NEED them, but remember, leaving them plugged in 24/7/365 will destroy them

  16. Bonnie Says:

    It’s complete junk. Save your money. It doesn’t work and I don’t know of anyone that has one that works. Mine doesn’t work.

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