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.)
- It has to be charged for 15 hours before first use.
- 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.
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.