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What Is a Car Power Inverter?

Power inverters are sometimes installed in police cruisers to allow constant laptop access.
Power inverter with 12v car plug.
The car battery provides power for all of the electrical accessories of a car.
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  • Written By: Nathaniel P. Miller
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Contractors, salespeople, and anyone who is on the road much can understand the benefits of having a car power inverter. Your car battery supplies power for the electrical accessories of your car; however, it is in what is known as DC or direct current. All other electrical appliances such as computers, power tools, and televisions are run on AC, or alternating current. A car power inverter is a device that plugs into your car's DC electrical system and converts the power to AC so you can use other electrical appliances in your car.

Power inverters come in a variety of sizes. Some versions simply involve plugging a cord into the cigarette lighter in the car, while permanent units are mounted in the engine compartment of the vehicle and connected directly to the battery. Most people are familiar with the cigarette lighter style car power inverter, as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Many smaller appliances, such as laptop computers, DVD players, and small televisions, will run off of this style of inverter. Larger, under-the-hood inverters are mounted near the battery of a vehicle and are designed for much larger products, such as circular saws, drills, and flood lights.

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Some car power inverters are very elaborate, and include numerous outlets; others are quite simple, with just a single electric outlet or USB port. The versatility of the types of car power inverter allows them to be used for a variety of jobs. Many families install a temporary car power inverter to power a TV or DVD player for their children, for example, as they head out on cross-country road trips. Some police cruisers have permanent power inverters installed so that laptops can be run for an entire shift without concern for battery life.

It is important to choose a car power inverter that fits the needs of the user, and the electrical demands that will be placed on it. Using a small inverter to run equipment that requires a lot of power will make it difficult to run the accessories, as most inverters have fuses that will trip over a certain voltage. To purchase the correct size inverter, the user should add up the maximum wattage for each accessory he or she plans on running simultaneously on the inverter, and then adding 10% to that number. An inverter that can handle this wattage should work without tripping the fuse while appliances are running.

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Georgesplane
Post 2

@ Amphibious54- I second your opinion about a power inverter being a great purchase. I work on the road, so it helps to be able to charge my phone and run my laptop. A piece of advice to anyone thinking about getting one, make sure you don't cover your inverter with clothes or anything else. It can make your inverter overheat; causing damage to your inverter or your electronics.

They also say to unplug them when the car is not running because they can drain our battery, or overheat. Some of the inverters on the market are fused and will automatically turn off when your car shuts down, but I think it’s still better to be safe and unplug them.

Amphibious54
Post 1

I bought a 300 watt power inverter for a trip across country and it was one of the best purchases I made for the trip. I drove across country with my fiancée, and we didn't always stay in a hotel; occasionally opting for a camp site, and even getting stranded in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Having a power inverter allowed us to watch movies on the laptop, post pictures to the internet, and blog about our trip (we did have a wireless internet card).

We were also able to charge our phones, keep all of our camera batteries charged, and even use our stick blender for drinks at our campsite. I didn't even think I would need the inverter at first, but without it I don't think our trip would have been as fun. We still use it whenever we take road trips or head to the beach.

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