Even if your car is equipped with a built-in power port or two, it may not have enough outlets to support all the electronic devices and habits of you and yours, or said ports may be inconveniently located or accessed. Maybe you want a configuration your car doesn’t have, like a 120V outlet to power a laptop or portable DVD player. Or maybe whatever ports your car has just haven’t been quite right since that last Big Gulp incident.
If any of these scenarios is the case, a power inverter can be the solution. Depending on the make and model you choose, an inverter can give you the versatility to power several devices at once, juice up your laptop or other electronic device, or provide more power and quicker charging than built-in ports in your car. And with prices starting at less than $50, inverters are affordable enough to make sense for almost any budget.
This series details some technological features you can add to your old ride to make it on par with new OEM offerings. We’ll take you through what products are available, how they work, and what they cost. We’re starting with nine products available from the automotive aftermarket provided by our sponsor eBay, who has also graciously offered up three $500 gift cards. We’ve independently made our product choices based on ease of DIY installation, popularity, favorable reviews from other sources and users, and brand recognition with websites and readily available customer support.
Oh, and we’re installing all these upgrades on a 1999 Acura TL with 152,000 miles.
After covering phone mounts with the iOttie Easy One Touch 2 and Bluetooth speakerphone kits by digging into the Motorola Sonic Rider, now it’s time to power your devices with a compact power inverter, the Energizer EN180.
We looked at the Energizer EN180, which is fairly typical of what’s available in basic inverters. Priced starting at $34.99 on eBay, it has one 120V receptacle, and four — count ‘em four — 2.1 Amp USB ports. Sized to fit in a cupholder, the EN180 comes with one power cord designed to fit in a conventional 12V outlet, and another with alligator clips for clamping onto your car battery.
The manufacturer says the EN180 is capable of powering devices that require up to 180 watts, hence its name. To put that in perspective, most laptops require anywhere from around 25 to 90 watts. A portable DVD player is in the same general range. But keep in mind, the EN180 might not be the best choice if you want to run two high-draw devices at the same time. A rule of thumb is to choose an inverter with 50 percent more total capacity than you need to allow for power fluctuations and heavier demand at startup.
Just for the record, caffeine junkies should know that bringing your coffee maker along for the ride will need around 800 watts to make four cups of joe. If your old heap’s A/C is on the fritz, expect a single room air conditioner to run anywhere from 500-1500 watts. But if you choose to make that particular update, you’re on your own.
Obviously, you’ll want to define your electrical needs before selecting any power inverter, so check the owner’s manual or manufacturer website for any device you want to bring along. And give some thought to the welfare of your car battery and electrical system while you’re at it. Draw too much juice, and you run the risk of draining or damaging the battery, particularly if for some inexplicable reason you choose to watch movies in a parked car for an extended period. For this reason, Energizer suggests starting the car every hour or two to give the battery a boost if you use it with the engine off. If you fail to do that, the device will automatically shut itself down to avoid draining the battery. At that point, the energizer’s LED power indicator will switch from its normal “everything is ok” blue, to alternating continuously from blue to red.
We had no complaints in our time with the EN180, and found it more than up to our relatively modest tasks of keeping two phones and a laptop charged and ready to go. The device includes an internal cooling fan that switches on as needed under load, but remains quiet and unobtrusive. If anything goes wrong, it’s covered by a two-year limited warranty. Presumably, that doesn’t include any Big Gulp incidents.
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