Stuff We Use: Power Inverters

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

On our never-ending quest to improve this place by listening to feedback from the B&B, we are taking a new tack with these product posts, choosing instead to focus on items we have actually used or purchased with our own meagre income. After all, if we’re giving you the truth about cars, we ought to give you the truth about car accessories.

Despite all the boomer bleatings that everyone needs to unplug and pretend they’re in the Stone Age during road trips or camping journeys, there remains a real need to stay connected and use a few electronic devices during such adventures. Addressing electricity requirements can be tricky, which is why power inverters exist.

For anyone who didn’t pay attention in school or still considers electricity to be a mystery, we’ll start this post with a quick explainer of why inverters are necessary when attempting to power household appliances and the like in a modern vehicle. Power inverters convert energy from a car's battery from DC to AC, so that one can safely use AC-powered equipment in a vehicle.

Power inverters literally come in all shapes and sizes. For example, this author was a fan of the product he deployed during ownership of an LX-platform Dodge Charger, a vehicle built in that weird era where USB ports were kinda sorta important but had yet to gain total dominance as a method with which to charge devices since 12V sockets were still ubiquitous. That inverter was actually the size and shape of a large coffee from Dunkin Donuts – in fact, that company would be wise to license its image for this precise purpose.

That design decision allowed the inverter to rest neatly in a cupholder, its power cord plugged into one of the several 12V sockets in the car whilst its top surface offered up a pair of USB ports and a couple of household-style outlets. Sure, it consumed one of the spaces in which to rest a drink but, as with most American cars, the total number of those receptacles far outnumbered the vehicle’s official passenger capacity. Its ability to heave forth properly inverted electricity was rarely outstripped by our demands, so the thing’s bright red error light seldom illuminated.

But, depending on power requirements, it could be easy to overload the wattage supply of this small inverter and trip its safeties. As a barometer, many of the household-style outlets in modern vehicles are rated for 400 watts, a number sufficient to charge laptops or power some small electronics but not enough to juice an Instant Pot to cook some food, for example. This is why the Pro Power Onboard feature in Ford trucks is so prized by overlanders and campers, such as it is available in ratings from 2000 watts to a mighty 7200 watts. This amount of power supply can facilitate the use of refrigerators (which don’t need much to operate but need a decent amount to start), cooking facilities, and a yaffle of lights – not to mention that margarita maker which is totally essential to a successful tenting holiday, right?

This is where power inverters made of slightly sterner stuff can be handy. If a person is building an overlanding rig with intent on deploying numerous appliances or is simply the type of family that likes to be connected on a road trip or camping journey, having access to sufficient wattage can make the difference between a comfortable time or miserable experience. An inverter of the type shown here – you knew this annoying Type A was going to have the overly bright anodized red one – can belt out up to 2000 watts, meaning it is suitable for heavier appliances.

Alert readers will have discerned this inverter needs to be hardwired into the car’s 12V system, a task made easy by this product’s inclusion of robust positive and negative power cables with appropriately crimped brass eyelets. Anyone unsure about their proficiency with automotive electrics should hire a pro to fit this thing but we will observe its provided instructions were clear and this author fried neither his car nor himself during installation. There are also a bank of fuses on the unit’s anterior side in case something goes awry during use, with the makers smartly tossing in a handy bag of replacements. The inverter’s operation is generally quiet, though the fan sometimes sound like a Huey over Hue when multiple items are plugged in. This beats an overheating scenario, it must be said.

So during yer next trip, go ahead and unplug – or not, if you have one of these power inverters.

[Images: Bestek]

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Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

More by Matthew Guy

Join the conversation
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Jun 12, 2024
    Modified square wave inverters are a Communist plot.
  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jun 12, 2024
    I don't have much need for inverters since newer vehicles have USB ports. My 2 coolers have built-in inverters. I do have a few Canadian Tire branded Chinesium ones for odds and ends stuff. Nothing high output.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .
  • Lou_BC Backing up accidents are one of the most common causes of low speed accidents. You'd think sensors and cameras would help.
  • Jpolicke Jaguar started making cars that were dead ringers for Kia Optimas, but less reliable. They now look like everything and nothing; certainly nothing to aspire to.
  • ToolGuy I would answer, but the question might change again, and then where would we be? Also, bran... wheat bran? Bran Castle? The coliva served at Bran Castle is made with wheat, I checked. (Some places use rice, because collectivism does not work.)