Stuff We Use: Retractable Extension Cords

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 meager income. After all, if we’re giving you the truth about cars, we ought to give you the truth about car accessories.

Anyone who has the space to work on their own rig knows that, at some point or another in the maintenance of a car (which, in our case, are generally terrible but tremendous hoopties), electricity will be required for something. Whether that’s to illuminate a corded worklight, a power tool which doesn’t have a battery, or another item entirely, the presence of a household electrical outlet will eventually be extremely handy.

Except, of course, it’s waaayyy over there. And the last extension cord you had got mangled by the whipper snipper and was overloaded anyway. What to do?

One of the most useful items in the garage, save for the beer fridge, is a retractable extension cord gifted to me by my father well over a decade ago. I jest that barring the gift of life itself, it’s the best present he’s ever given. I’m only half joking. This thing has lived on the ceiling of multiple garages, powered countless tools, and provided electricity to corners of my property where a tangled mess of cords would have otherwise been required.

Numerous styles are available, though I do like the way this particular one is constructed. A simple mounting bracket is atop the unit, held in place with a stout metal retainer and cotter pin. Two hardy bolts are used to secure the thing in to the ceiling; make absolutely sure you’re punching them into a rafter (or, if you’re installing this on a wall, into a stud) because the last thing anyone needs is a metal case falling from the sky and likely damaging their car.

There are a few things to consider when selecting a retractable extension cord. It will make life a lot easier if one with multiple outlets is chosen; three seems to be the norm though some do exist with a single lonely outlet on the end of its reel. This is either the fault of poor product planning, a bedwetting lawyer, or probably both. Just don’t overload the reel by plugging Reactor 4 and an oil refinery into it at the same time and you’ll likely be ok.

Of course, the retractable reel itself needs to be plugged in somewhere, and this goofball is fortunate enough to have an outlet on his garage ceiling which does double duty for the overhead door opener. In the days when that was not present, I mounted this reel to the wall near an outlet - which was fine but not super convenient since it wasn't central in the space. Still, it kept the place tidy instead of having a mess of wires hanging about.

Take a look at the reel length, as well. A total of 30 feet is common, and is what’s contained in my reel, though I do occasionally pine for a 50-footer. Whilst my workspace measures but 24x24, the grand sum of 30 feet doesn’t take long to use up if one is snaking the cord around a project car and over a gas-powered pressure washer. Spend the extra up front – you’ll be glad you did. Also, it is worth taking a look at online reviews of this types of product since a key component of it (the retractable reel) cannot be practically tested until after the thing has been bought. A smooth retracting action makes life a lot simpler instead of having to stand there and mess with an extension cord that won’t reel up into its home.

It's at this point I’d normally make a silly dad joke about those old Glade plug in air fresheners from the ‘90s – but I am far past that type of behavior these days. I’ll just link the ad here, instead.

[Images: Author]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

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
2 of 6 comments
  • Kosmo Kosmo on Jul 04, 2024
    So useful! Bonus points, Matt, for the Merkur poster in the background -- I had a Scorpio -- and Happy 4th to you!
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy 6 days ago
    Typical person who reads this and listens to the podcast treatment of this subject is going to rush out and buy a 16-gauge 50-foot or longer and plug it into an outlet which is not GFCI rated. Result: Shorter life for your 'serious' power tools (big current draw tools need 12-gauge wire and the shorter the better because of voltage drop), trip hazard, shock hazards, inefficiency and higher electrical grid demands, injuries, death, collapse of civilization (at the margin). Your work light in 2024 should be cordless. Your 'real' portable tools need a 'real' extension cord of only the required length (life tip: don't cheap out on extension cords or garden hoses). The things in your garage which stay plugged in need a dedicated outlet (GFCI in some cases) or a good (UL rated) power strip permanently mounted over the bench, etc. My similarly-sized garage (detached in my case) has around sixty 120-volt receptacles.
  • Fred As a British Car Fan I liked them, but then I sat in one and changed my mind. I like the unique looks of the newer ones.
  • FreedMike Not much to look at, but these were sweet to drive.
  • EBFlex Ford finally making a good decision although they should shut down their EV operations and investment all together. Why lose that money too?
  • Mike Lol. This is the king of suvs. And its made by GM.Why is everyone trashing it?Top of its its class for a quarter century.
  • Frank Drove past there last week, plant has a huge poster of a bronco on the outside. I was thinking "Is that where they build the new broncos?" I know they use to make the Edge and that other mundane SUV there but I believe both have been canned.