Are you one of the 38 Million Americans who go camping every year? Perhaps you go on (or are planning to go on) long distance drives across state – perhaps even across country?
Being able to use and charge electrical appliances and gadgets when we are away from home can be extremely useful. Whether this is charging cell phones and GPS to stay in touch with the world, or perhaps using equipment like small appliances or air pumps to make a campsite more comfortable, being able to safely generate a solid electrical charge whilst in the middle of nowhere is very useful.
If that sounds good to you then what you need to invest in is a Car Power Inverter. These useful little devices plug into the vehicle electrical system and converts the vehicle’s electricity into a form that can be used by domestic appliances and gadgets.
There are a range of devices out there, all with different built in features. We’ve put together this guide to the best Car Power Inverters on the market out there today to help you to find the model that best suits your needs.
Best Rated Power Inverters for Cars in 2018:
Bestek 300W Power Inverter
We’ll start with this model from Bestek, which is priced well toward the cheaper end of the market, with a price tag of around 30 bucks. Despite that low price however, there are a number of very useful features on this device.
For one thing, the fact that it comes with not one but two AC outlets is great to see, and should stop at least some of the arguments over whose cell phone gets charged first. It also has a pair of USB ports that can also power devices – so you could have up to 4 devices at a time being charged. With a total output of only 300 watts however, it will struggle to charge that many – but it will happily charge a couple of devices at a time with very little strain.
The built in cooling fan is constantly in operation, which can make it a little noisy, but all in all this is a very well designed inverter with a very reasonable price tag.
2x AC Outlets
300 Watts of Power
Built in Overcharging & Overheating Protection
- Weight1.16 lbs
FOVAL 150W Car Power Inverter
Next up we have this frankly adorable little inverter from FOVAL. Packing only 1x AC Outlet and 2x USB ports, plus a total output of only 150 Watts, this is a pretty basic device with low overall power.
However, this device is simply not designed to be powering up an entire campsite. Instead, look at it for what it is, and you will see that the key selling point for this device is it’s tiny size. It weighs in at less than 10 Ounces and is less than 4 inches long.
That makes it ideal to tuck away in the glove compartment and pull out every now and then to charge a phone or GPS device. Look at it then as a handy back up device and it is actually a very well designed little tool, bursting with useful features and a price tag that will give you change from a twenty.
Not bad at all!
1x AC and 2x USB Outlets
- Weight9.6 oz
Energizer 1500-Watt Power Inverter
Energizer is of course a well-known name when it comes to batteries and power supply products in general. What they are brining to the market here is a premium model with many useful features, and a very impressive level of electrical output.
Two AC outlets and 2x USB outlets are powered by an inverter that can generate up to 1500 Watts of continuous power – that is going to be more than enough to charge a device in each outlet without breaking a sweat.
It also has the max power output to directly run small electrical devices, making this perfect for setting up campsites or similar.
It also boasts all of the safety features you would expect on a high end, powerful inverter. So we have overload, temperature and short circuit protection, along with a very useful LCD display that easily allows you to monitor the power usage in real time.
All of this power doesn’t come cheap however – in terms of both price and size. Price first and this model has a price tag well north of 100 dollars. Whilst not the most expensive option on the list, it is certainly not the cheapest either. It also weighs in at about 7.5 Pounds, making it a bit of a slab to pack away and carry.
Huge 120 Volt/1500 Watt Output
Various Built – In Safety Measures
Useful LCD Screen
- Weight7.36 lbs
POTEK 500-Watt Power Inverter
This device from POTEK is an interesting design, interesting in that it essentially provides a best-of-both-worlds approach to power inverting. So far we have looked at devices that come with a connecter to the 12 Volt charging port inside the cabin, and also an inverter that connects directly to the battery.
The 12 Volt connectors are easy to use but only generate limited power, the direct connection bring a big power charge but are more awkward to connect to the power source.
This model however does both. When plugged into the 12V charger it generates up to 500 Watts of power that is distributed via two AC outlets and 2x USB outlets, perfect for charging devices.
Take it out and hook it up direct to the battery however and it can throw out up to 1,000 Watts of peak power, enabling you to run more power hungry devices. A built in fan keeps it cool at higher workloads, and only kicks in when over 200 Watts of power is being used, so it’s nice and quiet when simply charging batteries.
A very useful, well thought out design with a very reasonable sub 50-dollar price tag makes this a very appealing inverter.
12 Volt & Direct Battery Leads
500-Watts Constant, 1000-Watts Peak Power
Built in Cooling Fan
- Weight1.65 lbs
KRIEGER 1500-Watt Power Inverter
This inverter from KRIGER is designed to do far more than simply charge batteries and electrical devices – though it certainly has the power and outputs to handle that very easily.
This is really designed as built in Inverter, and to that extent it even has an installation kit on the body of the inverter so you can mount it vertically on to a wall or other solid feature. It includes a wired remote control so you can turn it off without having to leave your caravan or tent.
As a device that is throwing out considerable power, it comes complete with the level of safety features you would expect, with built in protection from temperature extremes, from overloading and from short-circuiting.
This is a premium item so expect to pay a premium price. But if you rely on access to a good level of power whilst out and about, this could be a very worthwhile investment.
1500 Watt / 12 Volt Output
Installation Kit Included
Wired Remote Control
- Weight5.73 lbs
Ampeak 2000 Watt Power Inverter
This product from Ampeak is a very powerful inverter, bringing 2000 Watts of power to the party. That is not quite as much as the next model we will discuss, however it is far cheaper than the Cobra brand inverter below. For pure dollar to power conversion, this is the number one.
All that power needs significant safety features if it is to be used properly, so it’s good to see Ampeak has taken safety seriously. We have the usual protection from heat, over charging and short circuits. We also have no less than 10x 35 Amp fuses built in to the inverter, whilst three fans help to keep the product cool at all times.
Weighing in at almost 9 Pounds, this is the largest and heaviest inverter on the list. It also has a price tag of over a hundred dollars, making it one of the more expensive products too. If you don’t mind either of those facts however, this really is a premium product that has the design, build quality and features to justify that high price tag.
High 2,000 Watt Output
3x AC Outlets, 1x USB
Excellent Safety Features
- Weight8.8 lbs
Cobra 2500 Watt Professional Power Inverter
Finally we come to this, the Mac-Daddy of car power inverters. If we’re going to talk about this product, the first thing we have to do is take note of that output – 2,500 Watts of power.
All that power runs through 3x AC Outlets (and 1x USB) meaning you can run three home appliance size electrical goods as well as charging an electrical device at the same time. If you want the power to set up a home away from home then this could be the inverter for you.
All that power is protected behind a very impressive 5 stages of safety features, protecting against high and low voltage shutdowns, temperature spikes – pretty much anything that could go wrong is mitigated against.
The easy to read screen provides useful read out information on the current power being used, making it easy to monitor battery usage and drain levels.
This is not a cheap model. In fact, with a price tag a little over 200 Dollars it is by far the most expensive. However for that money, it is going to deliver a very high level of power, and it’s going to deliver it safely.
Incredible 2500-Watt Power Output
3 AC Outlets, 1x USB
5 Levels of Safety Features
- Weight6 lbs
Best Power Inverters For Cars Buying Guide & FAQ
There is our list of the best power inverters on the market today. As you will have seen, perhaps more than some other items we look at here at Car Bible there really can be a huge difference in the capabilities and features found in the products at either end of the price spectrum.
It’s really important to select the right model too, as selecting one that is too underpowered will result in an inverter that can’t supply electricity at the level you need. On the other hand, these can be pricey tools, and you don’t wan to drop big bucks on an overpowered model that is pumping out 2,000 watts of power to just charge your cell phone.
To help you select the right model for you then, lets take a look at some of the features that are common amongst these products, and also answer a few of the more frequently asked questions about car power inverters.
Types of Car Inverters
Whist there are a number of features that can differ from one model of inverter to the next, the biggest difference between models is found in how they connect to a power source.
The two types are then:
- Easy to use, simply plug it in and away it goes.
- You don’t have to leave the vehicle cabin to operate.
- You can plug it in as you drive.
- Can only generate a lower power range – about 500 watts max.
- Can generate a lot of power – enough to operate electrical items like coffee makers, fans and lamps.
- Only work when vehicle is pulled over.
- Have to connect/disconnect every time you want to drive
- Can be large and bulky and also noisy
As we can see the how they connect will have a big impact on how they work. A connection through the 12 Volt charger found in your vehicle cabin simply cannot provide the level of electricity that you will need to operate power hungry electrical goods, but it will be simpler to use.
This is probably the biggest consideration you need to make when you are choosing which model you are going to select.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Power Inverter
Here are some of the factors to consider when choosing an inverter. Consider which you need, and which you can do without, to make sure you buy the right model, at the right price.
Purpose – Probably the biggest factor is the purpose that you want to use the inverter for. If you just want something to keep in the car to charge up your phone or GPS every now and then, you can get away with a smaller sized device with a 12 Volt adaptor. If you are an outdoorsman (or woman) however, and you want an electrical supply when you are pitching camp in the great outdoors, you may need something more powerful.
Size – This connects with the above somewhat as there can be some significant difference in size between the different powered inverters. If you just want to charge your phone, you can pick up an inverter that weighs less than a pound, is only a few inches long and can happily tuck away in the glove compartment until needed.
Safety Features – A good inverter will have good safety features to protect both itself and the items that it is charging. Look for surge protection & short circuit protection to prevent damage to your electrical goods, and temperature protection (and a good cooling fan system) to protect itself. Premium models will also run their power supply through multiple, internal mounted fuses. They will add an extra level of protection.
Price – Just as with any purchase, have a budget in mind and stick to it. The prices for these types of items run from under 20 bucks to over 200. You are, to a certain extent, getting what you pay for though. A lower priced inverter is going to struggle to generate the power you need to run large electrical devices. On the other hand, a higher priced one will probably come with more safety features, making it better for the long-term operation of appliances.
If you have any questions about power inverters, then you should find all the answers here (we hope anyway!)
Q: How Does a Power Inverter Work?
A: The first thing you have to know is that your car battery (and by extension the car electrical system) provides a DC electrical supply. DC, or Direct Current, is required because this electrical system can store and deliver energy in one big push – exactly what is needed to turn the engine over and get it started.
The outlet in your wall however is an AC – Alternating Current – electrical supply. There are many reasons for this but it’s mainly to help with transferring energy efficiently from the production point (the power station) to your home.
An inverter then merely work to convert the DC electrical supply generated by your car battery in an AC supply that can be used by electrical goods that are usually plugged into domestic sources.
Q: How Long Does a Power Inverter Work?
A: The inverter will continue to work so long as it is supplied with an electrical current that it can “Invert” – or change from DC to AC.
As far as overall product life span goes, as with any device an inverter won’t last forever. A typical lifespan would be about 5 to 10 years for an inverter, depending on build quality, storage and usage.
Bear in mind there are quite a lot of moving parts, as well as electrical elements like screens on many of these devices. It may not be safe to operate without a fan to cool down the inverter, and the small fan motor could well burn out before the inverter itself.
As with any product, you basically get what you pay for!
Q: Can I Use a Car Battery for the Inverter?
A: Yes, you can – but sometimes it may not be a good idea to do so. It’s recommended that you don’t regularly drain a car battery lower than 90% total charge.
A small inverter that you are plugging into the 12 Volt charger inside the vehicle, just to charge a cell phone for example, is not going to cause any problems. There is simply not enough space in the cell battery to displace 10% of the car battery charge.
When you are plugging in the larger inverters however – that is where you need to be careful. A 2,000 Watt inverter can place a strain on the battery, so you must be careful when hooking up electrical devices to the more powerful inverters.
This is especially true if the vehicle is going to be stationery for a while, such as if you park up at a campsite for a few days. When the vehicle is still the battery is not charging. In this instance, consider running the engine frequently to top up the battery charge level.
For long term stops, you could pack a few extra car batteries to hook up to the inverter instead of the installed car battery. You can even create a ban of batteries for a continued, even electrical supply.
Q: Do Car Inverters Drain the Battery?
A: Yes, they do so you must always be careful to monitor them during use. Naturally, the more power the inverter, and the more devices that are run off it, the quicker it will deplete the battery. A small, basic charger throwing out 100 Watts to charge your IPhone is not going to cause a problem. A big inverter that is sucking 1000 watts out the system to run a hairdryer and a water heater at a campsite is something to monitor!
Also – bear in mind that many older vehicles do not have auto shut off to the 12 Volt charger in the cabin. If you leave the inverter plugged in then, it may continue to work inverting power even with no devices plugged in. Keep it safe and unplug the inverter when not in use.