As car-buyer priorities shift from the traditional Driver Experience (DX) to a more complex User Experience (UX) consumers are increasingly finding new ways to engage with their vehicles: From shopping online, to watching television – with some even turning their vehicles into mobile offices or workshops.

In so doing, many users run into a problem with the power supplied by the typical vehicle electrical system – namely, it has been designed to supply 12-volt Direct Current (DC) via its battery. With many appliances, such as power tools and televisions, requiring higher voltage Alternating Current (AC), the UX is threatened: Unless there is a way of easily converting the unidirectional-flow DC to a time-varying sinusoidal-waveform AC.

The solution to the problem comes in the form of a device known as a car power inverter that converts the direct current to alternating current by rapidly switching the polarity of the DC power source, thereby creating a crude sine wave that can subsequently be refined to resemble the sinusoidal AC available at household outlets, while also upping the voltage from 12 to 110, 120 or even higher.

See also: 5 Best Digital Automotive Multimeters

Having installed the correct power inverter, just about any home appliance, power tool or office electronic equipment can be powered or charged from the car’s electrical system.

In selecting the correct inverter it is however imperative that the buyer takes into consideration some important technical aspects concerning the performance of the typical car power inverter.

Review Of The Best Power Inverters For Car

power inverters

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    POTEK-TECH
  • MODEL

    PI-500W
  • POWER

    0.5kW Rated, 1kW Peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    DC 12V
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $$

POTEK Car converter is the best in general in the sense that it has proper pricing, excellent tech features and performance, and one of the best customer reviews on the market, altogether in one. The many features of this product confer many benefits to users; one of such features is the multiple outlets it has. The outlets of this 500W (bear in mind that there is a 750W variant) include two USB ports and two 110 volts sockets. These multiple power outlets afford their user the opportunity of powering up multiple devices at the same time, such as laptops and smartphones. One would expect that such a workload would cause increased heat levels in the device. However, the manufacturers have taken care of this by providing an internal cooling fan which kicks in when the total power output is above 200W. The performance of the fan isn’t noisy, so you can rest assured of a serene cabin environment when driving with this product.

There is a red LED digital display on the device which indicates voltage and power inputs and outputs. This may seem insignificant at first but could count for a lot in rare cases of abnormal power discharge. The owner can prevent damage to devices and other humans by quickly disconnecting the device in such a rare occurrence. This product weighs about 1.1 pounds, and its total dimensions are 7.1 inches x 4.1 inches x 2.2 inches, making it such a valuable lightweight and portable device to have or carry around. There is an interesting option that comes along with this product; the cigarette lighter with car battery clips adapter. As the name suggests, this adapter will provide enough power to light cigarettes, but should never be used when the car is in motion. The price is about $40 for the 500W variant and $50 for the 750W variant.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    KRIËGER
  • MODEL

    KR1100
  • POWER

    1.1kW rated, 2.2kW peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    12V DC
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $$$$

This product is a premium product with variants having the highest prices on the market. The 1100W, 1500W, 2000W, 3000W, and 4000W variants of this product cost about $85, $140, $190, $300, and $360, respectively. These prices would appear rational if one considers the premium value that this product offers in comparison to others. First off, judging by looks, the sheer size (11.77 x 6.71 x 3.46) of this power inverter shows just how solid it is. The product also comes with an installation kit, which has a $60 value. For the base model, once you connect the converter to the car battery using DC battery cables, it will deliver 1100W of power; one of the highest on the market even by base model standards. Krieger power inverter’s LED display does more than just reveal the power and voltage inputs and outputs, as compared to other products on the market. It gives additional information that users may need, such as temperature and short circuit.

Kreiger manufacturers have spent years to research and fine-tune their product, to achieve cutting edge technology, approved by Metlab. The device features two 2.1A USBs, very necessary because of the charging requirements for many modern-day smartphones. It also has two power outlets which produce enough to power up small microwaves, or small refrigerators. One cool thing is that as the user, you get the choice of operating the device via remote control. Overheating during operation is prevented by a silent internal cooling fan.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    BESTEK
  • MODEL

    MRI3011BU
  • POWER

    300W rated
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    DC 12V
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $

As compared to other products on this list, this product is a more lightweight device and is better suited to smaller vehicles, such as privately owned cars. This device is quite affordable, costing about $30. It has many similar features and benefits with other inverters, such as the fact that it also has two power outlets and two 2.4A USB ports (top is 0-2.4A and the bottom is 2.4A permanent). With so many charging outlets, multiple passengers can enjoy the benefit of charging their phones simultaneously. This can be a particularly useful device to have if you are an Uber or Lyft driver. It can quickly turn out to be the deciding factor between a good and bad review.

Some unique features and benefits include its design and fan functionality. The manufacturers have made this product as small as a regular iPhone to increase its compact and lightweight nature. Also, the fan functions in a way such that the speed increases as the device’s temperature rises. Although this product doesn’t have an LED indicator, it still has some basic safety features that prevent electric damage such as an in-built fuse.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    Ampeak
  • MODEL

    IVUFA2000-2
  • POWER

    2kW rated, 4kW peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    DC 12V
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $$$

The Ampeak 2000 watts power inverter with optional remote control is one of three variants of this product and is also the top offering. The remaining two are the 1000 watts variant with optional remote control and the plain 1000 watts variants. This top offering has about 20ft of cable for its remote, and this is helpful for use in RV trucks, or in other difficult to reach situations. The consistent 2000-watt power that this product supplies is suitable for camping situations or for long travels where there is no accessibility to electricity.

One feature that this product has over the others is its three AC power outlets instead of two. This gives users more power-up options so that they can get more done, faster. The device also features two 2.1A USB ports for charging USB compatible devices. The device’s security features are top-notch. It has an LED display and an internal cooling fan. The LED display shows operational information for the device so that if users happen to see anything out of the ordinary, they can take caution. The internal fan prevents overheating. This product has an internal fuse, and it is rigged with an alarm system and an automatic shutdown system. These give buyers more safety options. In cases where a user may have overlooked or been unaware of abnormal working conditions as shown by the LED display, the alarm system can alert them. In cases where the user is too slow to respond, the automatic shutdown system can power down the device to prevent damage to appliances and other devices.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    ENERGIZER
  • MODEL

    ENK_2000
  • POWER

    2kW rated, 4kW peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    12V DC
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $$$$$

There are about six other variants of this product apart from this particular one, ranging from 100 watts to 4000 watts. This device works by converting 12V DC to 120V AC which powers devices through the two power outlets. You can use 3-feet two-gauge DC battery cables, that come with this product, to plug-in it to your vehicle’s battery. There are two 2.4A USB outputs for charging and powering up all USB compatible devices. Now users can have their most important devices juiced up even when they are on the go, or taking a long-distance trip. An LED display comes as standard with this device, displaying all necessary operations information.

This product is safety and performance approved by Metlab for use. It is rigged internally to protect against all such electrical things like overcurrent, overload, overheating, and short circuit. As such, buyers only need to concern themselves with setting up their device as detailed in the manual and enjoying it. All the technical stuff have been accounted for by the manufacturer.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    EPAuto
  • MODEL

    5823908510
  • POWER

    0.3W rated, 0.6W peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    DC 12V
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $

This power inverter is the cheapest you’d find on the market, going for as little as $20. Even at that price, one would come to find that this product still has a lot of features and is loaded with benefits for users well worthy of its price. The dimensions of this product stand at 5.25 inches x 1.75 inches x 3.25 inches. And it weighs 0.9 pounds. The compact and lightweight nature of this product makes it easy to carry around and install.

Once this product has been installed, it converts 12V DC into 110V AC at the power outlets or sockets. The AC outlets can, in turn, serve as power sources for small electronic devices like your DVD, television, and your Laptop. About 300W of power output is given off at these outlets. There are also two 2.1A USB ports that you can use to charge up your USB compatible devices such as your smartphone or gaming device. The product has a fuse and a fan inside it to protect against overcurrent and overheating. This way, in abnormal power production situations, your devices are protected. EPAuto also works with cigarette lighter adapters. This product has a 4.3 customer rating out of 5, even though its safety instructions that customers have to pay attention to are quite much. Nevertheless, these instructions can be found in the manual.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    COBRA
  • MODEL

    CPI2500W
  • POWER

    2.5kW rated, 5kW peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    DC 12V
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $$$$

The 2500 watts variant is the top offering of seven variants of this product, ranging from 130 watts to 2500 watts. This variant is the biggest one and has 4 power outlets. The device continuously produces 2500 watts of power and 5000 watts peak power, meaning that even though it has 4 outlets, only two of them can be used when the devices plugged in use up to 2500 watts each. There is 1 USB-A port capable enough to charge any USB compatible device, and 1 USB-C port. This product is especially useful for large vehicles such as boats or RV trucks, for powering small electric gadgets, such as a microwave or fridge. It can also light cigarettes via the aid of an adapter.

This perfect travel buddy comes fitted with a small LED screen whose job it is to provide the user with electrical device information. It boasts of five levels of protection which guard against damage of electrical and electronic gadgets which are plugged to the inverter. The 6-pound item comes with a manual for easy installation. The product is pretty sizable for the work it does.

BENEFITS

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

  • BRAND

    FOVAL
  • MODEL

    FVCN-0755
  • POWER

    0.15kW rated, 0.3kW peak
  • INPUT VOLTAGE

    DC 12V
  • SINE WAVE

    Modified
  • PRICE

    $

This product has the least power production of all those listed. However, this 150-watt power inverter is still a handy tool that provides sufficient benefit to owners. If you do not have much cabin room to accommodate a rather large converter, this credit card-sized (3.2 inches x 2.5 inches x 1.5 inches) device may be your best bet. The size also makes it an excellent travel object, seeing as it will easily fit into most bags and luggage. This device has two USB ports (1A and 2.1A) but only one AC power outlet. It has an internal fuse and other protective features to ensure safe charging and damage control. The best feature of this product is probably its 18-month warranty program. It also comes with a handy manual to help with installation. Many buyers have enjoyed their purchase, so product has a high costumer rating.

Key Features To Consider When Buying a Car Power Inverter

2 red power inverters in car

Before deciding on the inverter specifications it is important to consider the required quality of the output power. This will govern the stability of the voltage and harmonics which could have a detrimental impact on sensitive electronic equipment, while also influencing the cost of the unit.

NOTE: The quality of the inverter is often decided by the waveform. Pure sine wave iverters are more precise and carefull for sensitive electronics

In the case of a power inverter, quality is primarily defined by the output waveform: Either a modified sine wave, or the superior functionality of the pure sine wave:

  • Modified Sine Wave inverters are generally cheaper but better suited to less sensitive power tools, non-digital microwave ovens, lights, and most motor-driven appliances.
  • Pure Sine Wave devices are recommended for use with delicate electronics, and digitally controlled power-tools and appliances because they are capable of producing a current waveform that closely resembles that available from household wall sockets.

While poor power quality can create significant problems if used to drive sensitive electronics, better quality comes at a higher price. Consequently, this choice will have a substantial bearing on the cost and functional performance of the inverter.

Important Car Power Inverter Specifications

Having decided on the quality of the inverter, it is time to compare the specifications of the various products on offer, paying particular attention to the following factors:

  • Output power of the inverter – It is important that the device has sufficient power to drive the desired equipment. Every inverter has two ratings: peak and continuous, as illustrated by the competitively priced EPAuto 300W car power inverter with dual USB chargers that has a rated power of 300W and a peak power of 600W. When deciding on an appropriate continuous output, it is best to approximate or calculate the typical load the device is expected to support. The power required to run an inverter is approximately 8 to 10 percent more than the rated power load of the appliances being run, therefore it is advisable to add between 15 to 25 percent to the total expected power draw. For typical appliance power ratings refer to the table in the FAQ section of this article.
  • The number of power outlets – While it is common for a car power inverter to have at least one conventional power-plug outlet it is advisable to opt for devices that support multiple power points and USBs. For instance the versatile POTEK 500W power inverter with digital display comes with dual AC outlets and dual USB charging ports, suitable for use with tablets, laptops and smartphones. Of course a power strip can always be used, but this is usually accompanied by a power loss.
  • Safety features – Although often overlooked, it is nevertheless helpful if the inverter has safety features such as the ability to monitor voltage and protect against over-voltage, surge and over-heating, as this can shield the inverter and sensitive electronics connected to the device. Some devices – such as the premium KRIËGER 1100W 12V power inverter that comes with overload, temperature and short circuit protection – can show warnings on a LCD, while also displaying the input voltage, output wattage and battery level.
  • The ability to cope with surge power – It is important that the device is capable of supporting “surge” power to prevent the inverter and battery from being overloaded by transitory, high loads created by the electrical appliances being powered by the inverter.
  • Physical size and weight – With space often at a premium in motor vehicles it is important to select an inverter that can easily be accommodated in the space available. In some cases it may be worth paying a little more for a more efficient device that is slightly smaller.
  • Inverter efficiency – Converting the current from DC to AC generates heat which leads to a loss in efficiency, measured as a percentage of power-in versus power-out. Thus, a more efficient unit can often deliver the same output power in a smaller package.
  • Ensuring the correct battery rating – It is important that the vehicle or slave battery has sufficient power to support the output of the inverter. A rough estimation of what the battery’s current rating should be, can be made by dividing the overall power consumption by 10. So, if the overall power required by all devices simultaneously connected to the inverter is 1,000W, the battery should be capable of delivering 100 amps.
  • Operating Time – In matching the vehicle’s battery to the inverter output, it is important to factor in the time that the device will have to deliver power to all the connected appliances. This is determined by dividing the battery’s capacity, measured in Amp Hours (AH), by the total power consumption of all the appliances connected to the inverter.

While installing a car power inverter may be as simple as plugging the device into the auxiliary power socket of the vehicle, some devices may have to be wired into the car’s electrical circuit – for which manufacturers normally supply easy to follow installation instructions.

However there are a few recurring questions that are not always addressed by manufacturers – questions that may concern first-time users.

By following these guidelines a potential buyer will be well equipped to confidently decide on the best car power inverter for their specific requirements. What is more, by referring to the FAQs the user will be able to confidently put the inverter to work without worrying about unforeseen consequences of inadvertent errors.

FAQs

Here are some typical power ratings of common appliances. Obviously if multiple devices are to be used concurrently, the total power has to be taken into consideration. These ratings do not take the 8 to 10 percent inverter losses into account – these need to be factored in.

Appliance
Approximate Power in Watts

Coffee Maker

600-1200

Blender

300-1000

Microwave

1000-2000

Waffle Iron

800-1500

Hot Plate

750-1500

Toaster

800-1500

Hair Dryer

1000-1875

Vacuum Cleaner

300-1500

Space Heater

750 / 1500

Clothes Iron

1000-1500

Refrigerator

500-750

Chest Freezer

600

Washing Machine

500-1000

Household Fan

50-120

Clock Radio

10-50

Stereo

30-100

Cell Phone Charger

10

Laptop Computer

20-75

MacBook Pro

85

iPad / Tablet

10-20

Desktop PC with Monitor

200-400

Inkjet Printer

15-75

Laser Printer

500 (continuous) 2000 (peak)

32″ TV – LED/LCD

50

42″ Plasma TV

240

Blu-Ray or DVD Player

15

Satellite Dish / Receiver

20-30

Video Game Console (Xbox / PS4 / Wii)

40-140

As with any electrical device it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing and operating a car power inverter.
Be particularly mindful of not overloading the circuit or the safety-fuse current-draw limits.

If a Lead Acid Battery is often discharged to a very low state of charge, sulfation may occur, which will reduce the battery life. In this case it would be advisable to either use a “deep draw” slave battery, or even fit the vehicle with a more forgiving storage device, such as a glass mat battery.

If necessary it could also be possible to use the vehicle’s alternator to maintain the battery-charge, although a high power drain through the convertor may make this ineffective.

The inverter will continue to use power if connected to the battery without an isolator switch that can switch the inverter off – even if no appliances are plugged in. The current draw will be low and unique to each type of power inverter, but sufficient to drain the battery over time.

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