Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at a huge battery that can provide power out in the field without emissions or noise; a propane heater, a device to keep your butt and your hands warm this coming cold season; and a parts washer, an often overlooked tool that comes in handy. This week’s cool tool is a power inverter, and these things are road trip gamechangers.
One of the most annoying parts about taking a long road trip in an old car is not having power for all of your gadgets. Sure, you can shove a USB adapter into your car’s 12V ports, but you can forget many of the small appliances that you may want to make a long trip a little easier, like a coffee maker.
It’s worse if you’re road-tripping in a rustbucket minivan and the 12V ports don’t work. On my recent trip to Tennessee, none of the Caravan’s 12V ports worked and charging my phone meant sucking some juice out of walls at rest stops and fuel stations. This is a downside of taking a trip with absolutely zero prep.
At camp, a rally teammate handed me a Cen-Tech 400 Watt Power Inverter. I used some of the wire and a fuse that I had hanging around and wired it to the car’s battery. Suddenly, we had all of the power in the world. Some newer vehicles have inverters built right in but many don’t and that’s where one of these comes in.
Let’s head over to my kitchen table, I mean, workbench of wayward car parts to check this thing out in depth. Pardon the beach sand that I’ve been finding impossible to get rid of.
A power inverter works by taking those Direct Current electrons from your car battery and turning them into Alternating Current. Now your car can do more than just charge your phones. Depending on how big the inverter is you can power lights, TVs, game systems, computers, heaters and yep, a good ol’ coffee pot.
This Cen-Tech model is really only good for applications that don’t require a lot of energy. It outputs 115 Volts of power and can handle 400 Watts with bursts of 800 Watts. It also has a 5 Volt, 2 Amp USB port. Amp output isn’t listed, but similar units put out up to 3.6 Amps. To put this into perspective, lets make it charge my work laptop and charge an Android tablet:
Hooking it up is as easy as taking a length of wire and connecting it to the posts on the back.
Cen-Tech annoyingly didn’t publish power draw figures either, but other 400W units demand up to 38 Amps when running at a full 400 Watts. I used an 8 gauge wire, which should be good enough for the draw of this inverter. I then hooked it directly to the car’s battery, switched it on and hooked up the devices.
This is a pretty low power demand with the MagSafe charger taking 45 Watts and the tablet sipping 10 Watts. This leaves behind some room for stuff like lights, a mini cooler, or even a small workstation computer.
But if your power demands involve heat, you’ll want some more horsepower under the hood. For example, a home coffee maker can easily suck a thousand Watts and 8 Amps. You can get power inverters in all kinds of sizes and power outputs for whatever you need them to do.
The Cen-Tech unit I have is no longer sold new, but a similar unit can be had for as low as $30. More powerful units are available at a variety of prices.
Do you know of a weird or unique tool that wrenchers can benefit from knowing about? Do you want to see us put a type of tool to the test and see how it performs? Shoot me an email or drop it down in the comments!