A car power inverter can turn a vehicle’s 12-volt direct current power supply into an 120-volt alternating current found in household grids. In simple terms, this allows you to charge a wide variety of your devices using your car. The exact charging capacity of an inverter is determined by the wattage specification set by the manufacturer, with more expensive models generally supplying more watts.
What to Consider
As we mentioned, wattage is very important, so be very aware of what your power needs are when purchasing an inverter. Drawing excessive power from your inverter can cause blown fuses or electrical failures. Also keep in mind that when you plug in multiple devices that the wattage adds up. Things like phones and camera chargers pull minuscule amounts of power, while TVs and computers can use around 50-100 watts apiece. Space heaters and power tools can even pull over 1000 watts on their own.
You’ll also want to keep your engine running for devices over 100 watts, as they will drain your car battery over time. Look out for the number of outlets available on a device, and its power source. Small capacity inverters plug conveniently into any automotive 12-volt outlet, while larger ones may need to connect directly to the battery.
How We Selected
Popular Mechanics has picked these products at a variety of price points using a combination of hands-on experience, and research conducted through sources like Autoguide, CNET, and Consumer Reports.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Best Budget Option
BESTEK 75 Watt Power Inverter
For those who have just a few small devices to power, this model is about as simple as inverters can get. The 75-watt capacity should be plenty to charge phones, laptops, and camera batteries, but larger electronics will be a no-go. It converts a 12-volt outlet into one household plug point and a couple USB charge ports. The body is also able to pivot about 45 degrees for easier accessibility.
- Small wattage
- Only one 120-volt outlet
BESTEK 200 Watt Power Inverter
For a few more dollars, this Bestek model gives you extra power wrapped up in a convenient package. The cylindrical shape is made to fit right into a car cupholder, while the included cable plugs into the 12-volt source. Flip open the lid, and you’ll see two outlets, two USBs, and an extra 12-volt pass-through. The 200-watt capacity is enough to run larger electronics, or perhaps a mini beverage cooler. Other features include a clickable power button, an internal cooling fan, and a 25-amp fuse that will sacrifice itself in the case of excessive power draw. The only drawback we can really see with this design is that may get in the way of actual drinks.
- Convenient cup shape
- Additional 12-volt outlet
- May clutter up center console
Stanley 140 Watt Power Inverter
This Stanley model is pretty simplistic, with just one AC outlet maxing out at 140 watts, and two USB ports down below. The thing that really sets it apart is the included secure mounting bracket. This allows the user to easily place the device out of the way of all their levers and buttons and not worry about it falling on the floor. The caveat is that the mount uses two metal screws, so drilling into the dashboard is required to use it as Stanley intends. For a less intrusive method, double-stick tape may hold it for a while.
Other features include a quick-release button for the mounting bracket, a two-foot-long 12-volt cable, and an automatic shutoff function that prevents it from draining the car’s battery below operating range.
- Rugged body with secure mounting
- Auto shutoff
- Only one 120-volt outlet
- Mount requires drilling holes
Powerful and Portable
Duracell 800 Watt Power Inverter
This unit packs an 800-watt capacity into a simple palm-sized black box and includes two outlets, one USB, a power switch, cooling fan, and a low-battery indicator light. The device also gives you the option of either plugging into the 12-volt socket, or using the included “alligator clamp” cables hooked up to the battery terminals for full wattage supply.
The only inconvenience with this package is that there’s no real mounting solution out of the box, other than just placing it on a flat surface. The plastic body is liable to slip around during travel.
- Compact design
- Low-battery indicator
Best Overall Value
BESTEK 500 Watt Power Inverter
This Bestek unit is a little chunkier than the Duracell, and comes in a more premium aluminum casing. The 500-watt capacity runs out to two 120-volt plug points and two USB ports. You also get the socket or battery connection option here, with a cooling fan and power switch.
As for safety features, there are two 40-amp fuses located at the back, with a couple spares included in the box. Each side has two metal mounting brackets, which may take a damaging drill procedure to install.
- Durable aluminum body
- Safety fuses
- Not as portable as other models this size
DEWALT 1000 Watt Power Inverter
The 11-pound aluminum body comes with two carrying handles and four screw mounting brackets. It’s also low-profile enough to stow away fairly easily. The 1,000-watt capacity can come in handy for anyone who needs to run many electronics, a vacuum cleaner, or some power tools.
Direct battery clamps are needed to open up its full potential. Larger engines, diesel, or hybrid engines are more likely to have a charging system heavy-duty enough to actually supply 1,000 watts, so those with compact gas cars may be better suited to cheaper options.
The package includes two standard outlets and three USB ports. An LCD screen also shows exactly how much power is being drawn, and indicates battery charge level, while an internal breaker switch and low-battery shut-off feature ensure safety.
- Overload breaker
- LCD display
Pure Sine Power
Magnum 1000 Watt Pure Sine Power Inverter
The Magnum models differ from most inverters by supplying “pure sine wave” power. There’s a lot of complicated science to explain what that means, but in effect it will give you the closest thing to a household grid, and output without power spikes. This ensures the efficiency and reliability of intricate electronics and power tools during sustained operation. This upgrade comes at a price, as the CSW series is more than double the price of many comparable inverters.
On the front of this model, you get two outlets with a bathroom-style breaker switch, and only one USB. There’s also a battery-health monitor, four screw-mounting brackets, and a port for an optional dashboard remote control. Output is a sustained 1,000 watts, while it can handle loads up to 2,000 in short bursts. Higher capacity versions are also available.
- Pure sine wave output
- Optional remote
- Only one USB port
Krieger 4000 Watt Power Inverter
The 4,000-watt sustained output from this model is really only suited for the charging systems of heavy duty trucks, RVs, or marine vehicles. It can also handle up 8,000 watts of peak load for a short period of time.
Like the Magnum, it features a remote control input, and even includes one in the box. However, it doesn’t have pure sine wave power, instead opting for the more common modified sine wave design. On the front, there are two outlets, and just as many USB ports, with another LCD battery monitor. An onboard “smart chip” handles automatic shutoff and surge protection.
Also included is a hardwire installation kit to set the box up permanently in a truck or camper. Lower output models are also available.
- Very high capacity
- Hardwire kit
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Business News Governmental News Finance News