The Don Rowe Blog

May 19

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Car Inverters—Getting the Basics!

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It wasn’t until a couple years that I discovered what power inverters really were. I never knew such a gadget even existed, but after observing my neighbor using his power inverter to power devices in his home after a summer storm that left our neighborhood without electricity for about 10 hours, I became fascinated in the various types of power inverters on the market. I continue to remain astonished as to how convenient these devices truly are!

If you are new to what power inverters are, a very basic understanding involves realizing that power inverters simply allow electronic devices to convert from DC input into AC output. Car power-inverters, for example, keep devices like DVD players or laptops working while on the road; and contractors and salespeople are especially aware of the benefits of having a car power-inverter with them at all times. Car power-inverters even allow you to run devices and appliances that wouldn’t typically operate in your car.  Whether inverters are used for long trips during vacation excursions or while camping and away from the electric grid or over-the-road truck journeys, power inverters can become a person’s right-hand man!

The Battery & The Fuse Panel—For Heavier Loads:

As mentioned, car power-inverters allow portable devices to function while on the road.   Three things that should be taken into consideration when using car power-inverters include: 1) the capacity of the vehicle’s battery 2) rated output of the alternator and 3) output wattage of the inverter. These factors all determine which devices can be plugged in and safely used. Some gadgets like cell phones or laptops can be used with 12V attachments which literally just plug into a cigarette lighter or another 12V accessory jack.

Now for devices that require heavier draws such as cooking equipment or power tools, the inverter needs to the hooked up with the vehicle’s fuse panel or battery.   If you take a peek at the fuse panel in your own vehicle, you may notice slots that are there to accommodate the wiring of an inverter. When fuse panels are used with an inverter, it offers a specific circuit to the respective device. When an inverter is used with the battery, per se, it will have a direct connection to the battery utilizing an in-line fuse.  Whether connecting an inverter to the fuse panel or directly to the battery, it’s crucial to use some type of fuse to sidestep any potential dangers.

Your Vehicle’s Battery:

It’s important to know that car and truck batteries aren’t automatically designed to accommodate inverters, so it’s essential to not just go ‘gung-ho’ and overload the system.  The battery’s power needs to be taken into consideration; and, additionally, if an inverter is being used while the vehicle is not in running mode, the battery will quickly drain. You might be interested in knowing, however, that some car inverters on the market are fused and will automatically turn off when your car shuts down.  If the vehicle is running, though, the alternator will keep the battery topped-up. Making sure the alternator is free from stress is equally important. Though alternators are created to offer sufficient power to run all the electronics within the vehicle while keeping the battery from being drained, that same alternator may or may not have enough surplus capacity to safely manage a more hefty power inverter.   A proactive measure would be to double-check the rated output of your alternator and then buy a suitable inverter.  Larger, under-the-hood inverters can be mounted near the battery and are designed for much larger uses such as circular saws, drills and flood lights. In fact, some police cruisers have permanent power inverters installed to ensure laptops can run for hours-on-end without compromising the life of the cruiser’s battery.

Automotive Applications—Two Inverter Types:

When it comes to power-inverters that are used in cars and trucks, there are two main types of inverters: 1) Modified Sine Wave and 2) Pure Sine Wave.

1: Modified Sine Wave:

Modified sine wave inverters are not as expensive as pure sine wave inverters but as with anything one purchases, you will get what you pay for. Modified sine wave inverters do not produce a wave that is as refined and smooth as a pure sine wave, but there are any number of electronics that will operate just fine with a modified sine wave.   However, anything that uses an AC motor—such as refrigerators, microwaves and compressors—aren’t going to operate at full capacity on a modified sine wave. Some equipment, such as a radio, will likely pick up interference if a modified sine wave is used.

2: Pure Sine Wave:

Pure sine wave inverters offer what their name implies—a purer and smoother wave in which the quality of wave is almost identical to the AC power we use from our homes’ power outlets.   Delicate electrical equipment such as in-home medical devices and laser-printers, for example, require the purest sine wave as possible to avoid damage.

If you ever remain unsure, always check with an expert to ensure your usage is in line with the type of power inverter that is applicable! Once you purchase and begin to use a car power-inverter, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it!

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