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Will a power inverter drain my car battery?

If your car isn’t running—yes, absolutely! And the more power you demand, the faster that will happen. A laptop can often run for a few hours off a car battery and inverter without impairing the vehicle’s ability to start. A box fan, impact drill, or hair dryer can drain a battery in minutes. Some inverters will detect a low-voltage condition and shut down, but that’s not something on which you should rely.

If your car is turned on and running, it’s still possible to pull more power than your vehicle is generating to recharge the battery. Make sure your alternator and battery are in top condition. If your vehicle shows battery voltage, keep an eye on that. When in doubt, take a break and let the vehicle charge.

What can’t I use in a power inverter?

In theory, any household appliance should run perfectly in a high-quality pure sine inverter. In practice, running a PA system, table saw, or welder is going to pose a challenge.

With the more affordable modified-sine inverters, it is generally accepted that devices with large traditional AC motors—think refrigerator, pumps, and saws, for example—may be damaged in the long term. Some laser printers, 3-D printers, and other specialty electronic equipment may be damaged by, or may fail to operate with, a modified sine inverter. When in doubt, ask the manufacturer.

How long will one of these last?

If you keep it cool, use it below its maximum rating, and protect it from vibration or impact damage, your inverter may last a long time. Run it hot or load it to the max, it won’t last as long.

Inverters are sensitive to vibrations or being dropped, so don’t expect that you’ll get a lifetime’s worth of use from the inverter in the saddlebag of your Harley or adventure bike.

Is it possible to blow a power inverter’s fuse? What then?

It is absolutely possible to blow a fuse or trip the breaker in your inverter. When that happens, don’t start using it again until you completely understand what happened to cause the blow or trip in the first place. Then take steps to prevent that happening again. If you just reset or replace and go back to the same use, don’t be surprised if it happens again, or if you wind up having to put out a fire.

Do I really need a power inverter, or do I just need a good DC charger?

You’d be surprised how many people plug a power inverter into their cigarette-lighter outlet, then plug an AC cellphone charger into the inverter. Don’t do that. You’re wasting power and increasing the load on the car.

It’s possible nowadays to charge any large phone or tablet, and even some laptops, with the new generation of USB-C power-point chargers. Take a look at them and see if they’ll satisfy your requirements.

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