How To Use Your Car As A Backup Power Source During A Power Outage – How-To Geek | CarTailz

Jonathan Weiss/

Power outages can occur without warning, sometimes as a result of natural disasters. If it’s not yet clear when the power will come back on, you can use the little power station you already own, parked in your garage: your car.

For emergencies only

Before we explore how you can use your car to power appliances and electronics, we must emphasize that this is not a practice intended to replace more permanent or purpose-built backup power solutions.

Drawing current from your car’s battery with the engine off can wear it out, and if you discharge it too deeply you can damage it in a single sitting. Typical car batteries can only be discharged to 50% of their capacity before permanent damage can occur.

Using your car as a generator by idling the engine is safe, but inefficient compared to a gasoline generator (which itself is not a cheap way to generate long-term electricity).

Aside from charging your phone or other low-drain devices, we don’t recommend using a car as a frequent power source. The tips provided here are designed to help you access electricity in an emergency.

Use the USB or 12V outlet

An Anker 12V car wall USB charger

Newer vehicles have USB power sources built into the vehicle, but older models also have a 12V outlet that originally housed car cigarette lighters. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as “cigarette lighter sockets”.

With many great accessories on the market you can use this outlet to power things and the most useful is a USB charging adapter. If you have a vehicle with multiple 12V outlets, you can add multiple USB adapters and charge many devices at the same time.

When your car isn’t running you would have every right to worry about over-discharging the battery with a USB charge, but the average car battery has well over 1000Wh of energy, and you can safely use half the battery’s capacity. Compare that to a device like the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which has a battery capacity of just under 17Wh, and you’ll see that you don’t have to worry too much about powering these types of devices without the motor runs.

Use a car inverter

A BMK brand car inverter

An inverter is a device that converts direct current (direct current) to alternating current (alternating current). Car inverters allow you to power devices that typically plug into outlets in your home. Modified sine wave inverters are suitable for use with devices without AC motors, such as computers, internet routers or televisions. Pure sine wave inverters can run all AC devices, including devices with motors such as refrigerators or fans.

Inverters are designed to work while the car’s engine is running. It is best to connect them to the car’s battery terminals as instructed in the manual.

Some inverters can operate from a 12V outlet, but some cars may not have wires that power these outlets that can handle the high power draw of an inverter. Most inverters that can only operate from the 12V outlet have low peak power limits.

There is a risk of melting wires if you try to draw too much from the 12V socket with an inverter. Therefore, consult the vehicle documentation for the maximum wattage rating for each outlet.

As long as you stay within the overall power limit of your car inverter, it should provide a stable power source for as long as your car is running.

BMK 200W car inverter

The BMK offers up to 200 W AC power from a 12 V car socket. Best of all, when you don’t need AC power, you can turn off inversion and still use one of several USB fast-charging ports!

Charge your portable power station with a car

An Anker 535 portable power plant

Portable power stations are generally versatile in the different ways you can charge them. Provides adapters for mains power, solar panels and charging from a car’s 12V socket. In contrast to connecting an inverter to the 12-volt socket, when charging a mobile multi-gym there should be no risk of drawing too much current from the 12-volt socket.

However, if you are actively using the Power Station while it is charging and the current draw exceeds the charging rate, the station’s battery will still drain, albeit at a slower rate.

Special considerations for electric vehicles

Electric vehicles have massive batteries and, of course, no motor when it’s a pure electric vehicle. USB outlets and 12V outlets are common, but some electric pickups have built-in inverters. In the truck bed you will find ready-to-use standard sockets.

The idea behind these sockets is that truck owners don’t have to lug around a gas generator to power their tools in the field, but it’s also a great way to get power during a power outage.

The Ford F-150 Lightning even offers the option of plugging it into your home’s electrical grid to power the entire house when the power goes out. At the time of writing in November 2022, it is the only commercial EV to offer this feature. It could become more common in the future, and it’s something to look out for the next time you buy an electric vehicle.

If you have a hybrid car instead of a pure electric vehicle, you may need to take special measures to safely use it as a power source. Consult the vehicle’s manual or contact the manufacturer to ensure it is safe to use an inverter or use the hybrid battery to charge larger devices. Since various hybrid vehicles differ in the precise details of how they work, we cannot offer general advice here.

Long-term solutions

Using a gas car as a backup power supply is a great way to survive an unexpected power outage, but if the power goes out regularly or you expect the power situation to worsen over time, it’s important to find a more permanent solution.

Portable power stations are a great way to keep your personal devices running during short periodic power outages, and you can even buy an emergency solar panel so you can share the power station again if power doesn’t come back soon.

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