What do Power Inverters do?

Power inverters are a unique type of tool that many of us know very little about. But, once you understand what they are and what they can offer many folks end up purchasing one to have around, just in case. Before I explain power inverters let me first explain that there are two forms of electricity. There is what is known as alternating current, or AC. AC electricity is what our homes, offices, and garages use. These are your standard one-hundred and twenty and two-hundred and forty volt outlets. This is the type of power that your computer, television, microwave, and everything else in your home plugs into.

The other form of electricity is known as direct current, or DC. A DC current is what you are going to find in all of your ‘mobile’ applications. When I say mobile I mean your car, truck, motorhome, recreational vehicle, or even your boat. This DC power is derived from your batteries. As DC power is used your batteries are drained. The batteries can be recharged either through your vehicle’s engine, a gas generator, solar panels, or even through wind power. The most common of course though is the using of your vehicle’s engine.

Ok, so now we know that your vehicle uses DC power and all of your standard household appliances and electronics use AC power. So, what happens if you want to run an AC powered appliance in your vehicle with DC power? This my friends is where a power inverter comes into play. A power inverter in short converts the DC energy over to AC energy. One side of the inverter will connect to your vehicle either through a power port in the dash or directly to the battery itself. The other side of the inverter will have one or two one-hundred and twenty volt outlets just like what you would find today at your home. This is where you can plug in your appliance.

Things to Consider

Now, there are a couple things to mention here when running a power inverter in your vehicle. The first is that they will drain your battery and most often will drain your battery faster then other DC applications in your vehicle. Most of the time you will be able to run small electronics such as laptops, phones, DVD players, and even small televisions while the engine is running. In these instances the alternator will be doing the heavy lifting. It will provide power to your car and your inverter electronics as well as charge the battery. The problem can occur though if you are running electronics while your engine is off. When doing this you are relying on your vehicle’s battery to provide all of the power. If left unchecked this can result in a dead battery which in the best of scenarios will just need a jump and in the worst the battery may need to be replaced.

The other point to consider here is that if you are planning on running a significant amount of electronics or appliances with high wattage requirements then you may end up exceeding your alternator’s capacity. When this happens your battery will begin to drain EVEN as you are driving down the highway. This can result to the entire engine shutting off and leaving you with a dead battery. It is important not to overload your vehicle with power requirements.

If you do plan to run high power requirement applications from your vehicle then you either need to invest in a high capacity alternator OR an alternative deep cycle battery. If you plan to run these electronics while you are driving and the engine is on then a higher capacity alternator will do the trick. This alternator will produce MORE power then your standard unit and will allow for all electronics to be run and have your battery charged at the same time.

If you plan to run these electronics while the engine is off then it is recommended that you have an alternative battery installed on your vehicle. Now an RV or motorhome will already have a setup similar to this. An RV has your standard twelve volt automotive battery. This is a similar battery that we have to start our cars or other vehicles. It gives the initial burst of power we need and then the alternator takes over. RVs also have another set of batteries known as deep cycle. These deep cycle batteries are meant for long term use and are able to provide power for hours.

Adding a deep cycle alternative battery to your vehicle as an alternative battery can be done. I will not get into all of the details on HOW to do this here but if installed correctly you can then begin to run electronics for hours with the engine off while not having to worry about draining your primary battery dead. For a guide on how to setup alternative automotive batteries I recommend this article found by clicking here.


So, in short folks a power inverter converts the DC energy in your vehicle over to AC energy which in turn allows you to run an AC appliance or electronic in your vehicle. An example basic power inverter can be found by clicking here and going to Power inverters come in all shapes and sizes. You can find basic ones at around three-hundred watts like the one I linked earlier, or you could find sizes ranging from one-thousand watts all the way up to three-thousand watts. An example three-thousand watt inverter can be found by clicking here.  These larger watt inverters will be able to power A LOT of electronics and equipment… but only if your battery or alternator is up to the task!

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

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