Question Marks

What Would Cause a Power Inverter to Trip?

Power inverters are a great tool to have around. They can be used in a variety of applications in your vehicles, motor homes, off grid camping, or even in your boat. They all serve one purpose: Providing you with alternating current electricity. This AC energy allows you to power various appliances or electronics that you could normally run at your home or office by converting your vehicle or battery’s stored direct current (DC) energy over to AC energy.

While the overall concept of power inverters is widely understood there are still quite a few questions on the details of using these power inverters. Over the past few weeks we have been writing article after article on the topic of power inverters in an effort to answer all of your questions and to provide a one stop resource for all questions on these great tools. Today’s topic is on how and why a power inverter trips.

How & Why?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of an appliance or electronic tripping an outlet. As an example our kitchens come with standard GFCI outlets. These are the outlets with the red and black button in the center. These outlets protect us from electrical shock by detecting faulty appliances or electronics plugged into the outlet. This also applies if the plugged in appliance is drawing too much power from the outlet. If there is a surge detection the outlet will trip, or shut-off, to prevent any shock to the user.

When it comes to power inverters a similar logic is applied. Power inverters all come with a rated wattage. This is a measurement of how much power or wattage the inverter can handle. Each of our appliances and electronics come with a rated wattage as well. If what you are attempting to plug-in into the inverter exceeds the rated wattage of your inverter then you are going to overload the power inverter. For an example, lets say you have a three-hundred watt power inverter installed on your vehicle. You want to make some hot coffee in the morning so you plug in your six-hundred watt coffee machine. In this example you are massively exceeding the rated wattage on your inverter and will be overloading the tool.

The results of exceeding your inverter’s wattage will be one of two things and it depends if your inverter has a surge protector. If it does NOT then your inverter will keep running in an attempt to provide the required power. If left unchecked this will damage and perhaps permanently destroy your power inverter. This could also result in electrical and possibly fire damage. Be sure to spend a bit more money and get an inverter with a surge protector. It is the smart choice here.

If the inverter DOES have surge protection then the inverter will simply not turn on due to the higher wattage demands. The inverter will try again after a few seconds to see if the load has changed. If it has not, it will shut off. This process will repeat a number of times until the inverter finally shuts off for good. If you wish to restart the inverter after this point you will need to do so manually using the control panel on the inverter.

Most inverters can actually handle a load LARGER then what they are rated for, but only for a small amount of time. As an example, you may be able to get thirty-five hundred watts out of your three-thousand watt inverter but it would only last for a half-hour or so until the inverter shuts down. Each inverter is different though and it is best to check your owner’s manual to see how much and how long of an overload your inverter can take.

This point brings me to the topic of starting watts versus running watts. Most of us are all familiar with the concept of running watts. This is a measurement of how much power your appliance or electronic uses while running. Sometimes the appliance is labeled with wattage use, but other times they are not. If not you can still determine the watts by finding the total amperage draw of the appliance. When you have the amperage number multiply it by the volts which is going to be your standard one-hundred and twenty volt plug-in. So, as an example say you have a five amp coffee maker that plugs into a one-hundred and twenty volt outlet. Five amps times one-hundred and twenty equals out to six-hundred watts. This is the running watt number of the coffee machine.

The concept of starting watts is where it can get a bit tricky. Depending on the appliance you wish to power some of them may require an extra boost of power for them to initially startup. An example of this would be a refrigerator. Refrigerators come with a compressor that starts the refrigeration process. This compressor needs an extra boost of power just to get turned on and started. After a short amount of time, say thirty seconds or so, the starting watts are no longer needed and the refrigerator transitions to a smaller running wattage number.

Because of starting watts many folks have to purchase a power inverter with a higher wattage then they anticipated. There is some good news though when it comes to starting watts. Depending on your inverter you may be able to get away with running an appliance that has a higher starting watt number then your power inverter. Starting watts are only required for a short amount of time and if your inverter can handle the overload for that thirty seconds or so then you should be fine to run said appliance. Be sure to check your inverter’s manual before purchasing so that you know for sure.


To close this article out folks your power inverter will trip or shut-off if the wattage that you have plugged in into the outlet side of your inverter exceeds the rated wattage of your power inverter. This is why it is so important to know your inverters wattage rating and to add up all of the wattage of the electronics or appliances that you wish to power. When shopping for a power inverter it is also recommended to add an additional thirty percent to the wattage number of your appliances. In other words if you need to power that six-hundred watt coffee machine then I would suggest purchasing a eight-hundred, nine-hundred, or one-thousand watt power inverter. This gives you enough buffer room in case you misread the coffee machine label OR if you wish to power something additional at the same time.

Thanks for reading and I hope this article was helpful,

Alec Johnson

You may also like