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1. Car Power Basics > 11. Put Home Power Outlets in Your Car

Put Home Power Outlets in Your Car

If you need to power a device that doesn’t come with a car adapter, or if you want to run a top-of-the-line PC that consumes 300 watts, you will need to use a device called an inverter to convert your vehicle’s 12V to the 120V or 220V found indoors.

“Understand Car Electrical Systems” [Hack #1] showed how you can convert the high-voltage power from a wall outlet into the 12V and other voltages needed by computers. If you need to power an in-home device in the car, however, the reverse can be done, using a device called an inverter.

What Inverters Do

American household voltages have been standardized at around 120V, and power in Europe generally runs at 220V. While vehicles and batteries use something called direct current, indoor voltages are alternating current. Direct current (DC) is simple: 12V on one wire, 0V on the other, and the current goes around in a loop from the 12V wire through the device and back to the 0V ground wire. Alternating current (AC) has a wavy pattern: the main two wires in AC trade off being at ±60V (in North America), back and forth, 60 times per second. (In Europe, the voltage waves ±110V, 50 times per second). The third “ground” wire in AC voltage usually connects to a metal pole sticking into the ground, and it actually acts as a failsafe return path for current if there should be a power surge, short circuit, or lightning strike. So, inverters have to do two things: they have to increase the 12V 10 to 20 times, and then they have to convert the simple DC voltage to the more complex back-and-forth AC current.


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