With all the recent power loss in California due to PG&E outages, there are a lot of questions about the best way to get alternative power. I’ve recently been getting questions from customers and friends about the use of a car power inverter to run basic household needs. I’ll explain how to use an inveter as a quick and inexpensive way to get power in an outage.

Let me start by saying that he car inverter is probably not the best answer to get power, but it is likely the cheapest short term answer. An inverter is an electrical power generator that converts your cars 12 volt DC power to AC power used in the home. An inveter will run about $20-$100 and you can buy at any auto parts store. The more you pay the cleaner power it will produce and the larger output it wil have. The size of the inverter is part of the limit to what you can run. Another limit is the fuse size in the car. If you hook it to the lighter socket, you will be limited by the fuse size. Some invertors allow you to connect directly to the battery and take the fuse limit out.

If you run the car the entire time to generate power, it may use a substantial amout of gas. The cost will be based on the type of car you have and the fuel economy of the car while idling and might become expensive. However, it will work and may be worth it for a day or two. For a longer term solution, I recommend a true generator designed to back up your power.

Running Inverter Without the Car Running

You do not want to run the inverter without the car running for very long. If you run your inverter without the car running, the battery will likely die very quickly. Probably in about 2 hours, depending on what is running at the power draw. It’s a far better solution to have the car running while using an inverter.

Running an Inverter with The Car Engine Running

When you use an inverter with the power running, it can run small items like, a lamp, phone charges, a TV, etc. You can’t expect it to run a portable heater, a microwave or a blow dryer. If you need to run larger items, check the output of the invertor and make sure it will keep up with the demand.

If you leave your car running for an extended period, make sure the car is in a well ventilated area. You do not want to have it in a closed garage. The carbon monoxide fumes can be very dangerous. It’s best to have the car outside or with the garage door open.

You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of gas. If the car runs out of gas you may find that you have not only no gas, but also a dead battery. Running a battery to nothing is very bad for the long term life of your battery and should be avoided.

If you need an inexpensive way to generate power in a power outage, the inverter just might be your best short term solution to get you by. Follow my steps and you should stay safe.

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